Delivering content to multiple platforms

Image by Media Helping Media and released under Creative Commons

This module deals with the methods and editorial disciplines needed to create content once, but in a way that suits publication via many platforms.

We look at the theory of and reasons for multiplatform authoring, how stories should be created, and the practical implications of adopting such systems.

Convergence and divergence

Few news organisations can afford to keep introducing new production methods to create content for new devices.

They certainly cannot afford to keep hiring more journalists to re-edit content for those platforms. But neither can they afford to let competitors dominate them.

We are talking here about news in text format. This is not a system for multimedia-rich articles or long features. It is for general news stories only. 

Back to basics

The words journalists write need to work online and on any device. To prepare content that works this way, journalists need to observe strict editorial disciplines.

The headlines need to make sense standing alone. The story summary needs to make sense on its own, or presented alongside the headline. The two should not compete and neither should they repeat.

News stories need to be written in the pyramid journalism style, so that they make sense wherever they are cut, or whenever the reader chooses to move on. 

Some tools allow news managers to set up newsroom workflows so that the content created by their journalists can be distributed without further effort to all text-based digital platforms. These tools can help enforce editorial disciplines, such as the length of a headline, sentence, and paragraph. 

The content challenge

To help decide whether a multiplatform authoring strategy is right for your news organisation, you need to do two things.

You need to assess if there is a market or brand benefit in being seen on the other platforms. You also need consider whether you are producing text that can form the basis of most, if not all, of your digital news services.

This graphic below shows how a story, written in character-limited fields in a content management system (CMS), can be delivered to multiple devices.

Multiplatform authoring

Notice that the component parts on the right combine to create news products. Your writing must fit this pattern to enable multiplatform authoring. 

Risks and benefits

There will be risks and benefits associated with any change, particularly one which affects the process of news production. Some of the risks could be that:

  • content that works quite well on most platforms might not work particularly well on any individual platform.
  • you could damage the brand by not being very good anywhere.

Some of the benefits could be:

  • the ease of roll-out for new services.
  • newsroom efficiency and savings.
  • consistency of the news message.
  • the strengthening of news brand values.

In the past, journalists created content for a specific platform. The multiplatform future makes that unsustainable. Your news organisation can respond by reallocating resources to exploit fresh opportunities. 

How it is done

This is best approached if we look at a story in its component parts, such as the length of the headlines, the length of sentences, the length of summaries and the length of stories themselves. These lengths are defined in character counts, which refer to the number of letters and spaces used.

A news operation needs to look at all its products currently going out on the web, WAP, TV text, SMS, digital text, tablets and all other outlets. A common length that works on all platforms needs to be agreed. Stories are then created to that character-limited formula and tested on all platforms.

The least flexible platforms is often TV text. The TV text screen is 40 characters across and 20 lines deep. This would allow for 800 characters in all. However, there has to be space for page numbers, quick links, adverts, and blank spaces to break up the text. When all this is taken into account, the journalist is often left with only 550 characters with which to set out the main points of the news item.

The best formula for delivering content to the TV text platform is to keep the headline 35 characters long, the first paragraph 120 characters, the second paragraph 200, the third about 250 characters. This gives a total of 605 characters, an ideal length for a TV text page. 

By working to this character-limited formula, you will be able to create multiple news products from the text written for your website. This reduces the need to re-edit news content for some stories.

David BrewerThe author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who founded Media Helping Media, handing the site over to Fojo in early 2018. David has worked as a journalist and manager in print, broadcast and online. He has spent many years delivering journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide.

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