The Interview: Jonathan Rivers About Print Media and Digital Technologies

Jonathan Rivers, CTO at Fortune Media, talks to DataArt about the digital transformation of printed media, the impact of machine learning on the information and the importance of social media platforms.
4 min read
5/02/21
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The Interview: Jonathan Rivers About Print Media and Digital Technologies

Is technology re-shaping the current landscape of print media?

The print market has been in decline year after year. Having an ability to reach your customers where they are is critical. The number of people who go for that lean-back experience of reading a magazine, maybe on a plane or on their desk, diminishes by the day, as opposed to the number of people who consume all their content on their mobile device or on a laptop, or on a desktop.

Our customers consume different things on different platforms, both depending on the time of the day and depending on the media. At Fortune, we are committed to journalism, we're committed to deep insight. It's really about distribution and presentation layers. How do I act as a force multiplier for that content? How do I capture more eyeballs? How do I have a fast enough site that has good SEO, so that when people are searching for things, they're directed to Fortune? How do I distribute it further? How do I make sure that I have good content feeds that can be shared with content aggregators? How do I allow Fortune to surface our content on OTT applications, laptops, mobile web, Google AMP pages, video, YouTube? How do I make that easy and seamless for our journalists and our authors? Their job is not to spend a lot of time inputting content. It's doing interviews, doing research, doing journalism. And so, we use technology to accelerate that and make their lives easier.

What technology and innovation could have the greatest impact on print media?

I’m going to say Machine Learning first and foremost. The ability to understand what content is and what it means and match it with what people want or what they're looking for is just an unparalleled powerful force in media. You turn the way back meter to say the early 2000s, you used to have to know how to search. Searching was a skill, you needed to understand the words you had to put in the search box in order to find the things. And now you have natural language expression, natural language processing that “where can I find more about Fortune?”

What do technology platforms look like in the near future?

Over the next five years, it's going to start being woven into every platform, so that way every article that is written or every video that is created should be sort of indexed and consumed by a machine learning application. What is this article about, why is it being written? If we can use machine learning to help them find those answers more quickly, they're going to be more successful at their jobs and then keep coming back to us.

Is this digital transformation changing the organizations and the world? 

It’s dragging companies who haven't transformed yet kicking and screaming into the present, not even the future, because if you're talking about digital transformation today – it's too late.

How has the pandemic impacted digital transformation?

A thousand percent. I think when the pandemic hit, and we really started working, we realized that we needed to go digital-first. It’s understanding that the world is a different place, that your customers are different.

How important is talent to building great technology?

Talent is one of the scarcest resources, and you must take it where you can get it. Great people are sought out. Every single one of my developers gets one or more emails from recruiters trying to steal them from me every single day. And so, you want to really be flexible in how you do that. Do you work with third parties that specialize in things? Do you build core competencies internally? You want to mix, so that way you have a good, broad set of capabilities.

What are the challenges in the media and technology over the next decade? 

How do we leverage things like machine learning and sort of the AI-type stuff to input information or film clips quickly that can then be programmatically edited, generated, enhanced for the platforms that they're going to, and be available on them all at the same time?

So, I think that's where it's headed. You have a two-prong problem that is going to kill media.

The first is that the social media platforms are now the gatekeepers, they control all access, either you must go to search, and so your search is controlled by an algorithm, and you are at the mercy of Google or Bing or whomever, to get your information into somebody's hands. You’re at the mercy of Facebook, or Twitter about their algorithms, about whether or not your content surfaces on your platform. So, all the media is beholden to these giant platforms just for their information to get out. They also control all the advertising dollars, so they have aggregated all the audiences.

How does Fortune fit into the media and technology landscape over the next decade?

Over the next decade, what you see for Fortune is us continuing to build an audience of business decision-makers. We’re going to figure out how to convene those people digitally for communication and networking, and sort of growth as communities, business decision-makers, or people who are interested in the art and the craft of business, and bring them together around our content, our journalism and each other.

Conversations on the Cutting Edge is a series of interviews with technology leaders in Media & Entertainment. Our guests cover various cutting-edge trends and innovations across the digital media landscape, their influence on the current state of technology in media, and what's to come in the near future.

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