My media habits: VaynerMedia’s Avery Akkineni – ‘Twitter has changed the game of journalism’

In an interview with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll, the Singapore head of VaynerMedia Avery Akkineni reveals why social media trumps all else as a source of news and talks about how to make recommendation engines work better

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? 

“I read for about an hour per day. It is to try and keep up with the news across a few different dimensions: global, local (both in Singapore and the United States), marketing and technology as well as pop culture. 

“I typically scan Twitter for up-to-date and trending storylines and will read in full, articles that I find the most interesting. I read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times for global/US-based stories, and The Straits Times for Singapore news. 

“I love my daily Mumbrella briefing and also read Ad Age, AdWeek, Campaign, The Drum, Marketing Week and AdExchanger regularly, along with TechCrunch. For what’s trending in lifestyle and pop culture, I follow my favourite social handles and publications like Refinery29 and PureWow.” 

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

“I am almost exclusively an online news consumer. I rely heavily on social media and follow all of my favourite news publications via Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and subscribe to daily email digests. I’m also a huge podcast fan and listen to NYT’s ‘The Daily’ and NPR’s ‘News Now’ often, especially when I’m commuting to work.” 

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

“Short form for daily consumption, but long form for weekend reads, when I have a bit more time on hand.” 

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

Michael Barbaro

“I am a big fan of Michael Barbaro from The New York Times. He’s the host of ‘The Daily’ podcast and has an incredible way with storytelling.”

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

“This is a tough question, since there is so much great journalism happening at the moment. More than a single article, what I think has changed the game of journalism is Twitter. The real-time nature and limited character count makes it a tremendously popular news platform for communications professionals, journalists, marketers and more.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to? 

“Of course. I subscribe to The Wall Street Journal and to The New York Times. We also have corporate subscriptions to all the major marketing industry publications.”

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

“I am fully embracing the ‘cord-cutting’ lifestyle; we don’t have traditional cable. We subscribe to Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, and a few sports apps that my husband likes. I am hoping that Hulu goes international soon.” 

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 believe that recommendation engines are generally a good thing, but you have to train them to curate great content for you. The machines are only as good as the data inputs they receive. I make a specific effort to actively look into news stories on my own, in addition to ‘recommended’ storylines which can be eerily efficient at finding content that I like. 

“By adding new publications and interests to my data profile, I am always diversifying the content that recommendation engines associate with me. If you’re leaning too far into recommendation engines, it can lead to confirmation bias.”

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

“Along with seemingly the rest of the world, I just saw The Joker. Joaquin Phoenix did a fantastic job starring in the film, which was a chilling, bold, re-telling of the classic comic book story. I now want to review previous interpretations of the film.”

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

“The Sunday night HBO lineup is very strong; I typically try to tune into that when I can. That said, I’m not a massive TV person, so I’m often behind on episodes.”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television? 

“Mobile, all the way. I rarely use other device types, outside of a laptop for work.”

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

“Piracy and illegal downloads are unquestionably damaging to media and entertainment. It’s prevalent globally, but especially so in developing markets, where there is often less stigma associated with illegal download sites. One really interesting case study of a brand combating this directly is ‘Code Name: Uri’, a brand campaign that actually helped to change an Indian piracy law.

“This mock-download site started off as a leaked ‘film download’ but ultimately ended up trolling users for utilising illegal download sites – such a clever way to address this problem. The campaign also just won a few awards at Spikes Asia.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times? 

“I always alternate between fiction and non-fiction. My favourite non-fiction book lately is ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things,’ a brilliant book by Ben Horowitz about building a business. It’s packed with really great insights from his time as a CEO/founder, and as an investor at Andreessen Horowitz. “For pleasure reading, I just finished ‘Pachinko’, a beautiful novel about a multi-generational Korean family. It’s a lovely, if gut-wrenching, summer read.” 

So Kindle or hard copy? 

“I prefer hard copy, but Kindle just makes it so easy to adopt their product. I am also a major audio person, so Kindle + Audible for me.”

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

“Spotify. I stream everything, and for $10 a month, it is a bargain.”

 Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now? 

“Originally from Nashville, Tennessee (lauded as ‘Music City’ by its locals,) my taste is very diverse. I have been super into disco lately – throwback to the 1970s. And tribal house, from my recent wedding in Tulum.”

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

“Hero, 100%. Social media enables an unprecedented access to content and creation abilities. It allows any individual to become a content creator, as it removes the historical barriers to entry – expensive production equipment, expertise, distribution. In today’s world, anyone with a smartphone and a social handle can create and distribute content to a receptive audience.”  

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? 

“Media professionals absolutely still play a role in curating top content and stories; these groups also serve as key opinion leaders (KOLs) in their respective spaces. Critics still determine the top stories, restaurants, books, movies, and more, but they’re not the only voice to determine what’s popular and what’s ‘premium’ anymore. 

“I believe it’s a healthy balance – an element of democracy (coming from popular demand, and thus algorithms), and an element of professional qualification.” 

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? 

“We’ll always need sharp journalists to break stories, especially in the investigative space. No robot is going to be able to get the scoop on nuanced cover-ups, and live reporting from distressed regions – we will always need journalists.”


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