Local news publishers understand the need to evolve their newsrooms. To attract advertisers, subscribers, and younger readers, change is essential—from digital conversion to newsroom diversity. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s new report, Life at Local Newspapers in a Turbulent Era, examines transformation progress at local newspapers through the eyes of those making the news.
The authors, Damian Radcliffe and Ryan Wallace, provide a candid industry perspective when they check in with newsrooms to look at the state of local publishing. The survey respondents include more than 300 U.S. editors, reporters, publishers in small-scale newspapers. It’s important to note that reporters and editors (section/managing) accounted for 66% of total respondents, and more than half of the sample (53%) worked 10+ years in the industry.
Local news landscape
Local news outlets are closing at an alarming rate. In the past 15 years, more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers have disappeared, with 300 newspapers closing in the past two years. Further, during the first year of the pandemic, approximately 37,000 U.S. news media employees were laid off, furloughed, or had their pay reduced. However, while the pandemic brought many challenges, it also added relevance to local news.
Overtime is the norm for journalists. More than one-third of respondents (37%) report working more than 50 hours a week, and a half (50%) work 40 to 50 hours a week. Forty-five percent feel secure in their jobs, although they feel less secure than at the pandemic’s start. Given the overtime, it’s not surprising that half of the respondents (49%) report that they’ve increased the number of stories they produce each week compared to the 2016 survey results.
Transformation in progress
With the transition to digital, more than half of respondents (57%) state they spend more time on digital products than three years ago. Interestingly, the increased time spent on digital is not offset by spending less time on print.
Further, many reporters are wearing more than one hat. As one respondent noted, “An editor also has to be a reporter, photographer, newsletter writer, and social media expert, and a graphic designer also has to be the webmaster, community outreach point-person, and legal notice compiler/writer.” Unfortunately, wearing more than one hat and increasing workload concerns cause high burnout rates.
Focus on social, new tools and audience metrics
In addition, 62% of those surveyed believe that social media platforms are growing in importance to their newspaper, followed by increasing local coverage (36%) and the diversity of sources and voices (32%).
More than two-thirds of respondents (67%) report learning about new tools and technology through articles in publications like Nieman Lab, Poynter, and CJR. Use of new technology and tools include:
Analytics and metric tools 50%
Video reporting 39%
Live video services (e.g. Facebook Live) 37%
Alerts and push notifications 36%
Chat and messaging apps 24%
Investing in the future
Unfortunately, many respondents report low interest in (1-2 out of 5) in new tools and technology. Forty-two percent show low interest in learning more about automation, 35% report low interest in Story formats on social networks, and 31% show low interest in alerts and push notifications.
Local news media companies to experiment with new revenue models, adding revenue diversification and moving away from their reliance on advertising revenue. The pandemics’ spotlight on local and hyperlocal news was a catalyst for a renewed interest in subscriptions. Now is the time for local newspapers to fully engage in digital platforms, new technology and tools, and sustainable business models.
The pandemic was a key driver of new subscriptions from news and gaming sites to entertainment streaming services. As a result, publishers registered record subscription growth. For digital media businesses, once 100% reliant on advertising revenue, the question now is how to sustain this growth over time.
Publishers naturally encourage heavy readers to convert to paying subscribers. These readers offer a high lifetime value and are an excellent market for new products, upgrades, and cross-sells. However, heavy users were not the only segment showing an increase in subscriptions during the pandemic. Casual readers also increased their subscriptions sign-ups.
Greg Piechota highlights strategies to convert and retain light readers after the pandemic in the International News Media Alliance (INMA) new report, Light Readers: Digital Subscriptions’ Next Growth Path. Publishers should think differently about light readers and develop a value proposition and marketing mix that fits this target audience.
Open a door for casual readers
Publishers grew their subscriber base last year. High-interest news events such as Black Lives Matter and the U.S. presidential elections, in addition to the pandemic, signaled light readers to learn more. As a result, casual news consumers were part of the wave of increased traffic to news sites.
Recognizing the historical events of 2020, many publishers responded with looser paywalls during Covid. They recognized the value of trading content for reader registrations. Once readers registered, it allowed publishers to track and understand their content preferences. It opened a valuable communication channel to push content to causal readers via e-mail, paid ads, etc. — hopefully leading to new subscriptions.
The standard acquisition funnel may not be the right path for casual readers; they may need more passes in the first stages of the relationship to trigger registration, engagement, and subscription.
Insert chart optimize customer journey
Developing a new habit
Onboarding new subscribers need to be centered around developing a new habit of regularly visiting publisher’s content. Piechota cites research from University College (UCL) that suggests “people are most likely to adopt new habits after 66 days of repetition.” In other words, publishers have approximately two months to engage light readers daily to become a regular habit.
Developing a new behavior is a critical step in creating a long-term subscriptions relationship with light readers. Further, trial lengths should include sufficient time to adopt this new habit-forming behavior.
Learn about the light reader
Publishers must focus on engaging light readers in both content and site design. Segment personalization in many content management systems (CMS) can offer different homepages to different reader segments. A homepage design for casual readers can include explanation sections, added news analyses, and 24-hour recaps.
Light readers, by definition, are more limited in what they read on sites than heavy users. Heavy readers often look at everything. Therefore, it’s more challenging to figure out what is truly interesting to them. Given the disparity between these two cohorts, it may be beneficial to focus on the overlap of their content interests. Finding this intersection can serve light users well while maximizing the reach of content.
Further, increasing engagement of light readers can be more critical than maximizing heavy-reader engagement. Piechota points out increasing heavy readers from 50 visits per month to 60 may not affect their engagement. However, moving a light reader from two visits a month to 10 is likely to affect their engagement significantly.
News publishers see casual readers as a valuable audience. A renewed focus on this cohort, understanding their behavior and knowing their unique characteristics offer an opportunity for growth and a gateway to engagement.
Researchers continue to prove that ads viewed within a premium publisher environment drive greater advertising effectiveness. Each of the studies (here, here and here) offers insights and empirical data proving ad performance is better in premium content environments.
A new study to add to this notable library is the second phase of The Benchmark Series, the largest cross-media advertising effectiveness study conducted in Australia.
