I worked in newsrooms for more than a decade and I wrote pieces on – to name a few – the Arab Spring, national politics and climate change, but also on a surfing squirrel. That’s right, about this guy.
Yep and you guessed it, it clicked like crazy. I went home happy and proud, thinking of all the traffic on this video and article, but lately, I wonder: is it a good thing just to be satisfied with a high number of views? Since we started Hackastory, to focus on innovation in journalism, I changed my mind.
Making an impact no longer means talking about print versus digital or desktop versus mobile. It’s not even about traffic. It’s about your audience, their needs and how they behave. That’s the new way of thinking about journalism in the digital world.
It struck a nerve
I talked about this at the NewsRewired Conference at Reuters in London and it struck a nerve with the journalists in the room.
That mindset is new and it’s a massive change for publishers and media companies. Traditionally they relied on the mass audience and mass advertisers for their business model, but – as we know it – that isn’t working anymore in journalism. However, that thought process is still alive and kicking in most newsrooms.
Measure reach, harvest squirrels
Many newsrooms we visit have a screen in the newsroom with real-time analytics. Mostly, you can see the number of visitors at that moment, total visitors of the day and most-read articles. It probably feels like a great thing, you measure reach and see your newsconsumers in ‘action’. If your goal is to write a lot about surfing squirrels you’re on the right path, congratulations. It’s an option, but then this article is not for you and those are not the newsrooms we want to help succeed.
Celebrating reach over impact, creates a tsunami of content out there. Enough organizations, bloggers and companies write about those squirrels, the Kim Kardasians of the world, clickbait and viral topics. Make sure you are bringing value to your audience by really knowing your audience. We agree with Robert Picard, senior researcher at the Reuters Institute:
“These days, being valuable, is key to a sustainableRobert Picard, senior researcher Reuters Institute and University of Oxford, ‘A subscription model is not a silver bullet‘
news organisation. So newsrooms who aren’t giving
value to their readers, shouldn’t exist: those
newsrooms deserve to die.”
‘But… they want candy!’
Click bait vs. quality journalism. It’s a highly discussed topic in most newsrooms. In almost every newsroom we worked with there was a journalist who said something similar, but the best quote came from a German reporter: “Our readers love candy. I’m here to make sure they will get some much needed vegetables.”
To be honest: you are wrong. Research has shown, from The Reuters Institute among others, that there’s ‘a hunger for analytical, inspiring long-form content‘. To add to that: that’s what your fans, your hardcore audience who visits you on a regular basis actually wants. It might be so that your one-time visitor wants candied bits of news. But is that who you are doing it for? We think not.
What to do:
- Value a different type of visitor. In many newsrooms, a one time visitor is now as valuable as one of your fans, who might visit the site on a daily basis. It helps to differentiate between the two types of visitors. Celebrate your loyal news consumer and reward them for their loyalty.
- Measure in a different way. Instead of counting clicks and views, measure for example social interaction, types of conversations and time spent on page.
- Maybe an open door: get to know your hardcore audience, your fans. Analytics don’t paint to the whole picture. Get out of the building and talk to them.
In short, you need to align your audience’ needs and your journalistic goals strategically to thrive in this digital era.
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