The future of journalism is already here

Splice Beta 2023 Festival in Chiang Mai finds ways for startups to survive and thrive in new media landscape

Alan Soon and Rishad Patel of Splice introducing the festival at Chiang Mai University on 8 November. Photos: KUNDA DIXIT

This northern Thai city had a carnival atmosphere last week as 280 international digital media people descended on its university ground for the Splice Beta 2023 festival.

Funders of startups, those starting new media ventures, content creators, journalists, editors, and entrepreneurs gathered to share experiences about how to survive and thrive in the new media landscape.

This year’s special focus was on users, figuring out their special needs and how new media can be financially sustainable by providing them the information they need.

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Philip Smith of Journalism Growth Lab at his session on measuring impact of startups.

“The elephant in the room is the user,” explained Alan Soon of  Splice Media. “The work of media startups and creators is meaningless if it isn’t valuable for the user of that information.”

He added: “The future of media is not news-centred, ad-driven and content-based. It is user-centred, demand-driven and interest-based.”

In his session on defining success of a media startup, Philip Smith of Journalism Growth Lab underlined the importance of measuring genuine impact. “Many startups fail because they are putting information out there that nobody wants,” he said, admitting that in countries where media freedoms are curtailed, reach may be difficult to quantify.

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Roman Gautam and Neha Rajbhandari of Himal Southasian explain the 35-year-old magazine's newsletter and membership program.

“Ultimately, whatever you do has to work well as a business and the viability of the venture has to be clear from the very start,” Smith told a packed audience.  

The two-day festival at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Mass Communications had workshops, training and coaching classes on podcasting, fundraising for startups, newsletters and membership programs, AI, and combatting disinformation.  

Some 150 media companies from 57 countries attended the festival, with many of them using the event for networking and knowledge sharing.   

“We are not talking about the future of journalism, the future is already here,” said Splice co-founder Rishad Patel. “Journalism isn’t in trouble, the traditional ad-driven mass media model is.”  

The Philippine digital news portal Rappler won the $32,000 AI in Journalism Challenge at the Splice Beta Journalism Festival. The competition had shortlisted 12 newsrooms from all over the world in August out of 113 applicants which wanted to use AI tools more productively to turn their stories into user-friendly formats.

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Rappler, which was founded by Nobel Prize-winning Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, was deemed by a panel of judges to have developed the most creative use of AI to turn its investigative stories into visual content more appealing to its young users.

Rappler’s AI product is known by its acronym TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t read) and transforms its text-based news stories into interactive infographics, charts, photos and video capsules optimised for social media posts.

At a demonstration last week at Splice Beta in Chiang Mai, Rappler came ahead of other online newsrooms like Brazil’s Agencia Publica, The Conversation from Indonesia, Zamaneh Media based in The Netherlands, and Cuestion Publica of Colombia.

Zamaneh Media is an independent newsroom based in Amsterdam which is part of the Network of Exiled Media Outlets (NEMO) that was also a participant at the Chiang Mai festival last week and includes the Burmese media.

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“This is an important event for the media operating in exile to empower each other with knowledge-sharing so that we  can inform the world about the countries they are from,” said Sudeshna Chanda of Zamaneh. 

The Splice Beta festival coincided with news from Kathmandu last week that the popular Nepali online media outlets Setopati had decided to adopt a premium subscription model for its content due to falling revenue from advertising. On Monday, Nepal’s governing coalition cabinet decided to ban the wildly popular Tiktok platform, saying it was inciting social disharmony.   

Nepali participants at the festival included journalists from Himalmedia, Herne Katha and Himal Southasian.