It’s important to note that the first phase of research showed that ads in premium environments offer 1.8 times better recall and 2.8 times the brand lift than short-form video on run of the internet. Further, ads in premium content also deliver 1.8 times higher recall than Facebook video. It appears that the brain processes ads differently depending on where an ad is seen. When people see ads in an environment that helps contributes to memory encoding, ad effectiveness is maximized. Premium editorial sites offer this context.
This new research supplies a unique perspective on advertising performance in premium long-form using Broadcast Video on Demand (BVOD). The VOD broadcasters’ included were 7Plus, 9Now, and 10 play. The study compares BVOD to YouTube, Facebook, and run-of-the-internet sites. It uses core ad effective measures likeability, brand recall and lift.
Both phases of the study were conducted by MediaScience, which is well-known for their expertise in neuro-measures (i.e. biometrics, facial expression analysis, eye tracking and EEG) methodologies. It included more than 5,350 participants and campaigns ran across 252 websites in Australia.
MediaScience defines premium content as:
Professionally produced content.
A media brand that people know and trust.
Brand safe environment.
Meaningful scale for advertisers.
Overall, the new research shows that ads that appear in BVOD are more effective and outperform video advertising across YouTube, regardless of whether the ads align with short or longer-form content.
Ads in BVOD environments are remembered better (1.3 times) than ads aligned to YouTube videos of any length. Further, when ads in BVOD are compared to YouTube videos shorter than 9 minutes, they generate 1.5 times greater unprompted recall.
Further, BVOD advertising delivers better unprompted recall (4.7 times) than Facebook video ads and 2.5 times better recall than run of internet short-form video.
In terms of likeability, ads in BVOD generate 15% greater likeability compared to YouTube short-form. Dr. Duane Varan, CEO of MediaScience explains, “advertising in premium long-form video environments benefits from the content the ads sit alongside with premium content boosting their impact.” He adds, “The content is priming you for certain emotions and that benefits the ads that follow.”
The research shows that not all digital video environments are equal when it comes to advertising performance. Quality content environments matter when advertising and there’s plenty of research to support this statement. The reality is that it’s long overdue for advertisers to reevaluate where they place their ad dollars and their micro-targeted ad campaigns.
Streaming services continue to rack up subscriber growth in the global marketplace. In fact, Juniper Research forecasts nearly 2 billion active subscriptions globally to on-demand video services by 2025. That’s an increase of 65% compared to the end of 2020. Domestically, USB analysts believe that Americans will add 50 million net new video subscriptions this year, up from a 47 million increase in 2020.
To gain insight into the market breakdown of global streaming marketplace, Finder.com conducted a survey with close to 30,000 consumers across 18 countries. In total, approximately 56% of consumers report having access to at least one streaming service. Finder.com is a content site focused on helping consumers make informed decisions in categories such as credit cards, mortgages, health insurance and others.
Streamer concentration and service popularity
New Zealand and Brazil represent the highest concentration of respondents using at least one streaming service (65.3% and 64.6% respectively). On the opposite end, France and Pakistan report the least number of streamers in their countries, 45.2% and 44.6%, respectively.
Respondents were asked specifically about three global services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. Netflix is by far the most popular streaming service among the three with more than two in five (40.1%) consumers subscribing to it around the world. Nearly 14% of those surveyed subscribe to Amazon (13.9%) and 13.1% subscribe to Disney+. Ireland had the highest number of respondents reporting that they subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime (56.9% and 19.9%, respectively). The U.S. ranked the highest in Disney+ subscribers at 32.8%.
Women tend to consume more on these platforms with an average of 57.2% reporting at least one streaming service compared to men at 55.6%. Countries with highest female usage are Ireland (69.2%), Brazil (65.9%) and New Zealand (65.3%). The U.S. ranks fifth with at least 63.9% of women reporting that they subscribe to at least one streaming service. In terms of popularity, Netflix is the most popular streaming service among women (45.2%) followed by Disney+ (14.7%), and Amazon Prime (13.8%).
U.S. streaming close up
The survey included Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Hulu, and YouTube TV when asking U.S. respondents about streaming services. Again, Netflix leads with 45.4% of respondents saying they use it, followed by Amazon Prime (32.8%), Hulu (22.3%), Disney+ (18.1%) and YouTube TV (7.4%).
Hands down, Netflix is the most popular platform in the U.S. across each age group. Sixty percent of people aged 18-24, 54.0% of 25-34-year-olds, 53.1% aged 35-44, 50.2% of 45-54-year-olds, 42.3% of 55-64-year-olds, and 38.2% of those over 65 all report that they use the streaming service.
Subscribing to video streaming services is the norm for today’s consumers. But competition is fierce. These services not only need to attract subscribers, they must also hold on to them. With an increasing number of subscription services, retention is critical to market growth and expansion. Importantly, subscription services need to employ strategies that build loyalty, provide added value, and offer personalization to compete in the global marketplace.
Though automated journalism is not new, the pandemic — characterized by a slew of data driven stories — accelerated adoption for some newsrooms. By in large, automated approaches use a natural language generation (NLG) application to automatically transform data into human-readable text. It has long been used for weather and sports, as well as financial market updates. However, it has been making significant in-roads at a wide range of newsrooms and other coverage areas over the past decade.
Early adopters included The Los Angeles Times, which used NLG to for earthquake alerts and to report on homicides, and the Associated press, which used it for corporate earnings. Today, numerous media organizations are adopting automated journalism in their newsrooms and a wide range of storytelling practices.
In a new report, Samuel Danzon-Chambaud, a Knight News Innovation fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, examines how automated news has been used to cover the pandemic. Covering COVID-19 with automated news outlines use cases at nine news outlets in eight countries to reveal both opportunities and stumbling blocks in adopting automated storytelling processes.
The media organizations include:
Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavaria’s public service broadcaster, Germany);
Bloomberg News (news agency, United States);
Canadian Press (news agency, Canada);
Helsingin Sanomat (newspaper, Finland);
NTB (news agency, Norway);
Omni (news service, Sweden);
RADAR (news agency, United Kingdom);
Tamedia (media group, Switzerland); and
The Times (newspaper, United Kingdom).
