Wired Co-founder and IMD alumnus Ian Charles Stewart and TIME CEO Jessica Sibley - IMD Business School
News Stories · Leadership

News literacy is critical as trust in media plummets, TIME CEO tells IMD alumni at annual event

In a world where The Weather Channel is the most trusted media source in the United States, venerable media brands like TIME have a responsibility to improve digital inclusivity and reach new audiences, Jessica Sibley tells an audience of alumni gathered in Lausanne.
October 2023

Since becoming CEO of TIME in November 2022, one of the most prominent decisions Sibley has made is to remove the paywall on TIME.com and make its entire archive from the past 100 years accessible to readers around the world.

“I felt strongly that TIME should be accessible to everyone in the world for free,” she said in conversation with Ian Charles Steward, Co-founder of Wired magazine and Executive in Residence at IMD at this year’s International Alumni Symposium. “We are facing another crazy election cycle in the US. News literacy and educating the next generations is so, so critical and so important.”

This year’s symposium takes place as business leaders grapple with rising geopolitical tensions, higher inflation, and the rapid pace of technological change, among other challenges. In addition, the rise of misinformation is making it harder for people to know whether they can trust what they read online.

Sibley, a seasoned media executive, who prior to joining TIME was Chief Operating Officer at Forbes and held senior leadership positions at The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Condé Nast, says change has been the one constant of her career.

Yet she believes that in an age of plummeting trust in the media, brands like TIME with a long and rich heritage of speaking the truth will only grow in importance.

“I believe right now that legacy is in, it’s cool, it matters. I have travelled the world for TIME and everyone has to tell me a TIME story,” she said.

Sibley is the first woman CEO of TIME in its 100-year history and was recently named on Variety’s “The New Power of New York List 2023”. She said she has never been bothered about being the only woman in the room. Early on in her career, she realized that she wanted to work in sales because it gave her “ownership over what was happening and that you could drive results.”

With women accounting for just 10% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, she said this needs to change if business leaders are going to continue to enjoy relatively high levels of trust. “If people in the world are trusting businesses and companies and as a leader now, you are expected to solve the biggest societal challenges, we need more women. Period. Because we’re not going to be able to do it with that kind of statistic.” Since joining TIME, Sibley has increased the number of women in leadership positions by +56%. 

TIME 3.0

In an era when anyone with a smartphone can spread information fast, TIME still employs factcheckers and copyeditors. To fund this and maintain the integrity of TIME’s newsroom, Sibley is pushing ahead with her TIME 3.0 transformation, which involves diversifying and expanding into new businesses. 

She has launched TIME into e-commerce for the first time with with TIME Stamped, expanded its global events business, and debuted new extensions of the TIME100 franchise with TIME100 Voices, a new editorial platform dedicated to spotlighting the ideas and perspectives of the world’s most influential people.

“We are continuing to grow our business in different ways to ensure that we can continue to have a newsroom that will operate in our core values of the past 100 years. We are going for high impact and high value,” she said.

Sibley believes the decision to scrap the paywall also makes business sense as TIME looks to grow its global readership. Around 45% of TIME’s audience is under the age of 35. Its magazine and digital platforms now reach 120 million people around the world – the largest audience in its history.

There is, however, a downside to the open access. The developers of large language models (LLMs) are taking the TIME archives, crawling it, and using it to train their models, she said.

“I tried to get ChatGPT to pay for my data set for TIME from the last 100 years. They wanted to pay us nothing. We are trying to figure it out. We are trying to figure out how to make money, be more efficient and not scare our newsroom,” she said.

Nonetheless, Sibley is keen to embrace technology and AI to make TIME faster, and more efficient. One viable application of the technology is taking original content, such as a news article on a topic, and tailoring it to different audiences.

“What we want to do is take our content and re-generate it into different formats,” she said. This could either be through translating it into different languages or by creating a new version for a fifth-grader, or someone with subject-matter expertise. “It could create a summary, or it could create visuals or new formats of a trusted sources of truth,” she added.

Since taking over TIME, Sibley has also launched the first-ever TIME100 AI list, which has inspired a new series of events, with partners including Meta and Intel, focused on finding solutions to create a more inclusive future with AI. 

She admits it is difficult to predict how AI will impact the future of journalism. However, by sticking with what TIME knows how to do best – producing credible and trustworthy content about the world’s newsmakers – she hopes to find answers. “We are going to write the stories; we are going to highlight the individuals who are most influential in AI and through that journey, we’re also going to learn ourselves.”

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