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News Agencies in the Digital Era

Keynote speech by Emmanuel Hoog, CEO, Agence France-Presse 2012 meeting of the European Alliance of Press Agencies (EANA).

INTRODUCTION

 

AFP highlights:

 

- One of the three global news agencies

- First global communication brand in France

- 2,260 permanent staff in 200 bureaux

- Six production languages + agreements with partners to provide content in many other languages (Mandarin, Russian, etc.)

- 3,000 photos per day on average

- A hundred static or animated infographics per day

- 150 videos

- €280 M turnover / 3,500 clients

 

 

One misconception should be dispelled in the introduction:

 

The issue to be addressed is not: “Will the Internet create new revenue streams for news agencies?” It is a short-term question while we are facing a long-term systemic crisis.

 

Our answer must be systemic and take into account the fact that our historical clients are fragile and structurally weakened by the print crisis. If the main objective of news agencies becomes the search for income on the Internet, the risk is to collide frontally with our clients with results that may be unpredictable anyway. The issue of income as far as the Internet is concerned must therefore remain secondary.

 

The issue today is our presence as news agencies on the Internet to enhance brand and know-how value, not income. For 150 years, news agencies have been focused on their relationship with press editors, on a “one-to-many mode”. Now they have to shift to a new relationship with the public, on a “many-to-many mode”. It is not only a matter of shifting from B2B to B2C or B2B2C. We need to be able to provide our audience with contents but also with information about ourselves and our way to produce news content.

 

Therefore, the question is not “shall we as news agencies be present on the Internet”.

=> The only question to address is “how shall we be present on the Internet ? ”.

 

In addressing the “how” issue, we should take into account the systemic crisis we are going through as well as the new relationship we need to build with our historical clients. We need to be able to provide our audience with content but also with information about ourselves and our way to produce news content.

 

Three main challenges need to be addressed in this context: speed, mass and image.

 

  1.The Internet poses three new challenges for news agencies which put them under pressure: speed, mass and image.

 

Speed:

 

The monopoly of speed has long been the preserve of news agencies (see motto of Charles Havas: “vite et bien” – quickly and well) with clients living in a “time lag” in relation to breaking news, which was the deadline for printing. This is no longer the case.

Competition: radio/TV/newspapers. Paradoxically enough, our clients fear that we become their competitors on the Internet whereas, for the last 10 years, they have gained a foothold in our former monopoly of the breaking news.

Above all, acceleration enabled on the Internet through an entire network: social networks, citizen journalists

Never has the gap between the time the event occurs and its media coverage been so small.

 

Mass:

 

Increasing numbers of professionals thanks to digital: general press/radio/TV, but also non-stop news channels, apps for mobile phones and tablets.

Advent of private or citizen actors: social networks

- Noise, difficulty in distinguishing news from rumour

- Redundancy

- Risk of information overload by end clients

 

Image:

 

The front door for information used to be the written word. We, as news agencies, culturally belong to this written world

 

Then audio

 

Then stills and subsequently animated images and graphics

 

Today, information is first and foremost visuals. If you want to create an event, you first have to create the visuals.

 

 

  2. A fourth danger compounds the first three and also relates to the Internet: the crisis of the economic model for the print media, the main clients of news agencies.

 

 

The revenues of our historical clients in France dropped by 25% in real terms between 2000 and 2010, with dramatic consequences on investment and employment. Recent examples: La Tribune, France Soir.

 

 

  3.Agencies must adapt to the new situation. They will – provided they fulfil three plus one conditions.

 

 

Before going over them, I would like to restate some basic facts about the AFP and international news agencies in general:

 

- One network before the network

- One example of globalisation before globalisation

- Work in streams/flows very well suited to current news consumption

 

Regarding speed: the new trade-off is between Reliability and Speed.

 

- Reliability is more important than other factors: “you’ve got to be first but first to be right” => you have to accept to be “overtaken” by alternative sources and remain the yardstick in terms of reliability / verification (for example, the death of Merah).

- Speed needs to be properly managed: see AFP’s stance on the results of the presidential election in France.

 

Regarding mass:

 

- Hierarchy and depth

Breaking news/Facts/Commentary: one intermediary area.

We have to help the reader understand what is going on, in addition to the raw facts.

- The presence of a professional / citizen brand on social networks: the AFP has several Twitter accounts and Facebook pages + platforms of blogs adding depth and keys to understanding.

 

Regarding image:

multimedia: Apply the same methods for image as those that made our reputation in the written word:

             

              - Reliability: Ben Laden

              - Speed: death of Qaddafi

 

Combination: Photo/Text/Video

 

- Images are not just a medium and an illustration.

- They provide a narrative which combines with the written word to form “rich media”.

- Hence the challenge of our Iris project for a multimedia editorial system intended in time to produce rich media “natively” in all AFP production services.

 

The final condition is to forge a new relation with our clients with greater emphasis on partnership and cooperation in light of Internet challenges 

- Why? Our clients are in crisis and need to be supported.

- How? White-label, syndication, new services.

- Where? The playground is the Internet. The Internet is not only a space for development but also a space for inventing a new relationship with our clients, based on a renewed approach of news agencies’ DNA : shared coverage, traffic transfers between our Internet sites. Let’s remain faithful to our historical business model: mutualisation, sharing of costs, sharing of profits.

 

CONCLUSION:

 

For AFP, globalisation of coverage also means that our turnover must become increasingly international (today the international part of our turnover amounts to 55% of the total). Our client portfolio is constantly growing, although this growth can continue only if our offering continues to be increasingly adaptable with multi-lingual production sticking closely to regional and local demand.

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