Rethinking the process
Using automated storytelling tools requires newsrooms to rethink their process from data sources to workflow and operations. For starters, it’s important to ask the following questions:
How will the automated content serve readers?
What metrics are needed?
Who are the data sources?
How often will you update the data?
How will you upload the data into a usable information?
Will your CMS allow easy data integration?
How does the automation process fit into the current workflow?
In terms of the pandemic, automated news coverage offered timely updates on the spread of the virus. News outlets were able to provide audiences with dashboards and newsletters as well as automated or semi-automated graphics. Publishers also created new news products such as an automated-live blogging platform.
Case studies show challenges met in real-time
Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), Bavaria’s public service broadcaster questioned which metrics to track. They started by tracking absolute increase in Covid cases and total numbers of cases. However, early in the process they realized the data did not allow them to track the evolution of the virus. They quickly pivoted and switched their focus to access more detailed data points such as doubling times, reproductive numbers, and 7-day incidence rates. This allowed for more robust reporting and updates on the virus.
For some news outlets, CMS issues can prevent full-on automation. At The Times, a newspaper in the UK, the process could not be completely automated. After the text was generated and edited, it had to be copied and pasted it into the newspaper’s CMS. Unfortunately, the numbers were often outdated by the time the story was ready for publication. The data and interactive team were called upon to change their workflow until the automation process could be integrated into the CMS. The new workflow allowed journalists to update the data in their articles without an editorial review, unless the story’s lead changed.
Using automated news to develop new workflows
Bloomberg News, a news outlet in the U.S., uses their automated news process to extract relevant information on companies’ financial statements and reports. The automated system is connected to an AI-powered system to analyze the data through “knowledge graphs.” These graphs combine different data silos and illustrates the relationship between them.
Bloomberg’s process includes machine-learning elements in the analysis of the knowledge graphs. However, it’s also important to point out the human effort is needed in writing scripts in advance to prepare for the potential scenario in the analysis. Bloomberg News was able to include their business insight in their Covid-19 analysis to assess the economic impacts of the pandemic. Their Covid-19 analysis included assessment of metro riders to flight reservations, restaurant bookings, and supermarket visits.
Automated news invites new technology — and opportunity —into the newsroom. Increasingly, newsrooms are thinking of new ways to incorporate automated practices into their product development roadmap. Next steps include ideas such as an alert system to inform teams when new data is being released and cloud storage services to keep track of historical data.
The more that media practitioners engage with automated news systems, the better their ability to manage the process and foresee potential disconnects. Importantly, keeping reporters involved in this process will ensure that journalistic standards are encoded into the automated content creation process.
Many question the boundaries of social media discourse. Is free speech protected on platforms? And what are the limits and liabilities? As assured in the First Amendment, private companies like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok have no legal obligation to protect an individual’s right to free speech.
They are, however, entitled to moderate content on their sites is also guaranteed by the First Amendment. Each social platforms sets its own community guidelines. However, all five of these platforms have rules that prohibit hate speech against individuals or groups based on protected characteristics including ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion.
And just 10 months ago, Facebook updated its guidelines to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust. Mark Zuckerberg reflected on this change, “My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in antisemitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech.” In fact, the Anti-Defamation League reports that U.S. antisemitic incidents were at a historic high in 2020.
Yet despite stated guidelines and goals, the question remains: How effective is social media in protecting their users from online hate and disinformation on their platforms? Unfortunately, the answer is not good.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate’s (CCDH) works with practitioners in diverse fields to develop strategies that strengthen tolerance and democracy, and counter-strategies to new forms of hate and misinformation. It’s new report, Failure to Protect, finds that social platforms fail to act on 84% of reported anti-Jewish hate content. All five social platforms prohibit common forms of antisemitic content defined as hateful conspiracy theories, genocide denial, dehumanization and hate symbols.
The CCDH identified and reported 714 posts, between May and June of 2020, containing antisemitic content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok. They used the platforms’ own reporting tools to measure the effectiveness of each companies moderating process. In aggregate, the 714 posts reached a total of 7.3 million impressions.
Importantly, of the 714 posts, only 16% were acted upon. Seven percent of the posts were removed while 8.8% of the accounts were remove, resulting in the removal of the antisemitic posts. However, 0.1% of the posts were labeled as false content but remain on the platforms.
Further analysis of the 714 posts identified that more than two-thirds — or 477 of them — contained anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. The platforms only acted on 11.5% of these posts, significantly lower than the 16% of the full sample. Interestingly, the CCDH concludes that social platforms are far less responsive to antisemitic conspiracy theories than other, more common forms of antisemitic content.
In addition, 277 posts or 39% of the sample were associated with extremist anti-Jewish hate content. This includes holocaust denial or minimization, references to inciting explicit violence towards Jewish people, racist caricatures of Jewish people, references to the blood libel and Nazi, neo-Nazi, or white supremacist content. Social platforms acted on 25% of these posts. With additional analysis, the CCDH findings show that the platforms ignore at least 80% of posts that dismiss the Holocaust and overlook 62% of posts that call for violence against Jews.
Hashtags add to the problem
Hashtags also allow for the proliferation of antisemitic content because they direct users to more content on a topic. But platforms have little incentive to restrict their use because they help fuel the social ecosystem. More content consumption generates more traffic and the serving of more ads. In other words, hashtags generate revenue. The 447 posts identified using antisemitic hashtags generated 3.3 million impressions across Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.
The CCDH research clearly demonstrates the role social platforms play in increasing the visibility of hate and misinformation. Social media has no liability for the content posted on their platforms. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 provides immunity to platforms for third-party content. Unfortunately, hate drives traffic and social platforms profit from it.
The CCDH recommends how social platforms can correct their failings to act on anti-Jewish postings:
Remove user groups dedicated to antisemitism.
Ban antisemitic hashtags.
Close accounts which send racist abuse to Jewish people.
Hire, train, and support the moderators to effectively remove dangerous anti-Jewish hate.
