This summer, a group of nearly 100 brands from Patagonia to Coca-Cola are boycotting highly targeted ad machines on social media platforms like Facebook.
It’s an effort to put their money where their PR statements are—by withholding ad spend on Facebook, these brands are attempting to force Mark Zuckerberg’s hand to do something about his platform’s highly contentious fact-checking and hate speech standards.
But what if, instead of focusing on dollar value efficacy, we consider that the medium might be the message here? Sure, those 100+ brands might not dent Zuck’s retirement account. But they’ve brought important attention to the fact that we’re slaves to the big tech ad targeting machine.
That’s why this week on Business Casual, we’re navigating the intricate movement of ad dollars from local news outlets to social media and big tech platforms...plus taking stock of how, exactly, the everyday media consumer is suffering.
And we’re doing it with someone who’s seen it all in the media world—Joanna Coles. She’s been an executive, a producer, an editor...basically everything from heading up Cosmo to sitting on Snap’s board.
In this episode, Joanna explains the importance of local journalism, why it evaporates when big tech wins ad dollars, and how conglomerization widens the access gap to good, fact-checked journalism.
Kinsey Grant, Morning Brew business editor and podcast host [00:00:09] Hey, everybody, and welcome to Business Casual, the podcast from Morning Brew, answering your biggest questions in business. I'm your host and Brew business editor, Kinsey Grant. And now, let's get into it. [sound of a ding]
Kinsey [00:00:21] Usually, I would use this part of an episode to drum up excitement about some big topic we're handling today before I dropped the hammer with a big fat question and let our guests chime in. But, I want to try something new, something a little different today. We're gonna go question first, because our question today is big. And here it is. What is the state of the modern media company? There's a lot to unpack there. What makes a media company, a media company? Does Facebook count? Where do we start thinking about fake news? Are we thinking about local journalism enough?
Kinsey [00:00:49] And maybe most importantly, how would we ask and answer all of those questions differently just, I don't know, six months ago. To me, asking and hopefully answering those questions beg even more questions. Once we better understand how the modern media company is doing, we start asking things like, are those modern media companies dying? And if so, what are the implications of that death? And maybe it's not death. Maybe it's just a widespread evolution. And then what comes next? Once we figure out these next steps, how do we position ourselves as consumers and investors and even creators to take advantage of this constant evolution happening in the media space? I think by now you probably get my point.
Kinsey [00:01:28] There are about 1 million questions to be asked and answered before we can truly comprehend the role that media outlets, both news and social, play in our everyday lives. In the wake of COVID-19 and a recession and widespread anti-racism protests, I wanted to better understand that role and context, especially given the fact that the media space evolves with every passing day. So I'm gonna do what I do best, get somebody else to answer all of those questions.
Kinsey [00:01:56] I brought in an expert to help me navigate the intersection of news and social media to understand the future of invaluable local journalism and the news they're creating, and to think more deeply about how we're all interacting with information on a daily basis and who's making money when we do. That expert is Joanna Coles. She is an undisputed media boss who has had a long and illustrious career so far in everything from magazines to TV to a seat on Snap's board.
Kinsey [00:02:27] Now, full disclosure, today's episode of Business Casual consists of two interviews that I had with Joanna. The first time we spoke was earlier this spring. We covered a ton and it was a really great podcast episode that I was really proud of. But by the time you're ready to hit the publish button, the media space had already evolved tremendously in just a few weeks' time. So, we brought Joanna back in for a follow-up, and I'm really glad we did. She walks us through some very timely stories out of the media space with unbelievable, unbeatable insight. So without further ado, here is Joanna Coles. [sound of a ding]
Kinsey [00:03:01] I feel like I maybe have outkicked my coverage a little bit here in terms of getting a guest on this show to talk about the future of media, but I'm excited to ask you a bunch of questions, and I think we should just get going.
Joanna Coles [00:03:12] I don't know if I can reassure people that the media isn't dying, but I will do my best.
Kinsey [00:03:17] Well, and even if you can't reassure us, let's just have an honest conversation, because it might be—we never know, right? We still have to kind of let this play out, I'm sure.
Joanna [00:03:25] One thing I am astonished by is how many people reach out to me directly on social media, saying they're longing for a career in media and what advice do I have?
Kinsey [00:03:35] So there are still people trying to get in the pipeline?
