Learning from hyperlocals to make sure the news still matters

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How do you define success as a local journalist these days? Number of front pages? Number of page views online? A sense of job well done at the end of the week?

All of the above make sense in the here-and-now, an instant sign of job well done. But to find the key to a sustainable future, future, maybe journalists need to look at things a little different.

Big numbers against digital audiences are great, and very important. We saw that in this week’s half-yearly release of the ABCes in the UK for the regional press. But uniques and page views only tell part of the story, and they don’t tell the really important bit: What people think of you.

So to define success, you need to define how you want people to think of you. Most people want to be liked, but that’s probably not a great place for a news organisation to start. Being able to prove that you are trusted, seen as reliable, and seen as useful and entertaining are probably the goals we should be aiming for.

Audience metrics allow us to see this, and newsrooms I work with increasingly focus on pages per visit, visits per user, time spent on site, increase in ‘brand visits’ – people visiting directly or via searches based on the brand name –  and volume of organic shares on social media. For organisations which can offer metrics to support newsrooms in monitoring this – think BuzzSumo, or Chartbeat – now is a very good time to be in business.

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Digital Journalism Trends in 2016: Why audience engagement holds the key to a thriving future

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100k people read articles about how to cook a turkey on Trinity Mirror’s regional news sites. Listening to what readers want and then delivering it will define strong newsrooms in 2016

Audience engagement is one of those phrases which makes a lot of eyes roll. ‘Just let us get on with the journalism’ is one response I’ve heard a few times.

It’s an understandable response, but if there is one thing which is going to determine the winners from the losers in the brand race to be relevant online in 2016, it’s the ability to engage with audiences.

Journalism needs to take its cue from how audiences react and respond to what we do – and find ways to get the audience to engage with what we know they need to know.

It isn’t going to be enough to say ‘look, we’ve been here for 150 years, you know you can trust us.’ In many ways, digital pushed the reset button on the ability of publishers to call on their heritage as a reason for being, offering new publishers the chance to compete on an equal footing for the attention of readers.

But what does audience engagement mean?

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DIGITAL JOURNALISM TRENDS IN 2016: Why it’s time for journalists to climb off the fence

This is the third in a series of posts between now and the end of the year looking at key themes I think will emerge during the course of 2016. The first, about social journalism, can be found here, while the second, about the battle for access to information, can be found here. 

Back in April, Jeff Jarvis took to the stage at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, and declared: “To hell with mass media.” Or rather, that was the name of his speech.

The substance was more subtle than that. Jarvis argued that the days of mass media being a thing which set the news agenda and which people had to turn to for their information were long gone.

Instead, for journalism to succeed in the future, journalists need to build closer connections with their readers and be useful to those readers as well.  For that to happen, argued Jarvis, journalists need to be prepared to become activists if the need arises.

You can hear the full audio here:

It’s a sentiment which, at first, seems so far removed from journalism as we know it. But I also believe it’s a journey we have to go on during 2016 if we are to remain relevant to readers.

Is it possible to become more vocal while at the same time staying true to the principles of journalism? I believe so – indeed I believe it’s essential.

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Digital Journalism trends in 2016: The battle for public information at the heart of all reporting, regardless of platform

This is the second in a series of posts between now and the end of the year looking at key themes I think will emerge during the course of 2016. The first, about social journalism, can be found here.

The danger in writing posts predicting trends for 2016 is that it can become a wish list rather than a look at things which evidence suggests are going to happen. To that end, there’s no doubt I’m passionate about Freedom of Information, and angry at the threat it currently faces from the Government’s rather one-sided (sorry, open-minded) review in the 10-year-old Act.

And there’s also a danger that I could try and crow-bar an issue into a digital trends blog post just because it means a lot to me. But as print, TV, radio and internet news providers all find themselves converging in the same digital space, it should be abundantly clear that our old challenges are as relevant as ever – and never more important than now.

I can predict with some confidence that a good chunk of 2016 will be spent fighting off further threats to the access journalists enjoy – and indeed, would take for granted if they weren’t always under threat – from various government initiatives.

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