My media habits: The Economist’s Scott Munday – ‘I avoid social media as much as possible’

A self-confessed 'millennial' with old school media habits, The Economist Group's director of sales for South East Asia and the Pacific Scott Munday is candid about his increasing disillusionment with social media – in an interview with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you?

“It will sound cliché because I work for them, but I have to get my weekly dose of The Economist. It is important for me to feel like I can trust the source of the information I am consuming.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always agree with my friends from the newspaper editorial, but I enjoy that the content challenges me to think, and provokes me to form my own opinions. I think it’s the values of The Economist that have kept me such an avid reader, and a loyal employee for the last 13 years.

“As a more general news source, I turn to the BBC News for daily updates, and use the app on my phone religiously. I also enjoy reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Stern Magazine, when I want to get a European view of what’s going on, which has become even more important as the Brexit debate and discussion rages on.” 

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“I am relatively old school despite (technically) belonging to the millennial generation. I really like reading print: the experience of turning the page, feeling it in my hands and enjoying the text over a quiet morning coffee. 

“It is a habit that I cultivated when I was lucky enough to live in Vienna and I still do it in Singapore, where I am now based. 

“However, I am not a complete technophobe — my iPhone gets frequent use, to access apps, subscribe to some newsletters and jump around websites daily. My desktop use is limited to weekdays when I have some downtime at my desk, or if I am doing some research for a proposal I am working on.

“I don’t use social media for news consumption and have decreased my usage of it in general over the past 18 months, preferring instead to get my morning news from streaming news radio. 

“My favourite station is in Austria – Radio FM4 – a bilingual station with a very liberal world view. It is the perfect companion to the morning papers over the weekend.”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“I guess this is not an either/or question for me. I think short form content has its merits when I am looking to get the facts, fast and direct. 

“However, as an avid reader, I enjoy pieces that dissect a topic, show critical thinking and challenge me to form my own opinions. Sometimes this can only be achieved through long form content.  

“So I guess it depends on why I am reading the content, but in terms of preference, I prefer long form, in depth reports.” 

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

Gitta Sereny

“My favourite journalist Gitta Sereny is sadly no longer with us, having passed away in 2012. But the impact she had on my thinking and worldview remains with me today. 

“She was arguably one of the most impressive investigative journalists and authors the world has seen. Coming from a privileged background, she spent her life working to help the less fortunate — at orphanages during the war in Paris, and after the war with the UN. 

“Her life was so influenced by the events of National Socialist Germany that it, as it did for many of her generation, shaped a world view that would stand up against intolerance and ignorance. 

“She was a woman of principle, and was fearless in her defence of the truth, writing about (the minister of armaments and war production in Nazi Germany) Albert Speer in ‘His Battle With the Truth’ and throughout her career, fiercely challenged holocaust deniers such as David Irving. Her work with the Guardian and The Observer made these publications my papers of choice when I lived in the UK. 

“What makes her great is that despite having lived through such a horrific period, she managed to maintain almost complete objectivity and loyalty to the truth. She would always see people for the individuals they are and try to understand the world from their viewpoint, while adding facts to derive her own narrative. Hers is an increasingly rare art in a modern world, where writers, journalists and commentators struggle to see both sides of a debate.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead, the amazing debate between Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley, Alain de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

I am a firm believer in paying for quality content.  I currently subscribe to Bloomberg Businessweek and I pick up every edition of AnOther magazine, which I really enjoy as an escape from the usual current affairs media I tend to read.” 

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix?

I have moved exclusively to Netflix or Apple TV (itunes) for my TV and movie consumption. I don’t tend to watch any terrestrial TV, in fact I don’t even have access to it in my home.” 

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences?

“I have mixed feelings about recommendation engines. At times, I enjoy the ability to keep reading on a particular subject, at others, the inner rebel in me thinks ‘you don’t know me’, and will intentionally avoid it. 

“This technology is difficult to escape and I am not always comfortable with it, but I don’t think it harms my ability to find fresh, interesting content outside my usual preferences.” 

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?

“On a recent flight I watched ‘In the Fade’ (Aus Dem Nichts), I am not usually a huge fan of modern German cinema but this movie was really engaging. 

“The emotional journey of losing loved ones, the injustice of the justice system, and the struggle of letting the need for revenge consume you. It was a really powerful story, probably too emotional for a long haul flight, but the complex issues around race, love, society, terrorism and revenge made me think a lot for a few days after.”

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing?

This is where I am completely predictable and in line with everyone else – 2019 was the year of Game of Thrones. A fan, but not a crazy fan, I enjoyed seeing the story reach its climax and come to an end. 

“I really enjoy The Handmaids Tale, having read the book when I was young. Seeing this fictional universe be brought to life at a time where the world is going through its own political re-shaping is a much needed TV event that shouldn’t be understated. 

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?
“I would say mobile, desktop and television. I purposefully don’t own a tablet or Kindle because I don’t think they would add much value to my consumption habits.” 

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“This discussion and debate has been raging since I was a teenager, and people were downloading things on Limewire—not me, of course. The industry has now evolved and adapted with artists, actors and studios remaining incredibly wealthy despite illegal consumption. 

“People should pay for content, but I don’t think that is a blanket rule I would apply throughout the media industry.  Some of the most fantastic content out there comes from sources where funding is a necessary component to keep the content flowing, and so, of course we should support that kind of business through paid subscriptions, donations and so on.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?“There are two books:  ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney. 

“And ‘How to Be Invisible’, by Kate Bush. I have so many fond memories of her music, that its amazing reading the lyrics even without the music.” 

So Kindle or hard copy?

Always hard copy.”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music?

“I buy music on iTunes exclusively, and I am trying to move to Spotify but I haven’t been able to form a habit yet. I also use radio streaming services to listen to FM4 or BBC Radio 2.”

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“This is one of the most challenging questions for me, because I tend to listen to quite outdated music, which friends find infuriating when they come over for a few drinks. 

Basia Bulat

“To list a few that make it to my playlist: Basia Bulat, France Gall, Amy Winehouse, Troye Sivan, Diana Ross, Gavin Turek, Banks and others.” 

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“Complete villain for me. I find content on social media increasingly frustrating, and try to avoid it as much as possible. It always seems too self-serving on the part of the poster, completely disingenuous and often really lazy.” 

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation?

“For me, they are completely media companies, and should be held to the same standards of editorial integrity as traditional publications, which they are currently not forced to do. 

“I think this will change, and as people become increasingly concerned with the reliability of the content they are being exposed to, I hope this puts pressure on social networks to clean house and clear their platforms of misinformation.”

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“The human touch is still a very necessary component in this process. I think algorithms tend to create a noisy and overcrowded content environment. The balance between technology and the human input is still being refined, and I don’t think we have reached the optimal relationship just yet.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

“It is about finding the right balance between the use of technology and the human touch. Whilst we need to embrace new technologies and capabilities, it is important for us to understand and develop the best working relationship with the technology rather than relying on it alone for all the answers.”


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