Joanna [00:03:37] I think it's a wonderful, wonderful life if you can figure out how to make it pay. And [laughs] that's [Kinsey laughs] the challenge right now.
Kinsey [00:03:46] That most certainly is the challenge. And, as a young journalist, I do want to say before we kind of get to the meat of this conversation, that you have been someone I've looked to as a role model for quite some time. So I personally am very excited for this conversation. And I want to kind of run through a couple of the highlights of your career so far. You've had a very interesting one at that—kind of a bit of a taste of every corner of the media world, if you will.
Kinsey [00:04:09] You were the bureau chief for The Guardian and a New York columnist for The Times of London, went into magazines as the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire starting in 2006, then the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, the world's largest women's media brand, in 2012. Then you were the first to hold the position of chief content officer at Hearst Magazines. You oversaw content editorial partnerships for—I think it was something like a couple hundred titles, right?
Joanna [00:04:33] 300 globally.
Kinsey [00:04:34] 300. [laughs] Definitely not busy at all. And then moving into TV, as well as executive producer of Freeform-scripted series "The Bold Type," which was sort of inspired by your life and your career. There is definitely a Joanna character on that show. You've kind of, I feel like, maybe out kicked my coverage [laughs] in terms of getting a guest on this show to talk about the future of media. But either way, I'm excited for this conversation and let's get started.
Joanna [00:04:59] Well, fire away, what's your first question? [Kinsey laughs] [indistinct] When you read it out like that, my career sounds much more secure than it ever felt when I was in it. But, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. And I don't think it's over yet. I mean, when I started in newspapers in 1987, everybody said newspapers were dead, and I was always running a parallel track of doing broadcasting. So I did some radio, I did some television. And then eventually I moved from newspapers to magazines. I would say shortly after I got to magazines, everybody said magazines are dead. And so now I'm morphing into television, which is going through a golden age, as we know.
Kinsey [00:05:42] Right. So this is a perfect transition for question number one. Why do we always hear that X medium is dying? In 1987, it was newspapers are dying. We still have newspapers. They're just a different format than they used to be. Why do we think that this conversation keeps happening?
Joanna [00:05:59] Because the business challenges of the media have shifted over the years. So for the longest time, you had radio and you had newspapers. Then along came television. And really what you're looking at is the movement of ad dollars. And so it became very clear when I started in newspapers, that newspapers were going to face new business challenges because of the arrival of the web, or the interweb, or the net.
Joanna [00:06:26] And particularly for classified ads, which were really the mainstay of local journalism and local papers, those advertising dollars got sucked out by Google and by Facebook. And what you've seen is a dropping out of the middle of media. You have the conglomerization of big media, so you have Disney and Fox, you have The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal emerging as the three dominant newspapers. And you have local newspapers just vaporizing.
Joanna [00:07:02] But you also have the rise of newsletters and people who are strong enough content producers that they are creating content around their own brand. And so you then have smaller brands building off that. If you think of Politico, you think of Axios, think of Huffington Post. So you have these different brands bubbling up, new mushrooms in the sort of business shitscape of media.
Kinsey [00:07:32] OK. I feel like that was basically the answer to all of my questions in one [laughs]. But, there's a lot to dig into there. Let's start with one of the first points you made in that answer—the movement of ad dollars. You brought up the big tech ad dollars and how much they are raking in. I found a stat here—Google, Facebook, and Alibaba will account for 61.2% of the total global digital ad market in 2019, once all is said and done. That's a huge chunk. That certainly was not even close to that when you started your career in media. What has been the impact beyond just magazines and print papers making less money? What else has kind of come to pass because of this giant migration of ad dollars into search engines and social media networks?
Joanna [00:08:19] Well, it's a very good question and the answer is multifold. On the one hand, I do think that local journalism really has been decimated by this. You have far fewer journalists covering the courts, covering local politicians, covering local city halls, covering school debates, covering health debates. So I think on a local level, we're less well-informed. That said, on a larger level, people have access to much more information than they ever had before.
Joanna [00:08:52] If you think how slow the schools have been on the concept of exams and SATs, how strange it all seems that you now have to memorize history or you have to memorize geography, because our kids now have an encyclopedia in their pockets or in their hands with their phones because we have so much more information at our fingertips. So I think we're both richer for it and we're poorer for it.
Kinsey [00:09:21] So the concept of being poorer for it—what are we losing when we lose the focus on local news media?
