If you were to list the changes digital media has ushers into newsrooms across the UK, the list would quickly become long.
The one I want to focus on today is the change in audience expectation and behaviour. Gone are the days when post-publication interaction with readers was confined to conversations with those who had the motivation to ring the newsdesk, visit ‘front counter’ or get their pen and paper out.
Since the victory by Donald Trump in the American elections, many millions of words online have been devoted to how the media Stateside got it so wrong, and what that means for the future of journalism.
I feel that’s coming at the problem from the wrong end. Digital platforms have given everyone a voice. Personalisation on those platforms – primarily through algorithms – has created a bubble-like experience for many people. I’m convinced the shock of the ‘exit’ vote in Brexit for many was worsened by that platforms like Facebook so effectively target what you see that Brexit-supporters were all but banished from Remainers timelines, and vice versa.
That bubble-like environment, and the ease with which people can now publish a view, puts a new spotlight on what people are thinking about what they are reading. This isn’t a Facebook thing. Any football writer whose club is also served by a fans forum where every story is analysed, reacted to and commented upon will know what I’m talking about. Everyone has a voice, and many are critics.
Overall, this is a positive thing. At least people care enough about what we’re writing to talk about it. Irrelevance-induced silence must be worse.
Does focusing on audience metrics damage journalism? Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to read that I don’t think it does – but there are important caveats.
If you use multiple metrics – such as unique browsers, page views, time spent on article and bounce-rate – you quickly develop a quick, yet broad, picture of what appeals to people. Knowing what sort of audience is your priority is critical.
Focus on just one metric, be it just unique browsers or page views, and the risk is that you end up hitting a number but don’t build loyalty, and, in effect, are having to run very hard to effectively stand still. Focus too much on just engagement metrics such as time spent on article and you can end up super-serving a loyal, but very small, audience.
In other words, journalists and newsrooms need to produce content – and by that, I really mean stories, regardless of how it is told – which both attracts readers but also doesn’t disappoint. In an ideal world, that first story or piece of content needs to make a mark on the reader’s memory so when they find the brand in search or social in the future they are more inclined to click.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who was party to a conversation debating how long it would take Rangers to start banning dissenting voices in the media once Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United, effectively took over the club.
I try not to use this blog too often to talk about my job, because that’s not what it is meant to be about.
But having been heavily involved in the new digital project in Reading, I thought I’d use the blog to counter some of the complete bobbins which has been written by supposed journalism experts.
I’m not going to divulge detailed editorial plans (sorry), not least because they are for publisher Ed Walker to talk about when the time is right. But there are some things I do want to share.
It should go without saying that nobody ever wants to close a print title. I started in print almost 20 years ago and still love reading newspapers.
But it’s clear to anyone who knows the industry that as more and more people consume news online instead of in print, some newspapers will reach a point where an online-only future is their only future.
The Scottish referendum will live long in the memory of the journalists who covered it. But as the dust settles and the devolution negotiations kick on, I’ve pulled together a list of things the referendum can teach us about political journalism and where it’s heading….
At 6.43am yesterday I checked my alarm clock and hurtled downstairs to turn on Cbeebies. My three-year-old wasn’t even up at this point – the normal trigger for Cbeebies being allowed to beam into our house. Yesterday, however, was her birthday and my hurry to watch Cbeebies was less about not missing one of the new episodes of Pingu, and much more about seeing if her birthday card would appear on TV.
I was just in time. As the telly warmed up, the first thing I saw was my daughter’s face in the middle of our carefully stuck-together Octonauts card with a birthday message being read out by Cat (on the right of the picture above, obviously).
Hit Sky+, dash upstairs, grab my now-awake daughter, plonk her in front of the TV, repeat same pattern with my wife carrying our two-week-old youngest daughter, press play on TV and watch everyone smile, not least my three-year-old as it dawned on her that it was her the people on the TV were saying happy birthday to. She even stopped talking about her current favourite TV cartoon, the dreadful ‘Little Princess’ over on Channel 5’s Milkshake.