October 14, 2015
/ by Ann Feeney
The revenue model for journalism is at best in flux, and at worst, in chaos. Layoffs and restructuring are still common practices. Subscriptions and advertising are down for most media, and there is no single model that can replace them across the sector.
Organizations are experimenting with various approaches, including native advertising, micropayments, paywalls, spinoff products such as newsletters and apps that are sponsored or ad-supported, crowdfunding individual stories or investigations, limited number of free articles, selected free articles and so on, but no model dominates the sector the way that the combination of subscriptions and advertisements did when the media was mostly print.
As mobile’s importance continues to grow for news delivery, Facebook developed an application, Instant Articles, for select publishers to publish their content on Facebook directly from their own content management systems and get a faster loading time in Facebook users’ news feeds.
The application also supports advanced features, such as embedded audio captions. Snapchat partnered with 10 publishers, including CNN and National Geographic, to deliver original content through its Discover feature.
Consider a publisher’s revenue and publishing models, as well as your need for exposure, when pitching a story. Some stories may be particularly suited for a new delivery format.
Buzzfeed, best-known for light list-based content, now runs regular long-form stories about topics such the local economic impact of Spaceport America and the suicide of a corrections officer who reported his colleagues for abuses. Its UK office announced that it’s starting to cover more local news.
Cracked, a pop culture-focused humor site, started adding occasional serious topics, such as war refugees from Syria, home foreclosures and sexual assault to its coverage in 2014 and increased the number in 2015. While the stories still contain irreverent humor, they also treat the topics themselves seriously.
Vice magazine, originally a local magazine in Montreal and best-known for local coverage and shock journalism, grew into Vice Media. It also expanded into serious topics such as the Iraq War, mental illnesses and the conflict in Ukraine, although it still included stunts such as sending Dennis Rodman to North Korea.
While most of these publishers have their own sources for finding tips for long-form or for serious stories, don’t overlook outlets like these for stories with a humanitarian or environmental focus, especially if you want to reach a more varied audience.
Many of these sites have active communities of commenters, creating another opportunity to engage.
Want more insights on the effect of social media on journalism? Check out the 2015 Global Social Journalism Study!
More and more major news producers have a data journalism specialist or team. Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, declared “data-driven journalism is the future.”
The Guardian, one of the pioneers of data journalism, even has a regular data journalism section. These teams might focus on creating interactive reports that allow readers to examine stories in greater depth or with a particular focus, using data analytics tools to create stories out of a dataset or even opening datasets and visualization tools to the general public, like the Open Spending project from the Open Knowledge Foundation.
These projects can be very labor-intensive. For example, when the Financial Times and Bureau of Investigative Journalism collaborated on a study of European Structural Funds, the full investigation took nine months, 12 journalists and one full-time programmer. However, with access to the data and some training in using it, data journalism can empower citizen journalists.
As more and more people are prepared to analyze data and the tools become easier and more widely available, it’s going to be harder for organizations to hide problems in footnotes or to hope that nobody finds them. Organizations will need to understand their own data and be able to explain legitimate anomalies.
Cognitive and behavioral science aren’t new to marketing and advertising and as our understanding of human cognition increases, so does the research of how it applies to communications.
Neuroscience, a relatively new field, already spawned its own set of terms like neuromarketing, although there’s a lot more skepticism about how the validity of many commercial neuromarketing studies.
While findings from these fields aren’t as frequently applied in journalism as they are in marketing and advertising, it’s a rich area for growth, as we understand more about how people seek and make sense of news. For example, there may be a biological cause behind the growth of media sensationalism and polarizing media invective; information overload can create a state of emotional arousal that draws consumers to more emotionally-laden content.
We even have the potential to analyze emotions as people feel them, even emotions that people may not want to express. For example, Emotient can analyze facial expressions from video or from webcams, so an emotion-recognition enabled computer, tablet or phone could immediately tell news providers how their audiences are reacting.
Several groups are experimenting with virtual reality as a tool for journalism. The immersive aspect of VR could dramatically change how we respond to news coverage, as it can activate empathy in ways that print and video may not.
As new technologies make it easier to manipulate emotion, ethics must keep up or better yet, stay ahead of change. Facebook and OKCupid both briefly came under fire in 2014 for experimenting on ways to affect users’ emotions; during the backlash, it became clear there there are no existing and widespread industry-recognized ethical standards.
Journalists have adopted social media thoroughly; 94 percent of journalists report using social media in their jobs every day. However, they aren’t necessarily tied to it; 73 percent report using it for less than two hours per day. Their most common activities are sourcing and promoting their own material–to that extent, journalists are almost moving into PR.
In addition to Facebook’s and Twitter’s plans for news apps, Twitter is developing a project to aggregate and curate breaking news, even for those without Twitter accounts. Facebook recently launched Signal, a tool for professional journalists around trending items, in the hopes of getting journalists to use Facebook as a news source.
In the United States, 63 percent of Twitter and Facebook users agree that they get news on those platforms, though roughly the same number say that Facebook and Twitter are not important news sources. Virtually all Americans still get news from a variety of publishers and platforms, mostly varying by topic.
For example, they are more likely to turn to newspapers (print or online) for local news. However, people who first learn about a breaking topic on television are more likely to go online for further information, rather than to seek more television news on the topic.
Given Facebook’s and Twitter’s aggressive development of news tools and platforms and growth in the number who do say that Facebook and Twitter are important news sources, we can expect these numbers to change.
Twitter users are more likely to follow individual journalists than institutional accounts, and 94 percent get news from following accounts or from timelines, rather than searching or clicking on trending topics. This makes peers and influencers major news curators.
Social media is already powerful for promoting news and is poised to become even more important. Major social media platforms plan to become major news platforms and the early numbers indicate strong potential for success.
Image: Spencer E Holtaway (Creative Commons)
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