In the learn-to-read book, Craig, Biff and Chip found out they’d saved Pudding Wood by reading about it in the newspaper. How do we make sure online we’re the place to turn to for such news?
Facebook came under fire from the news industry this week for automating the trending news widget – until now, it had been a process which allowed for human intervention.
The problem with automation, it turns out, is that it allows fake news in. Facebook, of course, had to defend itself against claims of potential bias in the trending box when it did allow journalists employed by the social network giant to decide what went where.
For journalists getting to grips with the digital age, the dilemma facing Facebook will have a familiar ring to it. Do you go with what the audience tells you they want through their actions (Facebook talks about signals, newsrooms talk about audience data), or do you go with what your instinct as journalist tells you?
The answer, as with many things, is surely taking the best of both. Journalism’s success – and especially regional journalism’s success – is now inextricably linked with popularity amongst readers. That doesn’t necessarily mean biggest audience is always best, but every news organisation is seeking the right size of the right audience to sustain itself into the future.
That right audience may be just one of scale, as that drives a certain level of revenue on the back of it. Or it might be a smaller audience which values the content enough to pay for it, or register for it. Or, as is likely the case for many regional publishers, the right audience is surely a primarily local audience of a size no other news organisation can hold a candle to.
So what’s the best way to reach that audience? Facebook’s success is down to a combination of great product – giving people something useful – and superb relevance of what it serves up. Both aspects are built, refined and refined again using the ‘signals’ users send in the form of audience data.
Over the summer, the pursuit of the right size of local audience has been under the microscope after criticism from journalists who have recently left the organisation I work for, Trinity Mirror. I believe debate about what we do and the way we do it is healthy – we expect the right to scrutinise others, so we should expect to be scrutinised ourselves – so long as it’s a constructive debate rooted in fact, rather than personal opinion.
The editor of trade website Press Gazette, Dominic Ponsford, attempted to sum up the debate like this: