Welcome back to the Baekdal Plus newsletter. Today, I have a few quick things for you. It's Christmas, and I'm taking an extended vacation (two weeks), to recharge for 2022.
But before that, I have two things for you today:
Whenever I have a chat with newspaper executives/editors and the discussion starts to become about niches, most don't think it's something they can do.
Newspapers are by default a non-niche. We don't know what the news will be tomorrow, so how can you be a niche and still be a newspaper? Many also don't consider it a useful thing to focus on. The reason is that, in many people's minds, a niche is something that is small. Why then focus on being small when you are already a huge national newspaper?
In my latest Plus article, I'm going to challenge you on this. I agree that big newspapers can't succeed on being small, and you also can't do a single topic. But, what if a niche wasn't about that at all? What if we instead defined a niche around how people consume the news?
Could you create a higher value news consumption niche where people come to you because you are creating that moment for them?
In other words, what if a niche is not a topic, but a moment?
One thing that is going to be a huge thing over the next 10 years is that every company needs to do a climate audit, we need to invent public databases for this, and many brands will use this to promote their climate efforts.
In fact, here is one example from a web shop that is using a service called 'GreenStory' to tell their customers how much better they are performing compared to the industry average (or some equivalent thereof).
Now, I don't particularly like this specific implementation because it doesn't really tell us anything. The goal is to be carbon-neutral, but this doesn't tell me anything about that. It just says that this web shop uses a bit less of a few things.
And each shop can apparently pick whatever metrics they want to feature, so that it appears they are doing really well, even if other metrics don't look as good. Also, the brands using this startup don't have to prove anything. GreenStory doesn't check any information provided.
I don't know if there is anything wrong here, but it's not very transparent or focused on anything useful.
(BTW: If you are a journalist, I would look into this. I think there is a story here about tech startups helping companies to greenwash their climate focus).
Another example of this is Jude's, a UK-based ice cream brand. They are taking things even further and claiming to be 'carbon negative'. Yes, they are claiming that they capture more CO₂ via their climate investments than they produce at their factories. And, they plan to reduce those factory emissions by 43% by switching over to plant-based ice creams.
Jude's is carbon negative. This means that we remove more Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere than is emitted through our entire supply chain from field to the consumer.
Again, there may be weirdness about how they actually calculate this, and, as journalists, we know many examples where carbon capture products are double-counted but, I don't know if any of those issues are at play here.
The point of showing these two examples is that brands are clearly seeing a future where displaying and promoting your climate efforts is quickly becoming a competitive advantage.
But here is the thing. This isn't just something for brands to do. It's going to be important for anyone, including publishers. So what is your climate audit? Why aren't you displaying the result of that underneath each article? The brands do this because they know this is important for building trust and loyalty, and we need that just as much as publishers.
When can I go to an article in a newspaper, and see a 'climate impact' box next to it explaining whether that article was produced in a carbon neutral way?
This is particularly important because we are going to spend a lot of time in the future covering climate change. It's the biggest story of the next decades. So, if we can't prove that we are doing our part, what justification do we have holding others to account for it?
As a publisher, you cannot just pretend this is a 'business side' thing. This directly relates to the integrity of your newsroom.
Or to put it in another way, in journalism, we always talk about how important it is to 'stay neutral', so let's do just that. Let's be carbon neutral. Don't just report about this trend and this goal. Be ahead of it and show people how it can be done.
But, here is the real question. How would publishers audit their climate impact? Can we just do it like how brands are doing it? Well, no.
Let me explain.
When you do a normal climate audit, you are basically looking at three factors.
The direct emissions are all the things where you are directly causing pollution as part of your operations. For publishers, this is a weird one because we don't really do this that much. We don't have big massively polluting factories, so instead this is mostly about 'travel', like how many times you send journalists via plane, cars, etc. to go somewhere.
Then we have the indirect emissions, which are all the things that we use to operate our business. For instance, it's the electricity and water we use to operate our office or print plants (including home offices, now that we are working from home). But it's also your web servers, etc.
And then we have the upstream emissions. These are all your external emissions. For instance, if you are printing a newspaper, where are you getting the paper from? It had to be produced somewhere? Was that done in a carbon neutral way? How about the ink?
