“You Can’t Offer Everyone the Same Content”

Google and IESE discuss the future of digital journalism

30/10/2014 Madrid

Big Tent
(Left to right.) Julián Villanueva, professor of sales management at IESE and moderator of the Big Tent conferences, Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times, Frédéric Filloux of Les Echos (speaker) and Javier Cabrerizo of Unidad Editorial / Photo: Google

In the space of a few years the Internet has revolutionized many sectors of the economy and the media has been more affected than most. The traditional press has been rocked by the tsunami of new technologies and the unstoppable fall in advertising revenue. Numerous companies have gone bust or are in financial difficulties and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs.

Many publishers have struggled to adapt to the digital transformation, and have not yet grasped how to compete with new online players. What seems clear is that no one knows what business model to adopt. These issues were aired in the Big Tent, organized by Google in conjunction with IESE’s Institute for Media and Entertainment.

Jeff Jarvis, professor at the New York Graduate School of Journalism, journalist, blogger and digital guru, outlined an operational roadmap for journalism in the future. “Journalism should stop thinking in terms of the masses and focus on personal relationships,” he said. Jarvis believes it’s key that media offer content that is directed at individual readers, treating each person as someone with their own values and interests. This, he says, is the only way to produce value.

Tailored Content

Tailored content is the basis of the real business model and it’s here that Jarvis believes large media companies have made their biggest mistakes. “Nowadays you can’t offer everyone the same content. The mass media has transplanted its business models to the web without trying to adapt and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “Journalism is a service and content is a tool.”

Jarvis also advises journalists to specialize. He urges them to be better storytellers, and learn to connect to additional content via the use of links.

Links are effective and they save money. Today an exclusive only lasts three seconds, the time it takes to copy it. Now more than ever, you have to synthesize, contextualize, explain and repeat,” he said. Instead of moving in this direction, however, the media are publishing “the same information” – which makes the news irrelevant. What they should be doing, he says, is in-depth research and adding value to the content.


The “digital society” is still at an embryonic stage, says Jarvis, and it will take time to see how it evolves. For this reason he urged legislators to be very careful about which laws and regulations they approve. Condemning European “protectionism” as a way of trying “to control the web,” he criticized the decision to charge for linking news. This is already the case in Germany and will soon come into effect in Spain when the Intellectual Property Law (known as the Google tax) is passed.

Jarvis said this “dangerous and unnecessary” regulation will put an end to the advantages of Internet links and will turn Spain into a “hostile environment for innovation and development which could have serious consequences for the country.”

Taxing links separates the journalist from the public, he said, and discourages quality journalism where content sharing is an essential component. “Killing links means killing the web,” he said. “Europe should be open to the future although what we’re seeing is an attempt to shut the door.”

The Importance of Data Analysis

Javier Cabrerizo, managing director of Unidad Editorial, underscored the need for media and technology to become partners who “understand and respect each other.” It is a long process, he said, “and there’s a long road ahead.”

Cabrerizo believes it’s vital to know who the user is, in order to provide the right content in various formats. Big data is essential here, he said. He also admitted that the advertising model has not yet reached mobiles. “That’s the future. We have to be able to manage very targeted advertising, create new formats and demand that technology companies give us some answers.”

“Everything is going to be on mobiles and it’s a problem because these devices are simply not suited to advertising,” said Frédéric Filloux, an executive at the French group Les Echos. He said that Internet advertising has been “a failure.”

Filloux believes that digital consumers value the media less than the traditional reader. “People look for information wherever they can find it and this has destroyed the traditional model of competition. The new model is different, culturally more flexible, it reacts quicker than we can,” he said.

Building Links With Readers

Robert Shrimsley, director of the Financial Times website, called for the need to create links with readers. “We have to give our community a reason to pay. We have to offer them something unique. It’s essential that we own the relationship with the reader,” he said. The British paper uses semantic meta-data in order to offer different content to each subscriber. “If the user feels that the content is personalized, they will spend more time on the website,” with a consequent rise in advertising investment, he said.

The final session focused on four media entities that are 100 percent digital: Holland’s De Correspondent; Eldiario.es and El Confidencial from Spain and the Spanish edition of The Huffington Post. For all four, advertising continues to be the main source of income. Reporting and research, they insist, remain an essential part of their raison d’être.