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.