But even for digital publishers, there is a lot to consider here. The most important factor is 'ad networks'. Of all those 200 tracking companies that you allow to run on your site, what are they doing? Are the places you get your ads from carbon neutral? Do you even know what those outside companies are doing?
And finally, there is everything you buy. For instance, all journalists use a phone. Okay, so was that made in a carbon neutral way? Well, Apple is promising to be carbon neutral by 2030, but what about other companies? What is Samsung doing? What about Sony? Surely some of your journalists have a higher end camera?
This can get really tricky. But remember, if the things you use from others aren't carbon neutral, then you can't claim you are carbon neutral either. The carbon offset you need to achieve is the combination of all of these three factors.
(BTW: This is why I talked about how we, in the future, need far better systems for tracking this. What if we had a Wikipedia for Climate where you could simply look up what each company is doing. In fact, as a newspaper, you should make this).
But here is the thing. All of these three factors are not where we as journalists have the biggest impact on the climate. Unlike brands, journalism is special in that our climate impact is also about how we impact people.
Let me give you an example. Here is an article by a columnist from the Herald Sun (yes, one of Murdoch's rags). It published this article:
You see the problem here? Imagine if this newspaper had done a climate audit like the one I explained above and then offset it to claim it was carbon neutral. Well, that really doesn't matter if their newspaper is pushing out articles like the one above.
Sure, their electricity might be carbon neutral, but their journalism is creating way more emissions.
And of course, there are many more examples of this. In fact, it's a very widespread problem in our industry. Here is another from just a few months ago, arguing that because more people die from the cold, maybe it's a good thing to just burn more fuel to heat up the planet ... which was then published across a lot of newspapers. Some as opinion pieces, others just reporting it.
When we as publishers do an audit of our climate impact, we can't just look at the three factors I talked about above. We also have to include the climate impact of our journalism.
And, remember, things are not equal. If you are reporting about one person who says that "climate change is a problem", and then also hosting a climate denier ... those two don't balance out.
So what we have to do instead is invent an industry wide climate rating system, where we score these articles based on their impact. So, a random story about some climate initiative might get a score of 1, but a climate denier telling people lies gets a score of ... minus 100.
Thus you end up with a climate score of -99. Well, that's not good. You would have to buy a shitload of carbon credits to even remotely make up for that, if such a thing is even possible.
This is something we really need to think about. As journalists, our biggest climate impact is not the electricity we use at the office. It's what we do in the newsroom.
Of course, it's not just about the newsroom. This also applies to all the other revenue streams that we have. The biggest one being advertising. For instance, are you still making money from polluters? If Shell or BP came to you to place an ad, would you run it?
Over at Clean Creative, 600 creatives and 210 ad agencies have already pledged not to work with the fossil fuel industry.
So, are publishers going to do this as well?
Well, to guide your mindset about this, I want you to read this article from Heated about how Edelman, one of the largest PR companies in the world, has refused to sign the climate pledge because, as they say:
In an internal meeting revealed by the New York Times last week, CEO Richard Edelman told the firm's thousands of employees that the fossil fuel industry was "in transition and needed Edelman's services."
So, are you as a newspaper going to behave the same way, and claim that fossil fuel companies should still be able to advertise in your newspapers because "they need our ad services"?
I just want you to think about all this.
Climate change is a transitional trend. It's one of those trends where you have to make a choice, and how and when you make those choices has an impact on your reputation as a publisher, which in turn will define who your audience is.
If you don't make a choice you end up with bad money and a bad audience. But if you do make a choice, you can show that journalism is important to society.
As a media analyst, I don't think this is even a question we need to debate. In fact, even though I have a tiny media company, my goal is to be climate neutral (or better) in 2022. I don't want to wait until 2030 (or worse 2050). I have started doing an audit about this now.
To me, this is a trend that we have to be in front of.
Don't forget to check out the paywall report in my new 'known to work' series, where we explore strategies that we have clear evidence for.
And also, remember the article about niches I mentioned above:
Also, remember that while this newsletter is free for anyone to read, it's paid for by my subscribers to Baekdal Plus. So if you want to support this type of analysis and advice, subscribe to Baekdal Plus, which will also give you access to all my Plus reports (more than 300), and all the new ones (about 25 reports per year).
Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter
"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
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