Vox publisher Melissa Bell ready to tackle issues facing the media in her ISOJ 2017 keynote address


Vox Media’s publisher, Melissa Bell, will be armed with a number of possible solutions to improve connections between news outlets and audiences that she will share during her keynote address on Saturday, April 22, at the 18th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ).

Melissa Bell (Courtesy photo)

In an interview April 17, Bell suggested the news media is in “flux.” The many issues facing news media in the era of digital disruption have been kicked around for the past decade or so, and yet “there is more confusion in the news environment.”

“The problems are even more stark,” says Bell, referring to issues such as an increasing misinformation and a lack of awareness that the Internet is a “bifurcated” platform.

Top among Bell’s concerns, and within the industry as a whole it might be argued, is building a sustainable business model that supports great journalism. She notes that it’s not good enough if just two or three national news outlets are successful because “it’s not going to allow for a really flourishing news industry.”

Taking a historical perspective, Bell says a mistake news outlets have made is applying old technology to new technology, much like in the early days of radio news reports were torn from newspapers’ front pages, and in the early days of the Internet, newspapers simply transferred their analog content online.

This also harkens back to the days when media outlets were “flush with revenue streams,” creating a culture that assumed news programs didn’t have to generate revenue on their own. They didn’t face the question vexing today’s news industry: “How do you support news in a real way?”

The sustainability issue is even more acute in the Internet age, leading Bell to suggest news outlets “have to be thoughtful about revenue in a real way.”

To that end, Vox Media has launched Concert, “a premium ad experience,” Bell asserts, that complements Vox Media’s “premium editorial experience” with NBCUniversal last April.

The premise for Concert started with the “eight strong brands” that include Vox, Eater, SB Nation, Recode, The Verge, Polygon, Curbed and Racked. Employees work hard to keep Vox Media’s brands relevant and successful, so why not apply that tradition and experience to advertising? The goals, Bell adds, include the creation of “high-performing ads” while making sure the audience is “not having bad ad experiences.”

Connected to audience, Bell also observes that in the past — and perhaps not fully dealt with even today — news outlets told people what was “objective news” and yet the audience was more sophisticated and knew that what they were receiving was not always the story they knew to be true. Instead, she suggests news media should think about “how to advocate for the audience . . . take them on the journey.”

Following her keynote address at 1:30 p.m. on April 22, Bell will be interviewed on stage by Jeff Jarvis, professor and director of Tow-Knight Center of Entrepreneurial Journalism, at CUNY.

ISOJ, which brings together a unique mix of journalism professionals and academics from more than 40 countries, kicks off Friday, April 21, at the Blanton Museum on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. While registration for the popular event has closed, livestreaming will be available on YouTube and Facebook on April 21 and 22.