PERUGIA–“Millennial media” companies like Facebook have indisputably changed the way the media industry works. But how has this shift affected editorial policy and political discourse? David Cohn, a senior director of in-house media incubation at Advance Publications, the owner of media brands including Condé Nast, discussed this and more at the International Journalism Festival on Saturday.
People share content on Facebook to send friends signals about their own identity. Media outlets like BuzzFeed design content with social sharing in mind, he said. “The secret to BuzzFeed and other viral content is that the stories are not written for an initial audience. They’re written for the initial audience’s friends,” Mr. Cohn said. Thus, much of this content is designed to virtue-signal an idea or worldview, rather than to inform.
This emphasis on sharing news and reactions to news has allowed trolling to proliferate in American discussion, Mr. Cohn said, and encouraged media organizations–both legitimate and meddlesome–to invest in trolling as an engagement strategy.
“Today, trolling itself has been refined into an industrial product,” Mr. Cohn said, using as an example the “enrage to engage” strategy of cable news shows.
As the industry has woken up to this shift, it’s beginning to push the pendulum back the other way. Media companies are beginning to believe they took social distribution too far, and are starting to emphasize “old-school” distribution strategies like paywalls, memberships, and in-person events again.
Mr. Cohn answered questions from Federica Cherubini, international head of knowledge sharing at media giant Condé Nast International.