Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It's The News Editor The Real Star: Not The Content

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It's hand-wringing time for journalists again.

The annual report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism sounds increasingly familiar themes for a profession under fire.

Photo credit: Emin Ozkan

The gap between still-maturing online markets and waning print markets makes it harder than ever for news publishers to commit expenditures to serious news. But the answers to this dilemma may be less in the news room and more in the marketing departments of major news producers.

Serious journalists are products in and of themselves with complex distribution needs. It's time for a fresh look at how news organizations package, distribute and channel their content to audiences that are seeking them out in the venues that matter most to them.

Photo credit: PEJ Report

This year annual report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism highlights in fact the gap between falling standards for news coverage by profit-challenged newspapers and the rise of promising but still immature online sources of hard news such as weblogs and general Web news portals.

The report sees as the fundamental issue more outlets for fewer stories resulting from this online gap.

This gap is likely only to be widened by anticipated cutbacks coming out of the announced acquisition of Knight Ridder by McClatchy. At the same time the Washington Post is eliminating 80 newsroom jobs, one of several announced cutbacks in recent months at major newspapers.

Many of these losses represent true loss of coverage: the PEJ report notes that the total of reporters covering the Philadelphia market is down more than 50 percent since 1980. In global markets the WaPo is bracing for fewer foreign bureaus and more reporters dedicated to story themes such as terrorism.

While it's true that the merging of online and paper news operations increased the emphasis on packaging fewer stories well at the peak of their value, the consequences of these emerging methods seem to tell only part of the tale.

A glance at the Sunday newspaper tells the real heart of the matter: pounds of print spent on lifestyle stories that sell profitable ads beside thinning news sections. The New York Times' acquisition of underscores the push for news organizations to find profitability from broader inventories of more consumer-oriented content that draws lucrative advertising.

This situation is not likely to stabilize into a more heartening picture any time soon for journalists hoping to ride to glory on stories of broad importance via newspapers.

Too much of journalism still centers around the concept of a newsroom dedicated to one primary outlet for its efforts: a local newspaper and/or its online surrogate. While these are still very important channels for content, the biggest winners in publishing seem to be those who can get their content into as many high-quality contexts as effectively as possible.

Ironically this seems to favor a very old source of hard news: wire services such as AP, Dow Jones and Reuters, which have the ability to get their content and brands well placed in search engines and as well through licensing agreements with major and emerging Web portals and enterprise-oriented aggregators.

Major newspaper brands also seem to thrive when they develop their own online syndication deals.

So although there are good reasons to be concerned about newsroom losses, in the long run there is likely to be a highly efficient market for high-quality hard news that may not be produced and marketed in the same manner as today's newspapers do but which will nevertheless provide highly improved output.

Here are a few ideas as to where serious news will get the most mileage out of rapidly shifting content markets:

Treat each journalist as a marketable entity.
Photo credit: John Wisbey

Much of the newsroom drain has been due to newspapers failing to use their existing channels to market serious journalism effectively. Now that print is waning as the defining economic center of quality journalism, there has to be more willingness to consider from the bottom up how serious journalism needs to be marketed independent of print and portal outlets. This consideration needs to go beyond preparation of more multimedia content features and more towards how to establish a viable market presence for each journalist's output, with different journalists focusing on different topics likely to have far different marketing footprints. If the new truism "every Web page is a front page" is a reality then every article by every journalist in theory has the potential to be its own branded publication that can seek its own distribution paths.

Treat every reader as a syndicator.
Photo credit: Nathalie Beauvois

Shore's own research and other studies indicate that the name of the most popular electronic publishing venue in the world is generally "inbox." While traditional syndication has been about licensing deals and real-time datafeeds, email and weblog feeds allow users to filter and forward news to people who they want to be in the know. Making it as easy as possible for users to be partners in distributing branded news products and in building monetizable relationships with the people to whom they distribute is a key factor for building future value for serious news that's been largely ignored to date. Best of all, as technology improves adding premium layers to user-initiated syndication is likely to become easier.

Treat search engines as user tools, not competitors.
Photo credit: Pam Roth

There is reason to be cautious about how premium content is exposed through search engines, but in large part news organizations have suffered from considering search engines enemies in the struggle to define new models for supporting serious journalism. If a publisher's content is in an enterprise search engine via aggregators such as LexisNexis or Factiva there's little fuss about the evils of search engines, yet these services strip out much of the contextual value in news stories that represents the lion's share of its potential value to news providers. Users have become used to automated or user-driven forms of content aggregation as trustworthy tools that help them to surface the information that they want. There are reasons to work with more news-friendly search engines to improve your content's profile, but let the users decide where they find the most value from your content.

Chaotic events in increasingly chaotic content markets make it hard sometimes to surface serious news. The temptation is to say that the soap-sellers are going to overtake it all and push hard news to the sidelines.

But as news producers become more adept at channeling their content to the venues users define as most valuable to them we're likely to see a blooming of serious news sources that will incorporate the best of today's emerging online sources with the best traditions of newsroom journalism.

It's time for news organizations to get far more serious about making this vision a reality.

John Blossom -
Reference: Shore [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2006-03-15 21:17:38

David Phillips

The next thing publishers will need to think about is how many ways they can use journalist's work.

Re-purposing can come in many forms. Some is by third parties but some can come from journalists or publishers.

2006-03-15 19:12:00

Ed Kohler

Great article. I think great journalists have to be frustrated with the limitations of working for major newspapers (outside of the salary). They would be able to dig and report deeper on stories that interest them (and where they have promising lead) if they weren't limited by the constraints of traditional newspaper formats.

As online revenue models for journalism mature, it will be interesting to see what choices great journalists make.

posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, March 15 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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