Joanna [00:09:28] Well, I think we're making it easier for people to be corrupt. I think we're making it easier for people to take advantage of local politics. We are disconnecting from the communities we live in because we know less about them. Now, certain communities—and Denver, actually, has been a leader in this—have got very good local news, but it's very difficult to make it pay.
Kinsey [00:09:54] Definitely. As someone who graduated nearly at the top of a bull market, I have no complaints there. But, the money that you make going into journalism that first year—I remember my first job interview, the editor interviewing me, asked what I was going to do to make money on top of the full-time job he was hiring me for. It's sad, but it's true that a lot of people are dealing with that coming out of journalism programs across the country and across the world too.
Joanna [00:10:17] Yeah, I was watching an interview last night on the news which was talking to people who'd been furloughed during the corona crisis. And they were interviewing one man who said, well, I was in local journalism, but it was so precarious that I decided to go into bar work and bar managing. And of course, his bar had closed down. But the point he was making was that bar work under the coronavirus furlough was now as insecure as being a local journalist.
Kinsey [00:10:45] [laughs] It's an illustrative example. I want to understand better the root of this migration of ad dollars. Do you think that all of this money is now going into the Googles and Facebooks of the world because there are more eyeballs there? Is that the draw?
Joanna [00:10:59] Well, it's a combination of more eyeballs, but also the proposition that you can target people more effectively around content that might make them purchase something faster. So as David Ogilvy famously said, only 50% of advertising works. You just don't know which 50% it is. What Facebook and Google have managed to do is, I think, make people less anxious about the 50% you don't know. And so in theory, you can target people who are looking to buy a car, which was a mainstay of local newspapers, local car dealerships.
Joanna [00:11:39] But now you can look when people search for a car, you can see if they're in your area. You can see what kind of a car they're looking for. Is it a Ford or is it a [indistinct]? And then you can target them very specifically with ads to meet that need, which you can't do as much in a local newspaper, which is a much more blunt instrument.
Kinsey [00:11:59] So with that blunt instrument, is there ever a way to sharpen it? Are there ever going to be enough resources in the run-of-the-mill local newsroom to compete with Google when it comes to getting ad dollars?
Joanna [00:12:10] Well, they can't compete with Google when it comes to getting ad dollars. They can provide a different service. The other complicating factor now is that there is so much more local news on your phone, that a local newspaper seems like a quaint artifact rather than an essential tool for living in a community. And so local newspapers are having to work much harder. They're having to be hyperlocal, which is very difficult if you're in a city, and it's very hard to see how they survive over the long haul unless they're supported by a benevolent business owner in the area who understands that local coverage of politics, of the local [indistinct] people, is really important.
Kinsey [00:12:55] So let's say 10 years from now, will we have, or how many fewer do you think we'll have, of local newsrooms and local news organizations?
Joanna [00:13:03] Well, it's a very good question, because the wonderful thing about media is it keeps reinventing itself. And as new mediums come along—I guess new media [laughs] come along—you have new content and you have different coverage. So, I'm not a futurist. I can't tell what will be happening in 10 years. If we carry along the same track as we're going now, I'm not optimistic there will be better coverage of local communities.
Kinsey [00:13:36] OK.
Joanna [00:13:37] I don't think it bodes well for local newspapers.
Kinsey [00:13:41] What about the idea of paying for premium content in an ad-free format? So, subscribing to something like The New York Times, you pay to get access to it. With that comes the expectation you'll see fewer ads. Is that something that local outlets could ever adapt to or could utilize?
Joanna [00:13:57] Well, I would push back against your assertion with that is the assumption you see fewer ads. I think newspapers, or news organizations, which really is what The Times is now—not just a newspaper, because obviously they've got different media too— is they're looking to make revenue wherever they can to shore themselves up against Google and against Facebook. So I think we're in a stage now where we're getting both ads and we're paying subscription fee. But I think the world divides now between people who can afford quality content and people who can't and get their information from Google and Facebook. And on Facebook in particular, as we know, a lot of it's highly unreliable.
Kinsey [00:14:38] Yeah, and that would be my next question is, can we trust any of these outlets to actually be social media platforms, especially to actually deliver us news that we can rely on?