Legislators and regulators should ensure platforms are liable in the same way as any other person or corporation for the harms they create.
Despite on-going and valuable debates on regulation, legislation will not be an immediate solution. However, the other CCDH recommendations are clearly within the platforms’ control and should be an urgent priority.
Consumers have numerous entertainment options when it comes to video streaming. There are many choices to be made — from content and viewing device to whether to access the content from a film studio, a network provider, streaming network, and more. The options are endless and overwhelming. As an industry, we need to understand how consumers feel about these entertainment options and how they are navigating the marketplace.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers’s (PwC) new research shows that 83% of consumers are happy with their options. That’s up from 73% compared to a year ago. In fact, approximately 40% say they are “happy,” “excited” or “satisfied” with their video viewing experience.
PwC surveyed 1,000 consumers, ages 18-59, to better understand content choices and preferences. They used historical survey findings for data comparisons.
Supplying the ultimate user interface
Consumers report that they now use close to eight streaming services, up from six services the prior year. When asked what they like about their favorite services, key factors include “ease of use” (55%) followed by “being able to find something to watch on the service” (35%). Consumers expect an intuitive user interface (UI). The findings indicate that exceeding expectations in ease of use and finding content can act as key differentiators for streaming services.
Respondents like the idea of content recommendations getting more advanced and personal. This includes factors like viewing mood, co-viewing identification, length of the content and other data points.
Using advanced personalization can help the search and discovery process be even more customer centric. However, ensuring user privacy and maintaining consumer trust is non-negotiable in the process. With this in mind, directing subscribers to accessible content with ease and efficiently is a golden ticket.
Most consumers do not mind advertising. In fact, close to two-thirds (63%) of respondents are willing to see more ads if it means a lower cost of a streaming service. Not surprisingly, 72% of respondents report that they prefer to see fewer ads that are not of interest to them. In other words, context and relevancy matter.
Positive consumer satisfaction supports a growing entertainment marketplace. Nearly half of all respondents (46%) report paying more for video content in 2020 than they did in 2019. Further, 59% of them expect to pay more a year from now. Even with high satisfaction and expectations of a growing market, retaining users is a top priority. Respondents report the top three retention vehicles: a price discount (64%), larger movie library (50%), and less ads (50%).
Significantly, PwC’s research shows that consumers are still adding services in their video service portfolios. In a crowded streaming marketplace, meeting and exceeding consumer expectations to easily find content drives stickiness. Further, new partnerships and tiered models may offer new opportunities to attract and retain users. However, it’s important that these new opportunities align with consumer benefits.
Accurate and impartial storytelling has long been considered an essential component of effective newsrooms. However, in recent years some news outlets have taken a far more partisan approach over the provision of objective news and information. With plenty of opinion-based commentary available, how significant is objective journalism to audiences?
The latest report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism questions the importance of impartial news reporting to audiences. The new study offers insight into whether objective news coverage, or point of view offerings, appeal to consumers. Reuters’ findings are based on survey results from close to 100,000 adults worldwide and in-depth interviews with 50 adults in Brazil, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.
Impartial vs. opinion-basedreporting
Overall, respondents say they want to hear different and impartial views on social and political issues. In fact, three quarter (74%) report that social and political news coverage should present a range of different views. Just 15% of respondents believe that news outlets should argue for the points of view that they think are best.
Importantly, respondents often recognize the difference between news reporting and opinion-based commentary. However, they also think newsrooms should be very clear and identify when they report opinion-based commentary.
Significantly, Reuters’ findings show that consumers are interested in understanding opinions that are not their own. The majority (72%) of consumers in all markets think that news publishers should give equal time to all sides. A mere 17% think news outlets should give less time to sides with weaker arguments. Respondents agree that there should be a fair balance of opinions in objective news reporting.
Neutrality is not always an option
Interestingly, 30% of people in the U.S. think that sometimes neutrality is not an option when reporting the news. Specifically, younger respondents, along with those who are left leaning, think there are some issues where it is impossible for newsrooms to be neutral. In fact, a minority think that there is ethical justification, in some cases, for a non-neutral approach. Importantly, respondents express discomfort with newsrooms excluding points of view entirely.
Reuters’ findings show the desire for truthful storytelling in news but also for the inclusion of different perspectives. Yes, consumers want the facts. However, the report also suggest news publishers should offer different perspectives and different points of views. This approach will assist in breaking echo chambers and offers opportunities for healthy news discussions about multiple points of views.
When it comes to media consumption, consumers have never had it so good. From streaming services to social media, movies to music and video games, to a variety of linear TV channels, options abound. With so much choice, comes inevitable competition for the providers, as they try to court the consumer. So how can media and entertainment brands form meaningful relationships with audiences? According to the latest Digital Media Trends survey it’s all about understanding generational trends – in particular Generation Z, who could cause the next wave of disruption.
The 2021 survey, which was conducted by Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunication practice, found that Gen Z demonstrate strikingly different preferences. Other research—and experts—back this up. Let’s take a closer look.
Boomers love streaming video while Gen Z is obsessed with gaming. The group, aged 14-24, place video games as their number one entertainment activity (26%). That’s followed by listening to music (14%), browsing the internet (12%), and using social media (11%). Only 10% of Gen Z said that watching TV or movies at home was their favorite form of entertainment.
“For the first time since we started this survey, Gen Z did not pick watching movies or TV shows as their favorite media. It was gaming,” says Kevin Westcott, Deloitte’s Vice Chairman and U.S. Technology, Media and Telecom Leader. “Obviously there was quite a bit of growth during the pandemic. Gaming is a social activity and a way to stay connected. However, video games were already significantly growing before Covid-19. It will be interesting to see if these preferences persist now that lockdown rules are relaxing in the U.S.”
With the dominance of video entertainment being challenged, media companies need to take a more diversified approach. Publishers should experiment with different storytelling techniques on social platforms, and gamification is a great place to start.
“If a media brand isn’t in the games business, they need to look at how they can make things more engaging,” says Westcott. “Gen Z are looking for more participation and this is where transmedia could help. By utilizing a range of platforms, the audience can interact with content and influence it, rather than just watching it.”
