#Storyteller: Episode 120 with Axios’ Sara Fischer

“Media sort of touches and intersects with everything,” says Sara Fischer, media reporter for Axios. “There are days when I share a byline with our health care reporter because COVID-19 has become an infodemic with so much misinformation. There are days when I share a byline with political reporters because the way the President leverages the media is such a huge part of how his administration is shaped and his policy agenda is set. There are days that I share a byline with our sports reporter because so many of the trends that you’re seeing happening in things like television are contingent on sports rights.”

Fischer is a founding staff member of Axios, and considered one of the top reporters on her beat. Her coverage spans everything from corporate media, technology, and media regulation, to social media and consumer habits. She has an intimate pulse on both what’s happening now, and what trends predict will happen next.

In this episode of #Storyteller, Sara breaks down how social media has changed storytelling, how the media industry has evolved during the pandemic, and what she sees as the future of media.


On how social media has changed storytelling:

I look at some of the biggest stories of the news cycle, whether it’s George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, any of the major natural disasters, and even what’s happening right now with COVID, a lot of the footage that informs the most important coverage around the world comes from regular, everyday people. People taking their iPhones out and they’re recording something that a TV network 50 years ago would have never been able to have access to that footage, because people wouldn’t have posted it online and on social media. So that’s been a critical component to storytelling, is that every person is a journalist, a citizen journalist in a sense. And anything has the power to go viral. And we’ve seen situations where this can be a bad thing. Sometimes it helps to propagate misinformation. I think about that time when a bunch of high school students confronted someone at the Lincoln Memorial and that got twisted out of control, that narrative, because only a part of the clip was posted on social media. There’s risks, but there’s also such great reward. The type of stuff that’s captured through smart phones by everyday people can shape the future of the world.

On the potential of social media:

I think the biggest impact that some of the growth of these big companies could provide is they can help us to create better, and smarter data about people and our everyday habits that can make the world a better and safer place. That’s the best, most optimistic view. And what do I mean by that? You know you’ve heard conversations happen between some of the big social platforms and hospitals. Is there a link between people posting pictures of symptoms of a major disease that could help us track an outbreak? Or could we use data from big social platforms to contact trace to figure out how to curb a disease? That’s the optimistic perspective here. When it comes to storytelling, can we use some of these big platforms and the data to help inform the stories we tell and make them more accurate, is the thing I think about all the time. One example of that might be, I use Google Trends data all the time to help understand where the sentiment of the nation is around certain topics. This is a silly one, but we did one where we tracked Google search data for different streaming platforms over the weekend. We found Disney+ skyrocketed through the roof because Hamilton was so hot this weekend. We wouldn’t have access to that kind of aggregate data if we didn’t have these major social networks providing it. So I’d say that’s probably one of the biggest positive trends about the social platforms in storytelling. The other thing is they give voice often times to people who have been marginalized. That really is a powerful mechanism for storytelling.

On how the pandemic has impacted the media industry:

I think the coronavirus pandemic has expedited existing trends. Many companies were already struggling to base their revenue stream primarily off of advertising, because for years, internet ad giants had been taking market share from them, especially at the local level. So a lot of them were already starting to diversify their revenue streams investing in things like commerce, events, subscriptions, licensing, what have you. I think there’s been an uptick in efforts to get into ecommerce throughout the pandemic, because ecommerce has become just such a hot industry because people don’t want to go to stores. Publishers are uniquely positioned to help with ecommerce because they have authority to recommend products. And so you’re starting to see a few more publishers look into that. I think virtual events have become more of the norm, and virtual events are important because a lot of small scale publishers never really had the resources to put on major conferences. But now it doesn’t really matter because no one can put on a major in-person conference. Everyone has, for the most part, the same tools to host something via Zoom.

On the future of media:

In the very long term, there are some undeniable trends that we see coming. Most linear and traditional mediums are starting to be replaced by digital alternatives. Traditional TV is now mostly being replaced by streaming. Traditional radio is often being replaced by streaming audio, whether that’s Pandora and music, or Sirius which owns Pandora, or Spotify getting into podcasts. Even billboards are going digital, and they’re used to help location tracking and deliver messages that can be customized and sent to your phone when you walk past them. So everything linear, we know is going digital. It’s a trend that’s going to continue to happen over time. And I think the big futuristic thing that I’m excited for is how do we overlay other technologies onto this fully digital world once we get there, that just makes our lives and our world better? We think about augmented reality — how do we overlay that into a fully digital future so that we can experience our world in a different way?

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