Joanna [00:14:48] Clearly not. I mean, we saw that during the coronavirus, all sorts of nonsense being passed around. I mean, these platforms are not the same as news organizations. They want to be taken seriously, but they don't have the tools that news organizations have to edit the content. And they don't want that because it gives them all sorts of financial advantages not to have it. And they don't want the restrictions. So it's unclear how we come out of the mess we're in in terms of massive distribution of disinformation. [sound of a ding]
Kinsey [00:15:25] So the first time that I spoke with Joanna, our conversation around misinformation was primarily focused on, you know, don't go bathe in bleach to protect yourself from COVID-19. But it became clear in the weeks that followed that first conversation that this was a much bigger, much broader topic and one we needed to readdress. So we did just that, and you're going to hear those questions and those answers after a short break to hear from our sponsor. —
Kinsey [00:15:49] And now back to the conversation with Joanna Coles. Joanna, I want to ask you about the business decisions behind fact checking. Financially, it is favorable for these big tech and social media platforms to not implement the same kind of fact checking or editing rigor that more traditional news media outlets would implement. So, my question for you is, if you could explain a little more what those financial incentives and advantages are. Why does it make sense for a platform like Facebook or like Twitter to not put into place practices for fact checking or a rigorous editing process?
Joanna [00:16:23] I think if Facebook or Twitter put into practice rigorous editing procedures, that slows everything down. Look, this isn't the first time that we have had false information put into the public space. That has always been part of American [laughs] society. There have always been people selling elixirs off the back of a wagon. The difference with something like Twitter or with Facebook is the speed and the scale with which information and misinformation and disinformation gets sent out. And it's incredibly effective as a business model.
Joanna [00:17:05] We see that in traditional media that is being depleted of dollars, all of which pretty much have moved to Facebook and Google. It's a) quite difficult to do. The scale of misinformation and disinformation is difficult to edit, but I think one has to step back a second and ask, if you are Mark Zuckerberg, why would you want misinformation and disinformation about vaccinations to go out there? You have children, your wife is a doctor.
Joanna [00:17:41] And the anti-vaxxers are, I think, the best example of understanding the power of misinformation and the impact it's had on communities, where measles, a disease that was basically eradicated, has come back and is actually killing children. How can anyone want to suck a profit out of that and call themselves a businessperson?
Kinsey [00:18:10] Well, how come he does? Is there any reasonable explanation beyond just it's gotten too big for us to actually fact check any of this?
Joanna [00:18:19] Well, that's a question you have to ask Mr. Zuckerberg. I can't answer on his behalf. But why would you want to be the CEO and founder of a platform that allows people to put that information out there?
Kinsey [00:18:38] It's a great question. And I think one that we, at this podcast, have wondered quite a bit. Mark Zuckerberg constantly says he's not the arbiter of truth, but at a certain point, there comes a responsibility on people to make these decisions. And we've talked about how it should not just be one person's responsibility to make sure that the 2+ billion people on Facebook's platforms are doing the right thing.
Kinsey [00:19:02] But I'm curious how you think that this conversation has come to the fore even more in the past quarter or so, the past three or six months. When we think about things like COVID-19 and anti-racism protests and conversations about racial injustice happening online, do you think that we are maybe taking a, I don't know, maybe shining a brighter light on issues of misinformation now than we previously would have? Or, is this just going to become another story like the 2016 election, where we look back and say things were messed up, but what are we going to do now?
Joanna [00:19:37] Well, I think the media gets bored. And for three months, we've heard about nothing other than COVID and what was happening with the coronavirus. And then suddenly, the coronavirus—it was as if it had suddenly stopped mattering and the media swung its Cyclopes-like eye to something else. So I think we will pass through this story. It's particularly relevant right now because of the election coming up in November and the primaries over the summer. And it's unclear because both the Democrats and the Republicans want to use Facebook to advertise their candidates to voters.
Joanna [00:20:33] If either side really has the stomach to take on big tech, and I think that's going to be the issue—in a sense, of all time. Are regulators going to allow these, what are rapidly becoming real monopolies, unchecked? Do they become our new types of information? And what checks and balances are there? And I do think it's odd when you hear tech people marching around with one hand on their forehead saying they can't be the arbiters of truth, because media, business owners, and editors have managed to do this for generations without wrestling quite as hard as the poor, delicate CEOs of tech companies wrestling with this have done.