Beyond connecting with the world, social media is a common gateway for consuming a wide range of media content. Although all generations use social media, consumption varies depending on age. According to the Digital Media Trends survey, Gen Z and Millennials both rank listening to music as their main activity on social media. However, Gen X prefer to consume news. The second most popular activity on social media for Gen Z was gaming. For Millennials it’s watching TV shows and movies.
Interestingly, despite these social media usage trends for news, 50% of Gen Z still rank social media as their preferred way to get news, while only 12% select news from network or cable TV. Boomers are the opposite, with 58% getting their news from network or cable TV, and just 8% using social media.
According to a report by Flamingo, commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, younger audiences differ from older groups in terms of what they want from the news. Young people are largely driven by progress and enjoyment, which translates into what they look for in news. As such, they want news to feel easy and accessible. That means creating formats that are native to mobile and social platforms, as well as including these ideas on their own websites.
The report, entitled How Young People Consume News, also suggests that the news media need to change the way they report the news. This includes tackling issues such as stereotypes, diversity and negativity. It should also influence how news brands present themselves and their content on third party platforms.
A report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), called Making sense. The commercial media landscape, found similar disparities with the way different generations spend their time on commercial media. Ages 16 to 34 spend 53% on a smartphone or tablet and just 22% on a TV. Conversely, those aged 55 and above spend 53% of their commercial media time on TV and just 14% on a smart phone or tablet.
“The way to drive engagement in younger audiences on broadcast TV is to ensure content is available across multiple platforms,” explains Simon Frazier, Senior Research and Marketing Manager, IPA. “Younger audiences are always media multi-tasking, which is a challenge for media. But broadcasters that tie in with a variety of touch points and blur lines between entertainment and reality enjoy good engagement and a good commercial performance.”
According to a report from VICE Media, in partnership with Ontario Creates, Gen Z is redefining how content is being discovered, consumed, and shared. Three quarters of respondents (75%) report that original content is important to them. Music, video streaming and video games are the top paid services, while cable or satellite TV subscriptions don’t even make it into the top five for Gen Z.
This younger demographic also wants more diversity. Half say that there is a gap in gender diversity, sexual identity, and ethnic representation.
Along with good content, they want ease of discovery. Gen Z were born on social platforms so they play an important part of their content discovery. YouTube is their number one content source, with Instagram a close second, followed by Facebook, and Snapchat. TikTok is also gaining popularity. Gen Z tends to like content on social platforms that is transparent, with few barriers between the creator and the audience.
“With new voices and new platforms entering the media landscape by the minute, the competition for young people’s attention has never been greater,” said Julie Arbit, Global SVP of Insights, VICE. “Combine that with a young generation that has never been hungrier for content or savvier about how to access it and you have a whole new approach to content consumption. Understanding this new mindset is essential for anyone who is trying to reach this young audience.”
The VICE study also found a massive 90% of Gen Z are willing to pay for content if it offers better quality (61%), better experience (56%), and more convenience (50%). Only four in 10 said they wanted an ad-free environment. However, with consumers losing income due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Digital Media Trends noted an increase in churn rates, across all generations, in the past 12 months.
“During the pandemic, churn across streaming more than doubled,” says Westcott. “We call it ‘hit and run’. So, they join for the hit show and then leave to join another service.”
“Instead of focusing on adding new subscriptions, media providers need to shift their focus to long term subscriptions. And the way to do that is to broaden their range of content, and offer exclusive, original, high demand TV series, plus games and music.”
Despite the growth of subscription-based services, IPA reports that 63% of 16 to 34-year olds spend their time using platforms that are commercially funded by advertising.
“This represents huge opportunities for reaching this audience through commercial media,” says Frazier.
In the same group, four out of the top five commercial media properties are socially driven. These findings were backed up by Digital Media Trends. They found that social media influencers and ads on social media are the two most persuasive channels influencing younger generations’ buying decisions. They also typically liked ads on social media more than ads in streaming video content and other channels. On social media platforms, 62% of Gen Z and 72% of Millennials would rather see ads personalized to their likes and activity than generic ones.
Despite these differences, there is a growing convergence of behavior across several generations of consumers, as younger age groups influence older audiences.
“Ten years ago, we did a study on Millennials,” says Westcott. “We thought, as they aged, they would become more like us. But that didn’t happen. Instead, they have influenced older generations, who are now behaving in similar ways. The only way they really differ is that 26% of Gen Z rate gaming as their favorite entertainment, verses just 10% of Gen Z and 3% of Boomers.”
It is this preference for gaming that could challenge video as the leading form of media consumption across all generations. However, according to the IPA report, there was a significant drop in the correlation between how younger and older generations consumed commercial media during lockdown 2020.
It found just an 8% similarity between 16-34-year-olds and 55+ during lockdown 2020. This was down from 21% before the Covid pandemic and 58% in 2015.
“What is clear is that the lockdown has undoubtedly reinforced the dominance of key media for the different audiences and exacerbated the differences,” says Frazier.
So, while media companies may still be video-first, it seems that younger generations are moving away from this platform. The question is, are media brands and advertisers prepared to follow suit?
We’ve all taken a trip down the YouTube rabbit hole. It starts off innocently enough as we view a video recommended by a friend. Then about 30 to 60 minutes later, after countless video views, your brain neurons set off an alarm. This alert registers and you realize you are watching a video that clearly violates YouTube’s standards and practices. But wait just a minute: this video was recommended by YouTube itself.
That’s right, the platform recommends videos that disregard their own standards. It is difficult to explain how this happens because YouTube provides little transparency into their recommendation algorithms (well, any of their algos, really). The rabbit hole turns out to be an algorithmic black box.
While there are penalties for video violations, the determination process for YouTube’s actions for prohibited content are often unknown. They range from demonetization to the removal of individual videos and suspension of an entire account — to nothing at all. Not much is known about the end results. Meanwhile, there is little the user can do on the platform to prevent the targeting and amplification of regrettable (if not deplorable) content.
