Newsroom evolution from digital denial to digital first

Fear, a lack of vision, laziness and a failure to recognise and keep up with changing audience behaviour are the most common reasons for media organisations becoming irrelevant and struggling. Adapting to changing audience behaviour as well as technological and market developments is essential. Strange that so many struggle with such a simple concept.

Image by David Goehring released under Creative Commons

Image by David Goehring released under Creative Commons

Dealing with the digital challenge

I’ve been working on converged/integrated newsroom projects around the world for almost 15 years. During that time I’ve come across attitudes ranging from a refusal to accept that there is a digital audience which needs to be served to over enthusiastic digital evangelism where decisions are made that are not always backed with firm business logic.

I’ve worked with national public-service broadcasters, commercial TV channels, global broadcasters, small national news agencies, and regional and international newspapers, to develop strategies that enabled them to adapt to changing audience behaviour and embrace, where appropriate, technological developments.

For each newsroom there has been a different approach, based on local business logic, legacy issues, and political and cultural differences.

And although the essential elements of convergence might be similar, each solution has to be crafted according to local needs based on solid data that informs and justifies every suggested change. None of the solutions is the same.

So when the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) asked me to expand on the different approaches that I have encountered for the Eurovision Academy’s meeting in Croatia, I tried to simplify the issue by focusing on the four main typical attitudes I find when introducing convergence, whether in North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, SE Europe, the Caucasus or SE Asia.

In my experience there are four typical situations.

Digital denial

Digital denial

This is when there is no clear vision from the top about why newsroom convergence is important, which often results in there being no buy-in from senior editors and resistance from many.

There will have been a failure to invest in the digital technology required to produce content for use on multiple platforms/devices, and there will be little awareness of audience needs and changing audience behaviour.

Management and staff are stuck in a time warp, bogged down with legacy issues, doing what they have always done, and living in a false comfort zone.

Digital parallel

Digital parallel

This is where management pays lip service to the digital needs of the audience by asking a couple of people to build a website and upload video from the main TV shows.

This operation will often not be connected to the newsroom, there might be little to no editorial supervision, at times the online version will be a copy and paste version of what was broadcast, there will be no added value in terms of interactive assets that help explain the stories and there will be no user engagement.

The result will be a rather dull repetition of the TV output, often text heavy, updated once or twice a day, and offering no compelling reason for the audience to visit or return.

Digital enhanced

Digital enhanced

In some cases there is an online, multimedia and social media team embedded in the newsroom made up of trained journalists who are part of the news operation.

In these cases the on-air, online and mobile versions are all linked.

There will be an attempt, often made during the morning meeting, to select the top three stories that require some added value online in terms of perhaps timelines, interactive maps, infographics, fact boxes, comments etc.

The source content will be much the same, but the user experience will differ depending on the platforms used by the audience. Social sharing and encouraging the audience to comment will be a central part of this strategy.

There will be a healthy buzz in the newsroom. Journalists will be keen to see how the audience responds and build on that interest. As a result new angles will come to light and be developed.

The output on all platforms/devices will feel fresh, relevant and timely.

Digital first

Digital first

This is where the newsroom operates around a central super desk or hub, acting as the main command and control unit for all output.

There will be shared forward planning. Stories will be created in advance for all output areas with carefully planned cross-promotion.

Interactivity will be dynamic and built into detachable, shareable and embeddable assets rich in links to background information which the audience can take away to their own preferred social media space in order to extend the conversation.

That total user engagement will be monitored by the social media team and fed back into the news production process so that the output continually reflects the changing needs/concerns/questions posed by the target audience.

The digital first converged newsroom will work closely with business development, technological development and sales and marketing to ensure that any opportunities are fully exploited for the benefit of both the audience and the brand.

Digital evolution

ConvergenceAll four models exist today in varying forms. Some, sadly, make a start and then give up. Others run out of steam and then blame the technology rather than their own inability to adapt. And there will be those who take comfort in retreating back to the known.

The challenge for media managers is to ensure that they have a plan for remaining relevant to changing audience demands while protecting their existing business.

What they can’t do is expect to copy a solution that worked for others. They might be able to pick up a few tips and tricks, but they will need to localise the solution so that it can best meet the changing needs of its own target audience.

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Media Mentoring