Joanna [00:21:35] And nobody thinks it's perfect, but at least they're trying. And the concept of objectivity has clearly changed somewhat over the years as one has more access to information. But, these are real business and ethical concerns that media has been dealing with for generations and regulators have done their best to put in common sense restrictions that allow for great plurality of opinion, but also reliable news around which a democracy can congregate. And it's unclear to me quite why this arbiter of truth issue is so difficult for them.
Kinsey [00:22:26] Right. And you have to wonder if a company like—any big media company, name any one—they have lost revenue in recent years, things have just changed. They've had to adapt their business models, and yet they can still employ fact checkers by the dozens in many cases. So you have to wonder, how come Facebook isn't investing in the right ways or Twitter or any social platform isn't investing in fact checking in similar ways when they are, at any given moment, flush with cash. But, you know, I want to make sure that I point out here —
Joanna [00:22:57] I mean, to be fair, I think Twitter and Facebook are investing in that. The problem is it's hard to invest in it at a scale that can really make an impact. And the speed with which disinformation gets out there is really difficult to get on top of unless you change the algorithm that disseminates the information. And the algorithm is created specifically to encourage people to spend as much time as they possibly can on the app itself. And the way to do that is to serve up more and more information for certain kind.
Joanna [00:23:41] And we know that information that has conflicts at the central, but is information that is more likely to attract you. And that's the click bait, as it were. It's a bit like thinking of, you know, if you go into Dunkin' Donuts and you eat one donut, it's engineered by food scientists to make you want another one. And that's exactly what Facebook and Twitter and the engineers working on [indistinct] to spend their time thinking about. How do we get all our customers to spend more time on the platform?
Kinsey [00:24:16] Exactly. And so far, they've been successful. I would challenge anybody listening to this to look at your screen time in the last week and see where you're spending a lot of it. And you bring up a good point, Joanna, that it's not like they're just letting things go out into the wild and saying, you know, children, go handle it however you want to. They have processes put in place to try to check some of the information that's going out there at a speed that I think—and to your point, it's pretty unfathomable—that the scale is huge. The speed is enormous.
Kinsey [00:24:46] But they do have fact checkers. I think maybe they might be less of a priority than they are for what you would consider a traditional newsroom. But they all have strategies that are put in place in an attempt to make sure that people are using their platforms for good and not trying to spew hatred or misinformation or disinformation. Obviously, these strategies have differed tremendously from platform to platform, how they go about determining what is fake or real news.
Kinsey [00:25:11] But at a certain point, the partners who give them money to run super-targeted ads that are highly successful and in many cases, pretty cheap, these ad partners have started to take more of a stand in recent weeks. We saw Facebook face major backlash because of their response to what is, in some cases, considered hate speech and disinformation. Groups like the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, basically asking advertisers to pull all their ads from Facebook for the month of July in order to force Facebook's hand to make some changes about how they go through this process of filtering information and labeling information on their platforms.
Kinsey [00:25:50] What's your take here? Do you think that this is going to affect any meaningful change? Can ad partners actually force these giant platforms to change the way that they go about their business?
Joanna [00:26:03] I do think that ad partners can bring incredible pressure to bear. And I'm very curious to see what happens about the July boycott that many people are calling for. I saw Patagonia and North Face had signed up in the last couple of days. But I do think what's really interesting, and we've really seen a lot of over the last month or couple of months, is the Gen Z and millennial workforces making their opinions felt to their bosses in a way that previous generations would not have done, and that the real power within organizations often turns out to be in the workforce itself, who don't feel good about what they're doing.
Joanna [00:26:52] And that's actually what you're seeing at Facebook, an internal revolt, a civil war, if you like, of employees who are saying this isn't the right thing to do, and we should be addressing this. And I think that is an incredibly interesting trend. And you look back to Susan Fowler, who was the employee at Uber, who, with a single blog, ended up creating an entire row of falling dominoes, which eventually led to the essential counseling of the founder, Travis Kalanick, at Uber, and a turnover of board and senior management.
Joanna [00:27:34] So all it takes these days is one employee or one customer who can sometimes get the snowball rolling down the hill. And I sense that, although I think the boycott is extremely interesting for Facebook, I think their bigger problem is internally, a group of smart young people who feel sufficiently confident to say to management, you can't do this in our own name. This is the wrong decision.
