"The report concludes that the masthead needs to make further structural changes in the newsroom to achieve a digital first reality, including having a senior editor focused on audience development, another group focused on analytics and an advisory strategic arm."
That’s no great shakes. Any publisher not doing those basic things isn’t pay much attention to the future viability of its business. But when the Times speaks, people listen. In this case, that’s a good thing.
The NYT report clearly shows the challenges of attempting to move a traditional, core business into a full digital operation that can be as nimble and as focused as BuzzFeed, Vox, Upworthy and the hundreds of others that have quickly changed the digital content landscape. What the Times report does is bring to light an important issue not bring discussed in a meaningful way:
Those media upstarts are becoming the new traditional media in the digital realm. The old guard --- your local newspaper, or electronic newscast --- are becoming niche.
Think about that for a second. These new media companies have a far better understanding of how people consume news, when they consume it, what they want, and what makes them read it. The have a more advanced understanding of metrics and new technologies that help them drive their business. They have identified coverage areas they can own, and they do so relentlessly and deeply. Their audience tells them what they want, and the new media companies deliver.
Meanwhile, the old guard has a group of editors or producers who have daily news meetings that determine what they think is important to their audience. Those declining circulation and ratings numbers show they’re not guessing right.
Over the course of time, I plan to write quite a bit about what the old guard can do to stay relevant and maintain a thriving and profitable business. Here are my first thoughts:
Look at different metrics. We must stop taking about page views, uniques, circulation numbers and GRPs. Focus exclusively on audience engagement. Upworthy is spot on in this regard --- it’s far more important to understand how many people are actively engaging with your content, and for how long, than to simply say someone tuned in, or turned a page, or looked at your site. The metrics train has left the station and most old guard companies are not fully onboard.
Be obsessive about metrics: It’s not good enough to simply say we pay attention to metrics. We have to obsess about them. Old guard media needs people who are relentlessly focused on every nuance of every piece of copy, and utilize the best available tools to the fullest extent. Now, we’ll hear that’s impossible because newsrooms produce so much copy. And therein lay the problem. Most old guard news sites are jammed with stuff few care about. Pare back and focus on what’s driving audience, not what someone from a news meeting thinks might do well or believes needs to have a digital home.
Perform A/B testing until your eyes bleed: One thing these new digital companies have taught us: They A/B test like crazy until they find just the right headline or phrase. Testing just a couple of headlines isn’t good enough. Testing dozens on a story might get you where we need. Check this out:
For each piece of content, Upworthy curators create at least 25 headlines. The managing editor chooses four of those and tests them to see how readers respond. Upworthy has learned that a good headline can be the difference between 1,000 or 1,000,000 people reading or viewing a story. When it tests headlines, Upworthy sees a 20 percent, 50 percent, and even 500 percent difference between headlines for the same story
There’s no such thing as a story anymore: Sorry, but stories don’t cut it. It doesn’t matter how important someone thinks a story is. A story needs to be a package with interesting elements that holds readers attention. It needs to provide context and analysis so readers learn something and stay interested in a subject. I’m an old-school journalist who has been saying this for 15 years --- simply reporting the facts isn’t good enough anymore, That is not what this generation of readers want, and it’s not what they expect.
Acknowledge the homepage is dead: Referrals send people to content, not to a homepage. People come to a homepage --- and leave. They don’t go deeper into the site. Putting so much effort into a page that, if we’re lucky, accounts for 30 percent of your traffic is a waste of resources. You can make much headway by focusing on the other traffic-driving avenues that pull in far more eyeballs.
My blog has had stops and starts over the last few months. A Fulbright Fellowship took me away for a while; preparing for retirement from Cox Media Group also diverted attention. Now, I hope to be able to devote more time to writing about subjects I’m passionate about.
Ray Marcano is President/CEO of Canis Digital, a consulting a digital consulting firm that specializes in digital audience growth, project management and market analysis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; linkedin (@raymarcano), or through his website, www.canisdigital.com