The crystal ball of journalism

The Nieman Lab released today some predictions for what the media industry will look like in 2015. (Predictions will be added through the end of the week.) Thoughts I had about several of them:

The year of the reader

My favorite line in this is, “The only thing we should be chasing in 2015 is news.” I agree with The Washington Post’s Cory Haik; data show that people — especially my millennial generation — are consuming news like never before on mobile, and it’s on news organizations to make this experience as easy and enjoyable for them as possible. Subscription models for not only media outlets, but also video-based entertainment companies such as Netflix and HBO Go have proven that people will still pay for something they find valuable. Or, to play off some cinematic words of wisdom, if you build something of valuable, loyal readers will come.

Content creators are users, too

ESPN.com’s Dheerja Kaur presents a beautifully simplified three-step process for content: create, program and push. I like how she emphasizes the importance of having an “immersive experience” that elevates content — after all, that is why users are coming to a site. But she doesn’t forget that how this content is presented on the website/mobile and on social media is crucial, too. In legacy newsrooms I’ve worked in, the program and push steps have often been an afterthought of the creative process. When editors have realized what could’ve been done, the value of having that thought earlier in the workflow is apparent.

Reducing the cognitive burden of news

Many journalists still see marketing professionals as the enemy, but I agree with Medill’s Rachel Davis Mersey that they will direct the conversation about journalism’s future. Many newsrooms don’t do a good job of listening to readers and what they need; they’re content with doing the same old journalism that’s been packaged for centuries. In addition to the ones Mersey listed, Chalkbeat is a thought leader in the engagement conversation; its MORI (Measuring Our Reporting’s Influence) tool collects both qualitative and quantitative data about how articles have made a difference in communities, and reporters do a lot of direct engagement at school board meetings and the like. Finding out what readers need to know, then serving them this information in an accessible and interesting way is how Vox and others have found success, and it’s so important for other media outlets going forward, too.

Text-plus, not post-text

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but Buzzfeed’s Stacy-Marie Ishmael warns not to underestimate text, still the king of delivering a message. At Global Journalist, I’ve seen firsthand the interest visual elements bring to a post; our photos of the week and infographics receive far more engagement on social media than our text-only posts. It just goes to show that people want more than those “iPhone photography basics“; they want multilayered storytelling that multimedia can bring.

From walls to canals

The Wall Street Journal’s Almar Latour highlights three things that I think are important: It’s crucial that editorial and business sides work together to create a better media outlet, news organizations with unique identities will succeed, and the collaboration of newsrooms will lead to better journalism.

However, I disagree that the spectrum of journalists’ salaries will widen. I think rewarding based on performance is an interesting concept, but I don’t know how this performance could be fairly measured. Would it depend on the number of page views of an article? One media organization I worked for tried that several years ago, and the most page views always came from near-identical photo galleries of cheerleaders at professional basketball games. Would it depend on awards won? Would it depend on feedback? I think newsrooms’ human resources departments would have to work to provide fair criteria for salaries; otherwise, journalists could flock to another media outlet.

A wave of P.R. data

Data is easily manipulatable, and The New York Times’ Jacob Harris points out some of the absurd “findings” some companies have released this year. Numeric information is the same as verbal information in that it should be verified and evaluated using the ethics standards guiding journalism, and that sources of information must be evaluated for credibility. If the company releasing the data has an agenda it’s interested in pushing, chances are that will be reflected in the “results” of the data.

 

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