Audience Migration: Revamping Newsrooms for Modern Demands
Apr 10, 2012
Migration of audience requires newsroom reformulation: adapting content to different platforms and formats to meet reader preferences and optimize consumption flows.
People are reading fewer newspapers. People are reading fewer magazines. Of course, this refers to their printed versions. There are several behavioral and economic explanations for this, such as the reduction in the average citizen's free time, the ease of handling various publications on digital readers, increased awareness of environmental issues, among others. The redesign of the news consumer profile is spreading despair in newsrooms around the world and certainly, it will not require a single measure to keep publications running. Among them is the utilization of the opportunities that technology is offering and this will imply not only technological changes, but also in the way content is built within newsrooms.
According to a study by the Pew Institute, after checking emails, news consumption is the preferred use by smartphone and tablet owners. The study raises several interesting conclusions. The first is that users are dedicating more time to reading news since they bought their devices, but also, they started consuming news from more sources and also started consuming more in-depth articles (what we, journalists, like to call "quality journalism", although it is more of a wishful thinking than the reality in many cases).
The study shows 1) that readers still want news and are actually willing to read more than usual and 2) the audience has not disappeared, but now wants to be able to consume the product on the platform, time, and way that suits them. Newspapers and magazines continue to have a problem finding new business models (which exist, even for local businesses, but require creativity and administrative restructuring).
But the Pew report suggests a point that is still little discussed. Readers clearly differentiate platforms for reading different types of content - hard news usually has the preference of smaller mobile devices, in times of stress, such as going to and from work, while more in-depth material works better on tablets and at less tight times.
Most newsrooms and content management systems used today require from the journalist something that he cannot do (or rather, cannot do well), which is to write the content and format it for different deliveries. The logic is that of a mass production system. But the truth is that audience fragmentation requires a fragmentation of the content and its delivery format.
In my view, the obvious conclusion is a redesign in the production flow, with the division of professionals not only on themes, but also eventually looking at the different formats. Why make available a more in-depth article in a feed for reading on a cell phone if most of those readers will not have time or interest in reading it there? And why fill the feed with hard news notes that have expired in 30 minutes if the reader is reading on a large screen device with time?
Even today, newsrooms work with the backbone of the 24-hour news flow and this is an obstacle to optimizing content consumption flows. Newsrooms need new divisions that do not just define the subjects, but also for what type of format each content should go. In case the same content goes to various feeds, teams of professionals not linked to the investigation and production will optimize for that end. Making a trivial analogy, pizzeria customers will receive pizzas and ice cream parlors, ice creams.
The suggestion here is not to inflate an already larger system than it needs to be. The creation of these new roles will take from the "classic" journalist (that is, the one who investigates and writes the article) the burden of having to make numerous adaptations before putting the material in the system so that it can be read on the cell phone, tablet, RSS, etc. (anyone who has worked with a CMS knows what it's like. Ex: "Title for mobile", "Title for tablet", "headline for RSS", and so on). The production has been bureaucratized in a stupid way, where they try to sell the same thing more than once to the reader, while the adaptation to the various formats is done in a clumsy way and overloading a professional who can't see the whole picture.
There is a logic inherited from the Industrial Revolution also in journalism, which is to try to make the worker (i.e. journalist) perform as many functions as possible to optimize the investment in him (i.e. salary). But this bicentennial logic doesn't work anymore. The pulverization of audience and content requires a new process where manual tasks are performed by machines, when possible, under the supervision of good professionals. Instead of increasing the pressure on the journalist, it is necessary to leave him alone with the burden of investigating and writing better texts that are more interesting to the reader, also because they came the right way and packaged the right way. Cost reductions will have to come from somewhere else - boards, councils, vice-presidencies, etc. The migration of the audience is a great opportunity - a new Alaska Gold Rush. To take advantage of it, it is necessary to get rid of some paradigms.