The shift to consuming news online requires newsrooms to accept responsibility for things they have previously considered someone else’s problem, like making money.
News Corp SVP for strategy Raju Narisetti told the World Publishing Expo in Berlin on Tuesday that newsrooms have a growing ability and responsibility to influence the commercial success of their parent brands. He said:
The problem with [the division between] church and state, which is still very valuable, is newsrooms have said this isn’t really my problem, but if you don’t work together [with commercial departments] you won’t have the resources to fund the journalism you want to do.
Paywalls: here to stay (and struggle)
Narisetti says paywalls are evolving from simple subscription services into multi-layered ways of charging for content and services, but they are just “one of many ways to make revenue”.
They are here to stay, [but] they won’t solve our existential struggle.
But as an important part of income for many newspapers, paywalls sharpen the focus on how consumers value newsroom output. They provide data on precisely which parts of a newsroom’s output are making an audience think that that newspaper’s journalists are worth supporting.
Journalists now have a way to measure which parts of what they do are valuable, and thus have a lot more control over how willing their audience are to pay for their journalism.
Once, consumers came to newspapers because they were one of only a handful of news sources available. Now newspapers have to find their audiences, and that involves a change in mindset from journalists.
Journalists often complain they are given too much to do, [but] there’s nobody else who is going to bring your journalism to [audiences] but you, we are giving you the tools to do it.[You need] newsrooms that can teach journalists to engage with audiences where they are.
Brands as storytellers
Many journalists see native advertising and content marketing as a moral concern, but Narisetti spells out how brand forays into telling stories is a much more comprehensive threat.
This is not a business-side problem only. If our advertisers disappear so does our journalism. But the larger issue is, we have always competed for our readers time, the single non renewable resource [and now] the IBMs and the GEs are creating valuable content which is competing for that time.
If you lose [your audience’s time] to your advertisers it’s a double hit.
The drive to produce more videos is driven by a combination of consumer demand and the higher rates video ads command on the web. Narisetti says:
It’s the first time newsrooms are creating content where the business model travels with the content. The better it is for the business side, the better it is for your journalism.
Following the audience to mobile
Audiences are on mobile, but newsroom resources aren’t following the audience.
According to Narisetti, 36 percent of the visitors to the Wall Street Journal are coming via mobile devices, and the future of news consumption is clearly mobile. Yet across all of News Corp’s 1,800 journalists, there are only seven focused entirely on mobile.
That’s because [the industry] has treated mobile as just a platform for what we are doing. A lot of editors pay lip service to mobile, but they are actually not doing anything
Breaking a 100 years of tradition
The key challenge underlying all these changes is that getting scoops and great stories is no longer the primary way to get an edge over the competition because a unique piece of content can be recreated within minutes. That means greater emphasis has to be put on providing a great experience as well as content.
All good and bad experience comes at this intersection of content and tech. Most [publishers] before 2008 didn’t really think about digital. Between 2008-2012 we spent a lot of energy dealing with print and online. In 2013 the real challenge is combining our journalism with technology.
If you thought combining your print and digital was challenging, try combining IT teams and your developers with your journalists.
Narisetti is under no illusion about how hard it is to engineer any change in newsroom culture, not least because “for 100 years we’ve been doing things in a certain way”. However, he did have one very practical piece of advice:
I have found in previous roles that one of the best ways to drive change is to link performance appraisals for top editors to measurable metrics. Not necessarily page views but…there’s a lot of data now telling you what is happening.
A lot of newspapers feel responding to data is somehow pandering, but it’s responding to what people want.