Review of Shift North: Newsworks first out of London conference

Our Managing Partner, Rob Nicol in PHD’s Manchester office, had the opportunity to attend Shift North. His glowing review of the conference is ready to view below:

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To be two years into your existence and deliver such an accomplished conference, jam packed with incredibly influential journalists was in itself a joyous achievement, but for Newsworks (and the Regional stakeholders from the newsbrands) that’s hardly surprising, because the world of newspapers is just that, overwhelmingly influential and continuing to set the British political, social and cultural agenda. Somewhat appropriate I might add as the theme for this conference was ‘Influence’.

This, the first ever Shift event in the North, was aptly hosted at the newly refurbished People’s History Museum in Manchester. It’s hard to imagine the Museum having half its current content without the invaluable resource that newspapers have provided. While it’s often said that today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, the People’s History Museum reminds us that the words of journalists can still be extremely influential, over a century later.

Rufus Olins got things off to an upbeat start, showing infectious confidence in his medium. Don’t believe everything you read! The UK’s world class newsbrands are thriving, reaching more people than ever through the proliferation of platform access. He underlined how news titles have evolved to become powerful brands; wielding overwhelming influence and thus capacity to affect behaviours, social and political context, and fundamentally get the nation talking. It was also pleasing to hear of the innovations in the pipeline; PATS (The Publisher Advertising Transaction System), evolutions in audience measurement and mobile consumption of press content – Newsbrands are clearly looking to forge new agendas and exert their own influence.

Up next, Jason Seiken described how, as Editor-in-Chief and Head of Content at the Telegraph Media Group, he had helped spearhead the transformation of the paper to place digital at its heart. The pace of change at TMG came across as staggering and by no means slowing down yet, with Seiken referring to some truly innovative developments in the future. He expanded on some of the huge challenges faced in the shift towards digital platforms specifically, the tension between the need to explode the pool of engaged users without denigrating the newsbrand and intriguingly, the pressure some can face to exaggerate political leanings in order to stand out in the digital space. While the competitive energy of Fleet Street remains as big as ever, Seiken went on to explain that for him the ‘battle is no longer with Fleet Street brothers and sisters’, but with ‘thousands of digital news start-ups who are able to move quickly’ – the likes of Buzz Feed et al. In this new battleground, the importance of newsbrand integrity, history and credibility has never been more important.

Next, the focus shifted to readers and the changing nature of their relationships with newsbrands, with David Brennan’s handy walkthrough of Newsworks’ “Truly, Madly, Deeply” research. Outside our media planning day jobs, we know as consumers that our own personal media consumption is not only 24/7 but curated by us, for us, at a time and a moment when we need it most. For me, I follow Russia Today’s Twitter feed as avidly as the Daily Telegraph’s. He described the power of personal identification with newsbrands and the benefits or “brand rub” for advertisers, echoing Jason’s comments that for newsbrands to succeed digitally, there’s that need for credibility and trust.

A weighty and incredibly energetic panel discussion followed, chaired by The Sunday Times’ Sarah Baxter, delving into press influence on current affairs, with some fascinating examples of newspapers actively influencing and even driving the political agenda. In tandem with this, the discussion touched on the shift from an open, symbiotic relationship between government and papers in the past to a closed one, which ultimately leaves the readership far more removed from the detail of policy. Nick Rye talked about how the Tories kept themselves on the political agenda through regular meetings with The Sun and Daily Mail during “the nightshift” of Hague’s leadership. Newspapers have always sat at the political top table, whether this relationship is out in the open or in the shadows.

The break went by in an excited blur and we were back and listening to James Appleby from MEC talk passionately about the importance of leaning into newsbrands to deliver visually arresting and engaging work for their client Halifax. Beginning with the humble bookend back in 2009 and arriving in 2014 with a profound understanding of consumer interaction with press and some truly innovative formats to ‘guide the eye’ of the reader to deliver business results for their client.

Then it was over to the keynote speaker David Walsh. David’s talk provided a counterpoint to what had gone before, for here was a situation where the influence sat not with the newsbrand but with Armstrong himself, an icon of his a sport and a man whose integrity was unquestionable. I along with everyone else in the room was captivated by David’s brave story and his own personal battles that drove him, doggedly to uncover the truth behind probably the biggest sporting scandal of recent memory.

So there we have it – a morning well spent with some very witty and intelligent people. We all left wanting more and hope for it soon, but for now the conference left a lasting impression amongst those who’d dared to forget the value of newspapers in a digital age. I for one was influenced.

 

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