Kinsey [00:28:07] I do wonder, though, if we're going to get the Susan Fowler of Facebook. We've seen so many prominent Facebook employees and even just everyday rank-and-file-type employees come out, say that they don't agree with Facebook's policies, especially right now, but, to my knowledge—and I don't have a seat at the table [laughs] with Mark Zuckerberg and all of his cohort—but at what point do we see change happen? When does the reckoning that came for Uber happen for Facebook? I feel like it hasn't happened yet.
Joanna [00:28:37] I'm sure it will be a very different kind of reckoning. But I am sure within Facebook there are plenty of conversations going on that weren't going on three months ago.
Kinsey [00:28:48] What do you think it would take to fix these issues? And we're talking about Facebook more specifically here, because I think Facebook is the poster child for when these issues come to light and the impact that they have. But what do you think it would take to fix it? We get a lot of employee activism. What's the end result from that activism?
Joanna [00:29:08] Unclear. It's a great question. It's completely unclear. Depends who wins the election in November. If Joe Biden were to select Elizabeth Warren, there's been less conversation around that. At one point that seemed like it might be feasible, now that feels less feasible, but she has made it clear she wants to break up big tech. And Mark Zuckerberg referred to her as an existential threat to the business. It's unclear if there's the will in Washington.
Joanna [00:29:40] And obviously, we're about to see what happens, whether or not there's regime change or whether or not there's continuation of the same. But I think it's unclear, but I don't think we have to have a result now. I think there are obviously different conversations going on internally in Facebook than there were two or three months ago. And I'm sure they will be paying enormous attention to political advertising in the run up to the election. There's no question there's a much bigger magnifying glass on what they're doing. And I'm sure they're conscious of it. And I'm sure they're extremely conscious of the potential power of an advertising boycott.
Kinsey [00:30:20] Do you think that unraveling these would have turned into monopolies would help the misinformation problem or would it just scale back the misinformation problem?
Joanna [00:30:30] Well, a scaling back of misinformation would still be better than what we have, I think, at the moment. And again, it's unclear, it depends how it's done. I think it really depends who's in charge of it. Why are they doing it, and what is the designed outcome? And what you really want is to, in some way, protect local media, which is really going out of business, and to maintain a plurality of voices and media, which you can't have if one or two companies suck up all the advertising, which is what's happened with Facebook and Google largely.
Kinsey [00:31:09] Joanna, I'm interested to hear how you think this conversation around ad boycotts and actually effecting change at any platform have changed or evolved in light of the recession that we're heading into right now. Ad budgets have gotten significantly smaller. Do you think that, you know, even Google is set to lose ad revenue this year. Do you think that that is an important part of this conversation or is it a universal experience that anybody who has an ad-based service is going to lose money?
Joanna [00:31:39] I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that anybody that has an ad-based business is going to lose money. I mean, we saw that Facebook is still projecting to be up, I think, 4 or 5% this year. Google was forecasting to be down. Amazon was forecasting to be up 27%, but I think that they're coming from a lower base.
Joanna [00:32:04] I think brands are really wrestling. Obviously, not only consumer-facing brands with the recession as it impacts retail, but because the climate, the political climate, is changing so fast, it's very difficult for brands to figure out the tone in which to speak to customers right now. And so I think, obviously, there's been a massive slowdown, and with some brands, there's been a complete halt to putting out marketing and advertising messages.
Joanna [00:32:39] But I think there's a lot to do with brands just being completely confused and at a loss as to know how to talk to consumers and customers. And they are terrified of saying the wrong thing and then being counseled by customers. It's not a foregone conclusion that all ad-based businesses are going to be down. Certainly, there's been a slowdown for a lot of them. And it's unclear when retail comes back, and it's unclear when marketers feel more confident to exercise their voices.
Kinsey [00:33:15] Last big question here, Joanna. When we spoke previously, we talked a little bit about layoffs in media and how they have snowballed. I think since that first conversation that we had, things have gotten tremendously more dramatic in terms of layoffs in the media space. How long does this last? Do you think that the jobs are gone for good for the people who have been laid off from some of these legacy publications, or do you think that they will eventually come back?
Joanna [00:33:43] I think COVID and the shutdown has accelerated a lot of trends in traditional media and legacy media that will be very difficult to reverse. And I don't see a lot of the jobs that were terminated during COVID as coming back. I think the long, slow decline of traditional media has been accelerated by all of this.