Consequently, Mozilla, a non-profit creator of browsers, apps, and tools, stepped in to shed light on YouTube’s black box of algorithms. They created the RegretsReporter browser extension. It’s a crowdsourcing tool to help users identify their path to a “regrettable” YouTube video. The browser extension captures the user’s YouTube browsing behavior. The tracking will only occur up to 5 hours prior to initiating the report. Further, the data is shared with Mozilla only if the user actively agrees.
Mozilla’s newly released report, YouTube Regrets, is an analysis of shared browser data from over 37,000 YouTube users in 91 countries. In all, the pathways and content of 3,362 regrettable videos are explored in this study. It’s the largest-ever crowdsourced investigation into YouTube’s algorithms.
Regrettable videos, often recommended
This analysis finds that one in 10 of the reported videos (12.2%) “should not be on YouTube” or “should not be proactively recommended,” based on YouTube’s Community Guidelines. The most frequently reported videos include misinformation and violent or graphic content. Covid-19 misinformation is categorized separately from “general” misinformation because of the volume of videos. It comprises a third of all categorized video regrets.
Unfortunately, YouTube recommendations represent 71% of the regretted videos reported to Mozilla. And at least two-fifths (43%) of all regrettable videos are recommended by YouTube and are completely unrelated to videos the user is watching.
Mozilla and other researchers cannot confirm YouTube’s claims at progress in correcting algorithms. YouTube provides no insight into the design and operational practices of their recommendation systems. Therefore, Mozilla sees these recommendations as necessary next steps in YouTube’s accountability:
Allow independent audits of recommendation systems.
Provide information about how recommendation systems work.
Give users more control over which of their data is used to generate recommendations.
Implement risk assessment programs to identify and evaluate the possibility and magnitude of harm caused by the recommendation system.
Provide users with an option to opt-out of personalized recommendations in favor of receiving chronological, contextual, or search term-based recommendations.
Mozilla and other researchers believe there are significant consequences connected to YouTube’s algorithms. Further, many believe the algorithms are optimized in favor of YouTube’s business model – increasing users’ time spent to serve more advertising. The amplification of regrettable video content including pseudo-science, 9/11 conspiracy theories, mistreated animals or encouraging white supremacy cannot be a byproduct of YouTube’s business model. Clearly, transparency is a needed to identify and resolve the problems embedded in their recommendation ecosystem.
To conduct this research, Lia Bozarth and Ceren Budak at the University of Michigan used a web API tool to simulate peoples’ browsing behavior. Their research identified fake news sites as those filled with pseudoscience and false facts. They also found that low credibility publishers are often hyper-partisan. The API tool initiates a browser session, navigate to the site’s homepage, scrolls through the page, and focuses the mouse on each ad’s iframe. Bozarth and Budak then filtered the collected data by the top 50 ad serves. In all, 84% of their ad data was served by the top 50% ad servers.
This methodology allowed the authors to measure ad server usage of high-quality sites, fake, and low-quality news sites. Three-quarters (74%) of all publishers (high-quality, fake and low-quality) have one or more ad servers displaying ads and 26% of all publishers are ad-free. The findings also show that fake news publishers often have fewer ad servers on average compared to low-quality and traditional news sites. Further, the median number of ad servers for fake and traditional sites is six and eight ad servers, respectively.
Ad server quality
Consumers navigating to fake and low-quality news site are at potential privacy and security risks. Fake and low-quality news publishes have a higher tendency to serve more ads and to partner with riskier ad servers when compared to traditional news media with similar popularity and age skew. Importantly, while fake news publishers use riskier ad servers, they are also dependent on credible ones. According to the findings, the top credible ad servers play a substantial role in delivering ad revenue to fake news sites. For instance, 6.7% of all fake domains are dependent on top-10 ad servers.
Impact on ad server revenue
Bozarth and Budak also provide a weighted ad traffic analysis to illustrate the role top credible ad servers play in providing revenue to fake and low-quality news sites. They found that full 61% of fake news ad revenue is estimated to be supplied by the 10 credible ad servers.
In terms of revenue to the ad servers, Bozarth and Bodak estimate that the top-10 firms, in aggregate, generate $24,500 to $28,600 monthly through fake news sites. That’s an average of $985,700 to $1.15 million of revenue or approximately 0.1% to 1.0% of the top 10 ad servers’ their annual revenue.
While the authors support ad servers blacklisting fake and low-quality news sites, that may not be the best answer. Profit-driven fake news sites banned by top-tier ad servers will partner with less reputable ones without hesitation. Further, owners of blacklisted websites will also migrate to new domains. It becomes a game of “whack-a-mole” unless there is an ability to detect these sites before ads are served. Additional research is needed to clearly identify fake and low-quality news sites. Criteria like the type of advertisers on these sites and their CPM or CPC rates to identifying profit models by category sectors. Each additional factor identified as a predictor of fake and low-quality news site can help inform ad servers about the content qualify of news sites. And this, in turn, supports sites that provide better consumer experiences and higher quality information.
Audiences are spending more time than ever consuming content. Still, even an explosion in digital subscriptions couldn’t prevent massive job cuts across the nation’s newsrooms. Any argument that closures hit companies that churned out poor quality journalism or fake news falls flat when looking at the data. Of the 10 newspapers that have earned Pulitzer Prizes for local reporting in the past decade, all but one were impacted by cuts in the last year.
Why is online news in a crisis? There are lots of theories. Many point to the impact of the Google/Facebook duopoly. The two behemoth companies gobble the bulk of ad revenue, leaving scraps for news organizations. Others suggest that the digital media industry itself is to blame. Ethan Zuckerman points to the “original sin” of building the entire Internet around advertising, putting algorithms, not audiences, in control.
New research confirms that media organizations need to do a critical rethink, but not just of the business model. It appears that media organizations are relying on a faulty content-creation and evaluation formula. The good news is that there’s plenty they can do to rethink storytelling to better engage and monetize audiences.
The findings, part of the Clwstwr Policy Brief project, reveal that audiences prefer “inclusive and reflective” storytelling models that help them understand and navigate their world. This, the research says, “challenges the perceived – and long-established journalistic principle – that the inverted pyramid model of news storytelling is the most efficient way to deliver news.”
