Tag Archives: future of news

Meaningful content with lasting value and engagement

For this round of the Carnival of Journalism blog fest, my friend and research buddy Jonathan Groves posed the following questions: How do you define meaningful content that has long-lasting value? What is the best way to evaluate content that fosters deep engagement with the audience? Groves wants to find a way to go beyond just “immediacy” to properly value pieces of content  with “longevity” that people return to repeatedly for connection, reference, or enjoyment.

First of all, I think that in order to increase the longevity of a meaningful piece of journalism, you’ve got to surface it for your readers at the right time, in the right way. A lot of that comes down to creating better systems for tagging and organizing content. For example, in the New York Times Innovation Report, they discussed the value in being able to do things like sort recipes by cooking time, restaurants reviews by geolocation, and similar. It’s difficult and time consuming to do this after the fact, they point out, so having a good CMS and established processes that make it a priority to do so at the time of publication are important. There is great potential here that remains untapped, even at well-resourced news organizations like the NYT.

I think Groves is right that not all of this kind of oft-returned to content has to be quite so utilitarian as recipes or restaurant reviews, although that’s an obvious place to start. What about investigative pieces that are relevant to a particular place? What about pieces that could resonate during certain events or milestones, like graduations, weddings, holidays, festivals etc.? I think there is a way to give many well-reported, well-written stories much longer lives, but it starts with making them easily findable, both through search and serendipity.

Second of all, I’m increasingly convinced that it’s less about choosing any one particular “golden” metric that will help us to quantify quality or impactful or engaging content, and more about being smarter and more sophisticated about the way we think and talk about the constellation of metrics available to us – and especially the story we as journalists tell advertisers.

I’m not an expert in advertising, but from talking to newsroom leaders at API’s Research Advisory Board meeting in February, what I understand is that right now advertisers  are also trying to parse the effectiveness of rapidly changing digital and mobile strategies. I have often heard that most advertisers don’t think click-through-rate is a great metric but continue to use it because they aren’t yet sure about  alternatives. I think journalists need to make a stronger case for higher ad rates on the basis of being associated with quality content and venerable media brands, especially on mobile. There’s nothing new about wanting to be associated with a credible brand, of course – it’s never been “only” about the volume of eyeballs. But it seems as though in the “Wild West” of trying to understand mobile and digital metrics we’ve been distracted from emphasizing these fundamentals.

For example, in her book “Saving Community Journalism,” Penelope Abernathy argues that publishers need to move from selling space to selling solutions to advertisers. She notes that a lot of the growth in digital advertising in recent years has come from search, which is all about helping consumers find products they are already inclined to purchase, but that “historically, advertising has served many other functions, from creating demand for a product to reinforcing the loyalty of customers.” She argues that newspapers should aggressively re-position themselves as a cross-platform medium that can provide ALL of those functions to the advertiser.

Similarly, the recently published API report on mobile argues that advertisers buy audiences rather than publications and that publishers need to think more creatively about cross-platform possibilities to provide useful services to people and capitalize on their unique strengths.

Maybe I’m too far off the topic of specific metrics, but I think it’s not so much about numbers, but about the stories they help us to tell about the kinds of people who read a publication, how they feel about it, how loyal they are, etc. and what that means for your credibility as a news organization and your ability to charge enough for your ads to sustain yourself.

Finally, I’m curious to follow the Financial Times’ recen t decision to move from CPMs to “time spent” going forward. They feel this metric will better value their highly engaged audience. As Sam Petulla writes for Contently:

This strategic shift is part of the broader vision that the The Financial Times sees for the future of advertising. [Commercial Director of Digital Advertising]  Slade said that The Financial Times wants to distinguish every aspect of their brand through quality, and using time as an advertising currency fits that mission perfectly.





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Two Steps To Success: Ride the Google Wave, Then Focus On Longer-Form Quality

This post is a response to the February  Journalism Carnival, which asked us: “What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”

I already did a little prognosticating just a couple of months ago over at Nieman Lab, but here’s a somewhat half-formed  idea I’ve been playing around with in my head and talking about with my research buddy, Jonathan Groves of Drury University.  I don’t have any hard data on this yet. But here’s one possible “digital trend” we could see developing…

Recently, there have been a number of encouraging pieces like this and this suggesting that long-form, serious journalism on the web, or on the tablet as the case may be, is thriving. Exciting, almost too-good-to-be-true for democracy-depends-on-journalism nerds like me.

What I’m wondering, though, is if news organizations have to go through a series of  stages in order to find success with serious, hard-hitting, longer reads on the web.  Sure, some sites like the Atavist may be able to bypass a step, but maybe most news organziations have to do some hardcore SEO, shorter pieces, aggregation, and other aggressive page-view garnering tactics first, before you can move into the second stage where your longer pieces get traction online.

Bear in mind again I’m just speculating here.

Groves and I did a study at the Christian Science Monitor, which eliminated its daily print edition a couple of years ago, going not only Web-first but Web-only, although they do still have a magazine-like print weekly. The Monitor aggressively used SEO techniques, shortened their stories, increased their updating frequency, and monitored Google Trends in order to assign stories on popular newsy search topics, and  was able to quickly reach a goal of increasing their page views from just three million to 25 million by 2010. Just the other day a non-journalist friend of mine who has never heard of the Monitor sent me a story from it she had found via searching Google for stories about the then-hot Komen vs. Planned Parenthood story; it was one of the top results. I’m pretty sure she never would have come across one of their stories before the transition. Not only are they boosting page views, they are increasing their brand awareness as a place to go to for important news. If the Monitor would have kept doing exactly what they were doing, just repurposing print content for the web, I’m not sure they would still even be a player in the space, regardless of how much great journalism they are doing, even though these tactics caused understandable anxiety for many staffers and journalism lovers alike.

But once your brand has been established as a web player, can you then start to focus on doing the kind of stuff journalists do best,  more in-depth reporting? Do sites like Slate and the Atlantic have success with long-form because they’ve already established themselves as web-savvy?

Sometimes I think we want a one-size-fits-all, linear solution to the tumult in the news business when the the real “answer,” such that it is, is that you have to walk before you can run, and that your transition for success SHOULD, and indeed must, have a lot of pivots in it, as most good entrepreneurial thinkers know.  It reminds me of teaching beginning news reporting. I don’t want my students to only know how to write boring, inverted pyramid, formulaic, inside-baseball news stories. But I’ve learned from experience it is hard to teach them how to break the rules until they’ve learned the rules in the first place. Somehow, learning to write the most basic, simple story launches you into a space in which you can then start doing some more interesting things as a reporter and a writer. Some times you have to learn a certain skill – how to be smart on the web – before you can start creatively melding that skill with some of your higher values of investigative journalism. You have to experiment and learn some of the rules and norms of a new medium and get out of your comfort zone while doing it, and then you can move forward from there.

Every time I write a blog post, I think, well, that was not as profound as it seemed when I first had the thought. But anyway, I wonder if that is one “digital trend” we will see in the future – a kind of two-step process to great web journalism.


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