Cracking the Conundrum: Digital News

Disclaimer: This is a brainstorm posted to the internet

Matt Hindman released his report on how to make digital news “stickier” meaning how to get it to really make an impact on readers in the digital realm.

Without missing a beat, one of his major points was the frequency (and quality) of content creation. Earlier in the report he pointed out that “you can’t monetize an audience you don’t have (5).” Later on, an Atlantic executive stated “if a user returns to your site and finds that nothing has changed, you have just taught them to come back less frequently. (18)” It’s a basic yet genius way of pointing out that on a platform powered by reader traffic – especially return reader traffic -, time is not on your side and quantity matters.

Funny enough, Hindman goes on to talk about creating shorter content (800 words) to make space for more content and because, to be real, most readers don’t even scroll past the mid way point of long form articles.  Well in this Digiday article on an interview with Quartz startup founder, Kevin Delaney, Delaney talks about the tyranny of the 800 word article and how “it must end” although the answer to how is not really revealed.

So how do you create content, content that’s meaningful, without losing readers halfway through? How do you keep readers interested without abandoning journalistic integrity and slacking on all the juicy details and sophisticated writing techniques?

Well, what about a series?

Breaking an easily 3000 word article up into 3 1000 word pieces makes for A) an easier read for your audience and B) more content for you to distribute at a stagnated pace while you’re working on your next big headliner. It feels like a win-win for everyone. In fact, I wish I was seeing more research and interest in the practicality of series pieces flying across my twitter feed. I mean there’s no rule that says a journalist has to release all the information they’ve gathered on a subject in one sitting. So why not plan ahead and give a little room while cutting out the fluff pieces that take less thought to consume than it did to write at 3 in the morning in front of a bowl of coffee that lost all its appeal an hour prior. I can totally see series pieces being the new “episodes”. I maybe shouldn’t have compared journalism to entertainment but you get my point.

Secondly, Hindman brought up aesthetics for online content (17). I can’t tell you how strong the aesthetics movement is for young people who are the main consumers of online content. Aesthetics is not just about beauty but also about usability (i.e. how clunky is your site? Does that make it hard to maneuver? Is it over stimulating and thus driving readers away because it’s obnoxious?) Aesthetics translates into usability and Jeff Besos, founder of Amazon, knows about usability. After buying the Washington Post, he cut down their site load time by 40% which of course increased traffic . This is the same man who employed the “one-click” button which I deplore because it seriously cuts down on the amount of time I have to reflect on my purchases and ask myself if I really need what I just bought. It’s all genius if you ask me.

Now let’s talk the Washington Post’s and Guardian’s social reader apps (21). They were major hits while they were up and running, before Facebook flipped the script and it all came crashing down (the Post’s 17 million users count plummeted over night, that’s in the report). But it was ingenious to create a social platform around reading the news since social media is all the buzz these days. It reminds me Soundster, an app created by a group of journalisma nd computer engineering students specifically for pulling together a mobile community around public media users – specifically radio at this point. The app isn’t up and running but the group won first place in an innovation competition which means they’re going to DC soon to pitch their ideas to public radio execs.

It makes sense though, to make news interfaces easier to use and engage with. That’s the name of the game. The next generation of consumers are not interested in being talked at or lectured – i.e. having one way interactions – but more so in having an actual exchange based around it.

Hindman went on about a lot of great points such as the difference between growth overnight & growth over time (24-25) and the depths of A/B testing (at this point the title is misleading because you’re going to test more than two models if you want real, solid to stand on answers). And of course he addresses cost realistically because ignoring it would make his research arrogant and light years less useful. 

All in all, it’s easy to follow and a good read for anyone who’s interested! 


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