Online first is outdated, it’s audience first

A question for you: what is the strategy in your newsroom? The most common answer we hear is: online first. But should it be? We dare to say it’s not. Actually, it’s outdated. To become a sustainable news organization you need to adopt an ‘Audience First strategy’.

“Who has a strategy in their newsroom called ‘online first’?” Albertine Piels, our director, recently asked a room full of journalists during her keynote at the NewsRewired Conference at Reuters in London. More than half of the approximately 200 attendees in the room raised their hand.

When having an impact on your audience they gather around the phone to see the story

So, why on earth – when the majority of journalism – is focused on an online first approach, should you adopt an ‘Audience First strategy’. Let’s start practical and let me tell you a simple real life example.

Part of the solution: publishing time

This is a conversation we recently had with a journalist from a regional news organization who joined our Future-Proof Newsroom program. He was covering a story about the drop in the national vaccination rate. We asked him a simple question: who is the most important target audience for this story?

He was aiming for parents with young children at daycare centers and kindergartens. Those – he figured – would be most affected by the dropping vaccination rate.

Another simple question we asked him: when will you publish it?

The reporter did some calculating. He would need about 2 hours to write the story and he would publish it as soon as it was finished, around lunch time. “We have an online first strategy”, he added to clarify.

Okay, fair enough, but think for a second what that means. Let’s paint a picture of the day of your audience, those parents with young children. If they have the kids at home, would they be busy? The reporter, also a dad, look at me and said: “OMG, it’s rush hour. Lunch can be madness.”

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Conclusion: with your audience first strategy you want to publish a story when your audience doesn’t have time to read it. It doesn’t make sense. Give it to them at a time that suits them better. The reporter knew: You need to publish the story when the kids are in bed.

It’s quite simple to have more impact

Do yourself a favor. Let your story have more impact by simply thinking about your audience in the first place. Online first – or even online only – doesn’t have the be the answer, depending on your audience. It was a hard lesson for the newspaper The Independent who focussed on an online-only strategy.

Another journalists, from a national news station told us: This was an eye opener for me. You can use ‘Audience First’ not only on a strategic level for your newsroom, but also for your stories. All of the sudden can you make very clear choices on format and distribution.”

Yes, you can. We believe, understanding media no longer means talking about print versus digital or desktop versus mobile. How people behave is the new way of thinking about media in the digital world. Online gives you another format and distribution opportunities, but your audience will give you the key to succeed.

Future-Proof Newsroom

The journalists described in this article are part of our Future-Proof Newsroom Program. Also, your newsroom can join. Are you interested? Check it out!

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