The traditional approach for news — arranging facts in descending order of importance — lacks creativity and flexibility. What’s more, the research says this style alienates younger audiences that crave a “more thoughtful, considered and purposeful approach” to online news. They want it to reflect the reality of their lives, rather than industry norms.
Media organizations have an opportunity to rethink the way that they report the news. And, with new formats, they can encourage consumers to engage more actively with content.
Continuing with our series of video interviews, I talk to the lead author of the report, Shirish Kulkarni, an award-winning journalist and researcher. He makes a case for a complete rethink of news storytelling models. He shares the “seven building blocks” that successful news stories have in common. These include a linear narrative, personal context, and transparency about where the information comes from in the first place.
Kulkarni also walks us through the “narrative accordion,” a prototype model that gets high ranks from readers because it allows them to sort and skim through the key elements of a story on their terms. Finally, he discusses how news organizations can drive meaningful engagement and revenues by harnessing AI to “individualize” content at scale.
WATCH OR LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW
Peggy Anne Salz, Founder and Lead Analyst of Mobile Groove interviews Shirish Kulkarni, a researcher focused on identifying and prototyping innovative forms of news storytelling.
Peggy Anne Salz: Mainstream journalism is in crisis. Now we may think it’s due to a lack of trust or a lack of interest, but new research suggests people aren’t consuming news because the wrong stories are being told in the wrong way, by the wrong people. Now, new storytelling models, provocative prototypes, new building blocks.
They may offer the answer and we get the inside track on this and more today on Digital Content Next. I’m your host as always Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst, content marketing consultant, and frequent contributor to DCN. My guest today is an award-winning journalist and researcher, who’s going to share eye-opening results of his latest research project that goes to the core of what is broken in online journalism and how to fix it. Shirish Kulkarni welcome to Digital Content Next. It’s great to have you.
Shirish Kulkarni: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
Salz: Now you’ve got our attention with these results, the wrong people, doing the wrong thing, in the wrong way. That is something pretty provocative. You spent the last two years asking these fundamental questions about journalism, and now you’ve come up with a construct for a model of what you call reflective journalism. Now it’s not just, you. It’s had global impact. You’ve presented it at Reuters Institute, World Association of News Publishers, and many more. Tell us what is reflective journalism.
Kulkarni: Yeah. So I think we have…well, I have two reasons really, for calling it reflective journalism. Firstly, I think it’s important that we, as journalists, reflect on what journalism is for, right? What the needs of audience is rather than our organizations. Because that’s something that’s really been missing a lot in journalism. And we need to take the time. We’re in a crisis, as you said, and we need to take the time to stop and think, what are we doing wrong? What could we do better?
The second reason is that it also is super important that our industry is much more genuinely reflective of society. So, largely, if we’re talking about Western Europe or the U.S., this is a very homogeneous industry. And frankly, it’s driven largely by white, middle class, Metropolitan men, for the most part. And actually, when you think about it, that is a really small proportion of the population. And they don’t reflect, or frankly, understand the experiences, the day to day lives of most people in society. And as journalists, I think it’s our job to reflect what’s going on in society. And I don’t think as an industry, we’re actually structurally prepared to do that. So, two reasons for calling it reflective journalism, because we need to reflect both on the industry and also reflect society.
Salz: And it’s interesting Shirish because you’re making this point that. We need to reflect, and we’ve done that in a way you could even say we’ve been forced to reflect. Let’s put it that way. So we do know what is broken in principle at the core you’re stating it’s all about new forms of narrative. We need new forms of narrative. This is actually very good news because we know what is broken. We know how to fix it. And this is where your policy brief, your news storytelling, storytelling research hits upon the answer. You propose linear narratives. Now, how does this differ from what we’ve been doing? Because what we’ve been doing is the inverted pyramid style. So what makes linear better?
Kulkarni: It helps to start by thinking, why do we do the inverted pyramid, right? And actually, the kind of prosaic reason for that is because of the telegraph, the original news wire. But actually, the telegraph, when it was used widely, was expensive and unreliable. So people thought, let’s put all the important stuff right at the top, because then it’s cheaper. And if it drops out, then we haven’t lost too much of the important stuff, we’ve lost some of the boring stuff, right? So, technology has clearly moved on by about six generations since the telegraph. But largely, we are using those same habits and formulas, which come from the telegraph era. So that is strange in and of itself. So that’s why we use the inverted pyramid now. And actually, there’s not really a reason for it anymore.
When I talk about why writing linear stories is better, or producing stories of whatever kind, whether that’s text or whatever, in a linear format is better, we just go back to what are stories for? And stories are there for a kind of evolutionary, anthropological, there’s a neuroscientific basis for storytelling. They help us navigate the world. If you wanted to bring in kind of modern day techniques, they’re like a virtual reality simulator for the world. That’s what stories teach us. And I’d really recommend a book by Jonathan Gottschall, called “The Storytelling Animal.” And in that, there’s a really beautiful quote, where he says, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
And so, we know that to be true, right? But those stories aren’t told in inverted pyramid style. They’re told as a linear narrative. Starting at the beginning and ending at the end. And that is what we’re hardwired for as human beings. But as journalists, if we’re writing in an inverted pyramid style, we’re essentially going against what we’re hardwired for. We’re putting up a barrier between the storytelling and the engagement with a story, from the get go. And that, again, is not logical. It’s not rational. It doesn’t make any sense.
So actually, just on that kind of linear storytelling, we built a bunch of prototypes. But actually, what I was really interested in testing, for exactly the reasons you’re interested is, what if it was just linear storytelling, there’s no other formatting, would people find that interesting? So we did a prototype, which we just called kind of a plain text, dramatic prototype. And that was literally plain text, writing a story, sort of casting it quite badly, in my own opinion, because I wrote it, in a kind of three act dramatic structure, like we were just talking about. And the results from that were absolutely startling.