Kinsey [00:34:15] Yeah. Acceleration has been an enormous theme that we've talked about at length in the last five or so months of the show.
Joanna [00:34:24] When you're managing decline, everything you're doing is trying to slow down the inevitable. With COVID and the dramatic shutdown, everything was accelerated and it was impossible to slow down the decline. So I think a lot of traditional business, a lot of traditional media will not come back.
Kinsey [00:34:45] Yeah, it's stark analysis, but I think, you know, accurate. So we're gonna let everybody stew on that a little bit, Joanna. And we're going to take a short break to hear from our partner. —
Kinsey [00:34:57] And now back to the conversation with Joanna Coles. So we're gonna go back to our first interview now with Joanna to get her advice on working within the changing rules of media. [sound of a ding].
Kinsey [00:35:08] So as we've talked through this conversation, we've established that a lot of things are changing and the rules that were in place, even 10 years ago, are not necessarily the formula for success today. I'm interested to hear, as we kind of wrap up, what advice you would give someone, say, someone who wants to work in media and then someone who is considering investing in the media space. Would that advice be different?
Joanna [00:35:32] Well, for someone who wants a career in media, I would say be platform-agnostic, double-down on your own interests and where you think you have strengths. So is it in creative storytelling? Is it in news? Do you want to be a podcaster? Do you have a great voice? Do you want to be a sort of broadcaster as opposed to a writer? Figure that part out, but also seize opportunities and never stop creating content. The great thing about social media is it gives you the ability to get in front of people—to show people what you can do. I mean, my friend John Oliver, who has "Last Week Tonight" on HBO, talks about hiring people from Twitter.
Joanna [00:36:15] That would not have been possible 10, 15 years ago. You would have been hiring people who'd gone to a certain college, who'd been in a certain drama society. Now you're able to have a much wider range of potential applicants. So never assume that you can't get your work out there. You can. And that applies for artists too. You can put them in—we've seen, during the coronavirus, all sorts of creative people putting their frustrations out online and getting picked up and getting audiences, which is super-exciting for people. I mean, you really can be your own mini-broadcaster now.
Kinsey [00:36:53] Yeah, the barrier to entry is relatively low, as someone who is newly into Instagram Live.
Joanna [00:36:57] Well, the barrier to entry will always be talent and will always be the ability to do something that's good. We don't want people putting—well, if you put crap out there, people don't respond to it for the most part. So it has to be good. But you now have your own distribution, which is the first time in history people have been able to do that.
Kinsey [00:37:17] Right. And owning the distribution—I think we should never discount it. It is an enormous opportunity. What about someone who wants to invest? What are you most bullish on in the next five, 10 years in the media space?
Joanna [00:37:28] I'm bullish on new things and I think we don't know what they are yet, which sounds like a cop-out. But, if you're a good investor or you're a good VC, what you're constantly looking for is the new new. And that's what I'm always bullish about.
Kinsey [00:37:46] OK. So, Joanna, I feel like we've hit on some weighty topics here. How about we lighten things up a little bit and I am going to take out our wheel, and we will take it for a spin and do some rapid-fire-type stuff.
Kinsey [00:38:00] And we are doing this remote, again, so I'll spin it for you, but you may be able to see it here. [sound of wheel spinning].
Joanna [00:38:04] Oh, I can. I can see the wheel.
Kinsey [00:38:05] OK. [sound of a ding] OK. So it landed on Follow for Follow. Who is your favorite follow on social media?
Joanna [00:38:12] Well, my favorite follow on social media changes every day, depending on what the story of the day is. So I don't have a favorite because I'm constantly following new people. And I'm also one of those unusual people who actually unfollows people when I've had enough of them. So I can't give you any specifics, actually, because there's no day—no one day—like the rest.
Kinsey [00:38:35] Do you have a favorite topic to follow on social media? Is it always news?
Joanna [00:38:39] On Twitter, it's always news. Whatever happens to be stirred up, usually by the buffoon in the White House.
Kinsey [00:38:46] [laughs] OK. All right. We'll take another spin [sound of wheel spinning], and it landed on [sound of a ding] A Day in the Life. So what is a typical day in the life for you, like right now? Like I mentioned before, we're doing this remotely. Everybody's still working from home. What's your typical day like?
