Knight Center
Knight Center


ISOJ 2018 offers lessons about business models, informative products and forming authentic connections with readers

In the context of the 19th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas asked Ismael Nafría, a former journalist in residence at the Center and author of “La reinvención de The New York Times,” to prepare a summary of the main lessons taken away from the conference. Below are the conclusions Nafría presented at the 11th Iberian American Colloquium on Digital Journalism, which took place on April 15, 2018 following ISOJ. The colloquium is a traditional seminar offered to ISOJ attendees from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, and focuses on online journalism in the region.

If I had to summarize in a single sentence the lessons that I’m taking away from the 19th edition of ISOJ, held on April 13 and 14, 2018 in Austin, I would say the following:

Ismael Nafría (Photo: Mary Kang)
  • Offer a quality journalistic product that is worth paying for and that forms authentic connections –in content and in form– with your audience …
  • ... and if you have not yet done so, launch the best newsletters and podcasts for your audience.

Summaries of all sessions held this year have been published on the ISOJ 2018 website, and videos (in English and Spanish) are also available to review in full.

I have grouped aspects that caught my edition into three sections –business model, informative product and authentic connection with the audience:


The need to strengthen journalistic business on really solid bases was a recurring theme. The fundamental concepts are the following:

  • You have to pay for good information ... although there are different ways to do it and each media outlet should bet on the one that fits best with its market and specific audience.
  • "The economics of content" is a fundamental concept for the journalistic business that should be managed comfortably by those responsible for the journalistic product.
  • Diversifying revenue is key: media can not have and depend on a single channel: advertising, subscriptions, memberships, donations, e-commerce, events, content licensing …
  • Advertising continues to lose prominence.


Different sessions of ISOJ 2018 have addressed specific aspects of the journalistic product. Among the ideas that caught my attention are the following:

  • The story is the most important (there are multiple ways to tell it).
  • Be a "modern journalist." CNN's Meredith Artley said it when she reflected on whether there are currently print, digital or TV journalists. Borders are increasingly blurred.
  • Online video offers great creative possibilities, as demonstrated in the panel dedicated to this topic.
  • Is the future AI, machine learning, blockchain, AR, VR ...? I think it's still a mystery, although Zach Seward, from Quartz, ventured to say that AR is now developing seriously.
  • "Keep doing our job." This was the general advice that Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron gave during his conversation with Joshua Benton of NiemanLab.
  • The media as the main way of connecting with its audience regains prominence. In this edition of ISOJ, unlike in previous years, there has been very little talk about strategies on large platforms. It's on your own platform where you "control your destiny," said Meredith Artley (CNN).
  • There is a clear awareness of the key role played by mobile devices for media.


One of the ideas or concepts that appeared in various sessions of ISOJ 2018 was the "authentic" connection with the audience as an essential element for building a solid, stable and valuable relationship between the business and users.


Newsletters are a product that are acquiring a very important role and have become key tools to connect with the audience in a very intimate and effective way.

The session on newsletters reviewed several successful cases in this area (Axios, The New York Times, theSkimm, Evergrey and Poder360). The panelists offered lessons and very practical advice about their experiences.

It is very possible that, right now, this is one of the topics that offers more possibilities for media that want to increase the number of users loyal to their brand.


Another format that is also booming is that of podcasts, or audio in general. The voice is a very appropriate way to establish a very close connection with users, and more and more media are betting on this format. Media or companies such as NPR, The Washington Post, Vox Media or Acast were present at ISOJ2018.


Finally, humor was the protagonist of another of the ISOJ 2018 panels. Attendees heard about the experiences of eight international media, which opt for using humor to inform in adverse political environments.

And without betting specifically on humor, the executive editor of the Washington Post mentioned advice he received from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who since August 2013 has been owner of the newspaper: “don’t be boring.”

ISOJ 2019

The 20th edition of ISOJ will take place April 12 - 13, 2019 in Austin.



This summary will also be included in the next edition of my newsletter Tendenci @ s, which you can subscribe to for free through my website (




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