A summit, the media, and a $25-million gamble.

What exactly did newsrooms get out of sending their journalists to the Trump-Kim summit? The numbers don't add up.

By Alan Soon
Splice Opinion
Journalists interviewing journalists: this self-indulgence, at $25 million, is a luxury that the industry can't afford. (Illustration: Rishad Patel. Photos: Shutterstock)
Journalists interviewing journalists: this self-indulgence, at $25 million, is a luxury that the industry can't afford. (Illustration: Rishad Patel. Photos: Shutterstock)

I’m glad the Trump-Kim media circus is over. There were 2,500 registered media people at the press center. Many had flown in to cover the summit.

Let’s do the math. Conservatively, let’s assume newsrooms spent $10,000 to get each of their journalists out to Singapore — flights, hotel, food. That’s $25 million, again conservatively.

What did they get out of it? Wall-to-wall coverage of:

  1. Journalists interviewing journalists. Because everyone’s a Korea expert.
  2. Security, often described as “tight” because we haven’t found another word. Thankfully, there are Gurkhas, so we get to use words like ‘fearsome’, ‘fierce’, and ‘colonial’. We can also talk about their knives.
  3. Motorcades. Look, The Beast!
  4. The menu. Apparently even world leaders need to eat. When that gets old, there’s always reporting on what reporters are eating.
  5. More food, especially if it’s “traditional Singaporean” food like kaya toast and chicken rice served at the media center.
  6. Backgrounders about the venue. “Death-from-behind” Sentosa. Former pirate hideout. Rinse, repeat.

That’s what $25 million in coverage gets you. And we wonder why newsrooms can’t afford to launch new products, can’t afford to pay their staff, can’t afford to build new tech.

Let’s be honest: it’s incredibly difficult to come away with differentiated coverage at a tightly managed event like this summit. Yet every single newsroom is making the same bet — that they would somehow scoop the competition in a lucky chance encounter. That’s an expensive bet.

Sadly, in the end, most visiting journalists covered the event by watching it on the screens at the media center. Some were at the Trump press conference. Some got to ask him questions. But in the end, everyone walked away with the same pool shot and same press releases. All for $25 million that the industry doesn’t have the luxury of spending.

Newsrooms don’t understand competition. Journalists want to out-scoop their peers, to land an “exclusive” (what does that even mean these days?). But the audience doesn’t care. They’re getting their stories off the social platforms anyway — and newsrooms are all losing their advertising business to those platforms. Who, then, is the real competitor?

Next time, leave your journalists at home. Work with the big wires — Reuters, AP, AFP. You’re already buying their feeds anyway. They can scale coverage; you can’t. Put together a proper discovery dashboard so you’re on top of everything. Collaborate with the platforms. Build a proper coverage distribution plan. Develop a differentiated point of view through better analysis.

But FFS, don’t blow $25 million by pretending to show up.

Co-Founder, Splice Media. Supporting media startups in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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