Joanna [00:39:01] Well, I have no typical day. And one of my pieces of advice to anybody wanting to go into the media is don't go into the media if you like control and if you like to be able to predict what your day will be like. You have no idea. And for me, the fun of being in the media has always been you have no idea what the day is going to throw up, especially in news. So I get up. I meditate. I put my contact lenses in. I feed the dog. I let the dog out.
Joanna [00:39:30] I make myself a cup of tea or coffee. And then my day begins. And my day always feels like I'm running behind because I have a lot to deal with still in Europe. I have parents that live there. I have family and lots of friends there. And I do still have some work in Europe. I also have work in L.A., so I have a long day and L.A. is three hours behind. So I have this sort of extensive day and I have no idea what's going to crop up at all. Lots of virtual conferencing at the moment.
Kinsey [00:39:58] Yes, I am sure. [chuckles] And I read something when I was preparing for this interview that you like to actually take your Saturdays and Sundays to yourself, which, if you still do, I commend you. And I agree. I think that I'm a lot more creative when I actually take time to not think about pressing something at work and just let myself think about the things that we can try next. I think it's a useful tactic for a lot of people that is undervalued at times.
Joanna [00:40:23] Yes. They say when you're working out, that you should never work out the same muscles every single day because otherwise they get tired. And I think the brain suffers from that too. So I like to take Saturday and Sunday off. I try and have breaks from social media because the news is so one-note at the moment over our health and the coronavirus. I really have been checking into the news much less than I would normally do, and I'm distressed at how many of the subjects are not being looked at because we've become so focused on corona. And so I try and have a proper break on Saturday and Sunday. And guess what? Your life doesn't change [Kinsey laughs] and things don't implode if you're not checking your phone 10 times a day. You're only checking it twice a day.
Kinsey [00:41:08] Right. OK. Let's take one more spin around the wheel [sound of wheel spinning]. And it's going to land on [sound of a ding], Oh, Shit. So what is a moment in your career that made you say, oh, shit. This can either be a good way or a bad way. Either you were really excited about something. You really screwed something up. But regardless, you said, oh, shit.
Joanna [00:41:31] Well, I'm sure I've said that on almost every day of [Kinsey laughs] a career in media. I do remember once, very early on in my career, following someone out of a courtroom who at the time was the most interesting person in the news. It was a young woman who'd been imprisoned for not giving evidence against her boyfriend, and her boyfriend was violent. And the judge was extremely simply unsympathetic to her and had sent her to jail. And another judge, on appeal, had released her. And we all followed her out of the courtroom. I was a reporter at the time to The Daily Telegraph, and it was a group of male reporters and myself.
Joanna [00:42:08] We followed her to the station where she was going to catch a train home, and she went to the ladies room and I realized I was the only person that could get into the ladies room. The men all had to stand outside. So I hopped over the turnstile and actually pushed the toilet door to the stall where she was sitting. I actually forced this open, sort of kicked at it because I was so anxious to get to her.
Joanna [00:42:35] And I reached her in mid-pee and I literally thought to myself, what on earth am I doing? This is ridiculous. And then I couldn't even think of what to ask her other than that terrible, cliched journalistic question, how do you feel?
Kinsey [00:42:48] [laughs] Oh my god. Did you get the story out of it, though?
Joanna [00:42:50] I got a very limited story out of it because truthfully, she didn't have very much to say. But I did get it first.
Kinsey [00:42:58] OK. That's definitely an oh, shit moment if I've ever heard one.
Joanna [00:43:00] I've had many oh, shit moments. Many, many, many.
Kinsey [00:43:03] OK, well, maybe we'll do, sometime, another podcast just full of oh, shit moments. [Joanna laughs] They're always popular.
Joanna [00:43:07] That would be a good podcast. Just calling it, Oh, Shit.
Kinsey [00:43:10] Oh, shit. [laughs] OK. Well, Joanna, thank you so, so much for coming on Business Casual. I really enjoyed this conversation. I feel like we learned a ton and it was a pleasure to speak with you.
Joanna [00:43:19] My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Kinsey [00:43:28] Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Business Casual. Joanna just gave you and me the perfect 10,000-foot view of what's going on in the media world and what is at stake. Now, next, we want to go even deeper. We want to dig even deeper and think even harder. So we're bringing in someone who has made a living analyzing media trends and frankly, being extremely online.
Kinsey [00:43:49] So make sure you are subscribed to Business Casual wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss our next episode. And I will see you next time. [sound of a ding]