by Kevin Anderson, on September 13, 2012
Digital media presents publishers with a paradox. They can reach a much wider audience, but that audience isn’t as loyal as their broadcast or print audience. As we wrote last week, Mike Fromowitz cast the paradox this way:
The good news is that the customer can access the newspaper’s information in almost any given moment. The bad news is that at any junction, the competition is just one click away.
There is a lot more content competing for the attention of your readers and viewers. The former head of Al Jazeera English online, Mohamed Nanabhay, said that the network’s site isn’t just competing against other news sites, “We’re competing with everybody who puts up a webpage on the internet.”
Build great journalism experiences
To meet this challenge, Raju Narisetti, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal’s digital network, told the WAN-IFRA conference in Kiev that news organisations need to shift from delivering great content to delivering great experiences, ones that keeps audiences coming back over and over again. Whether or not news organisations can deliver these experiences “is where we will either win or lose journalism’s future”.
In explaining what he meant by a journalism experience, he outlined one of the key challenges strategically and organisationally that news groups face as they transition from being focused on a single platform – whether that be radio, television or print – to serving not only their existing platform but also multiple digital platforms. For all of the pre-digital platforms, we have accepted and well understood methods of journalistic story-telling. TV, radio and print all have story styles, and every editor knows not only the story formats but also how to direct staff to report, edit and deliver those stories. When it comes to digital story telling, we have so many more options. Narisetti asked “What is a journalism experience?”. And answering his own question, he said it is words, pictures, charts, sounds, slide shows, interactive graphics, databases and video.
Digital provides so many opportunities for journalistic storytelling, but Narisetti believes that we still have a long way to go in taking advantage of these opportunities and delivering great digital journalism experiences. He said:
Newsrooms by and large have mastered the parts that make for a complete digital story. And we are getting good at doing things ON THE WEB.
We are terrible at turning these parts into a great experience every day. We are nowhere close to doing journalism OF THE WEB.
Great digital journalism experiences “come at the intersection of content and technology,” he added, and he sees the integration of content and technology as even more difficult than the challenges of integrating print (or broadcast) and online newsrooms.
To create these experiences, he said:
• We need to start by thinking of the type of audience or user experience that we want.
• The IT department alone cannot deliver this experience.
• “To preserve good experiences, in a world of digital permanence, newsrooms must now plan for impermanence.”
To expand on those points, as far as what kind of experience you want to create, it’s useful to think about how you would not only tell an audience about a story but use digital storytelling techniques to make them feel as if they were witnesses to it.
With all the options for digital, it can be daunting at first. Your first step is to think about the story that you’re trying to tell and how you can make the storytelling as immersive as possible. Here are some helpful hints:
• Is location important? You might think of including a map if you want to show a journey or the relative location of events. Is time important? You might want to create a timeline, and there are several services that will allow you to do that.
• Is it generating a lot of discussion and debate in social media? Then you might want to collect the best and reflect and add to that debate.
• Do you have or could you capture good video to illustrate the story?
• It might not be a visual story, but audio can also be an excellent way to immerse audiences in an experience. An audio interview can often convey emotions much more effectively than text, even written by the best of writers.
• Is it a live, rolling news event that you could help your readers follow minute-by-minute like a sporting event, protest or disaster? You could create a live blog, and your reporters could use mobile phones to provide text, photo and video updates. If it is a disaster, you can provide a service to your audience by providing up-to-date information on relief efforts and sources of help.
• Has a university or the government published data that you could use to create charts or visualisations or that you could present in a more compelling way that added value to the data by making it easy to search?
Knowing the type of story that you want to tell, the experience you want to create, will help you work with developers and give structure to your project.
That last point that Narisetti makes is that digital technology is not fixed. Putting aside the constant change in technology for a minute, audience expectations change frequently in terms of digital media as well. What seemed cutting edge just a few years ago now feels dated. You’ll want to keep experimentation lightweight and low-cost. When digital journalism first began, many organisations did a lot of one-off projects. They were time consuming, and if the audience reaction was poor, it often felt like a waste of resources. By bringing down the cost of experimentation, you’ll be more willing to try new things. You can do this by using third-party services instead of feeling the need to create the technology yourself. For instance, the Wall Street Journal recently launched a short video update service, which is powered by an application called Tout.
This is just the start of understanding the options that you have and how to choose the best one for the story that you’re trying to cover. Over time, you can refine the experience by analysing how your audience responds to it. You should look not only at traffic but how long your audience spends with digital features, a statistic that is easily found in most web statistics services. You can also monitor how often it is shared on social media and what they are saying about the feature. Many news organisations actively seek input from their readers to make their digital projects better, something that is relatively easy to do via social media or digital feedback forms. Over time, you’ll begin to understand your audience better and how to engage them and increase how often they visit your site and how much time they spend with your content. An audience which comes and goes from your site is hard to sell to advertisers, but by creating better journalism experiences, the content will be better and the audiences more loyal.