#newsrw: What gets lost in the hunt for the next big thing?

At conferences like news:rewired, it can sometimes feel like many people are waiting to be told what the next big thing is going to be, providing them with the opportunity to be an early adopted and charge into the future.

But the two keynote speakers at newsre:wired today both presented arguments that there’s a lot more we can do with the things we already have.

Kicking off the day was Peter Bale, the executive producer of MSN UK, where news:rewired was being held, who, not surprisingly, suggested a number of tools which MSN provided which journalists should look at, including Bing Maps and Photosynth. The latter is something which was talked about a lot about a year ago, before something else took its place as the next big thing. But on the face of it, it still has huge untapped potential.

After lunch, friend and former colleague Marc Reeves took to the stage to take about his current venture thebusinessdesk.com. Anyone hoping for a rant against the print industry will have left disappointed – but Marc made the point that the principle behind thebusinessdesk.com was quite simple: It relied on registration and newsletters.

Marc’s been a fan of newsletters (or perhaps we should just call them emails) for a long time now – and when the Birmingham Post went weekly, the newsletter (sign up here!) became a vital tool for providing the business community with their information.  The fact Birmingham business folk now have the option of two newsletters a day, which rarely contain the same information, can only be good for the consumer.

Although Marc is an advocate of social media, he’s the first to say that it’s not a huge part of his operation at thebusinessdesk.com – the newsletter drives 80% of his daily traffic. He has 5,000 people registered to use the site. You have to register to see anything beyond the first paragraph. Critics of this approach say people may sign up to see one story they really want to and never return, but if the Post’s success at building up its newsletter base is anything to go by, thebusinessdesk.com will have a lot of repeat traffic too.

I know from the Post’s newsletter that a bit of time and effort in planning the order of a newsletter, along with A/B testing of the design to get maximum click throughs, can bring a real lift in page views. I suspect Marc has found the same.

But how long have we had newsletters for? Forever – or at least it feels like it. Yet it’s a tool which I still think is massively underused by many parts of the media. Surely any blogger worth his or her salt should have a ‘send us an email’ option set up via feedburner.

Remember the ‘Facebook is dead’ pronouncements from many when Twitter turned up? It might happen at some point, I guess, but then again, everything dies at some point, so it’s fair to say the impact of Twitter on Facebook has been exaggerated. Hitwise figures suggest Facebook is still increasingly the place where people will come from for news stories.

The danger for those of us constantly looking for the next new tool, the next big thing is that we end up forgetting about the perfectly suitable tools which do the job very well. If it ain’t broke, then why seek to fix it?

2 comments

  1. I bore myself telling publishers, of whatever size, to have an email newsletter option.

    I have 5x as many on my newsletter list than following the site via RSS, and I can target the advertising in the newsletter very effectively.

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