We tested it with more than 1300 people, against options of news which were currently available to them. And what we got the people to do was essentially, say whether they thought that it was more engaging, more informative, and more useful. And we created, I guess, a net approval rating. So on the kind of engaging axis, people have found just a plain text narrative more engaging than a BBC story, or an ITV story, or Sky News story here in the UK. The rating for that was plus 57, not 57%, plus 57, of the positives against the negatives. On informative, it was plus 41. And on useful, plus 37. So those are big, big numbers. And in some ways, you’d say for news organizations, they’re a no brainer, right? If you can, tomorrow, do something which is more engaging, more informative, and useful by big margins, just by essentially changing the structure of your story, why wouldn’t you do that?
Salz: Now we’ve had some companies here on Digital Content Next, they have been sharing what they’re doing and they are already taking a more modular approach to news and to storytelling. So there are companies moving in this direction. They understand that just by encouraging readers to skim, they’re not really driving engagement. And they have to do it in a different way. They need to break down the stories. How can news organizations further improve what they do to draw their audiences in? What is it that you’re telling them?
Kulkarni: So the very first thing is clearly thinking about what the audience, what citizens want, right? So when I was writing my prototypes, really, the first thing was to blank my brain. I’d tried to forget all the conventions of journalism, and ask myself the question, what do I actually need to know about this story to help me understand this? Rather than, what would a journalist normally write here? Because those two things are actually surprisingly different. And I think it’s where I think the kind of practice of journalism has become quite disengaged from the purpose of journalism. And as you say, there’s lots of hand wringing over, you know, people in newsrooms looking at analytics, when they are looking at analytics, and probably not enough people are sort of hand wringing over, well, people only spend 10 seconds on our page. Well, kind of, of course, they only spend 10 seconds on your page if you write an inverted pyramid style, where you’ve put in the headline, and in the first paragraph, something that looks like everything you need to know about that story. And then people think, well, actually, it gets more boring, and less interesting as I go down.
Now, actually, the truth is, it’s not everything you need to know about the story, because we all know, headlines don’t represent a story. They’re largely used as a sales technique. And the first paragraph often is a kind of one side of the story or just a really quick summary. But actually what people are telling us they want routinely, and not just me, in lots of research, they want more context around a story. What we tend to do is drop people into an on the day story, just on the day. And not everyone consumes news in the same way as journalists, right? They don’t read the news necessarily every day or every hour. We need to explain to them what’s led up to this point, and actually to some extent, what’s going to follow from this point. And so, actually providing all those things as a service, because yeah, journalism is a service, again, something which we forget. Then all those things are going to help people engage.
Salz: News as a service, you’re absolutely right here. And you’re also talking about what news organizations need to do to embrace the linear approach. Fortunately, it’s something they don’t have to do on their own because your research also shows that it’s really about collaborating, co-creating whatever you want to call it with AI to keep reader attention, as the story unfolds. Even determine the best starting points in the news. Ways to draw the audience in. So how does this collaboration working with AI? Look, what is the role of AI to get people to come into the story and stay?
Kulkarni: Lots of journalism organizations are using AI very well now, already. And so this is going to be the future of journalism. The next stage of journalism will be driven by automation and AI. So we have to be in that space. And I think the starting point is, look, right now online news is largely just newspaper articles put online, right? We’re not using, we’re not taking advantage of all the digital and technical storytelling tools that are available to us.
And I think what we’re seeing is that we should be in a post-article world, right? We can’t provide, or we shouldn’t be providing exactly the same article to everyone, right? We can’t be all things to all people. And where that leads to is personalization, essentially. That actually, we can provide news, information, in a way that is personalized to meet individual user’s needs in a really efficient way. So that might be, for example, I’m based in Wales, where we have quite a big immigrant community as well. If I’m a Chinese person living in West Wales, accessing BBC Wales’s news, wouldn’t it be interesting if I could access that in my first language, even though it’s news about Wales? That’s going to be more accessible to me. Working in that modular way, where we’re taking out a lot of interstitial language, we’re building short modules of information, which we’re putting together in different ways for different people. That, for example, takes out a lot of translation problems. It actually takes out a lot of inherent bias that exists within us as journalists. So it’s more accessible and more inclusive in that way.
So providing fact-based modules of journalism, that can be put together in different ways, by AI, to match the personalization preferences of users, citizens, audiences, has to be one big part of the future of journalism, I think.
Salz: That’s fascinating Shirish because we did start with personalization in news. It was about the categories asking audiences to choose the categories they wanted. Now it’s about personalization taking that personalization to a next level, a new level. And we agree it’s about the audience. It’s also about context, transparency, diverse perspectives.
Now these are the guiding principals, but it also comes down to the experience and that’s where your research also offers some answers. You’ve come up with ways to allow a different experience for different readers. The linear story is the concept, but you have accordions, timelines, videos. What can you tell us about the best on-ramp right now for organizations listening in, they want to know what is the best way to make the biggest difference in their stories and their metrics?
Kulkarni: The narrative accordion is really my favorite prototype. And actually, the favorite generally, with users. And what we’ve done here, essentially I’ve gone back to the basics and asked myself the question, what do I need to know about the story? What’s going to help me understand it? And I put these kind of expandable and collapsible questions, which means that people can either read them from top to bottom, so they make a linear story from top to bottom. Or if you’re interested in a particular question, such as, is this a green solution? I can go straight to that and check out the answer to that first, and navigate around exactly how I want it. Because what audiences really told us they wanted was some agency in storytelling. They wanted to be able to decide how they navigated the story. And we all understand that, don’t we? Like, when we go to find something out ourselves, we remember it better. We understand it better, because we feel like we’ve been part of that investigation process.
And as I say, the narrative accordion overall, in our testing, did really well. So basically, 75% and upwards, comparing the narrative accordion to options which are available to them in the general market, said it helped them understand the story better, and was more engaging.
Now, again, going back to the commercial needs or publishers, if you can do tomorrow, this doesn’t take a lot of kind of tooling or engineering, you could do tomorrow, something which more than 75% of people say helps them understand the story better, and is more engaging. Now, that, in a commercial sense, to me, is a no brainer, right? If you can do that tomorrow, why wouldn’t you?
Salz: That makes perfect sense. Absolutely. It’s a no-brainer and there’s no reason not to pursue that, but you’ve also found something else interesting in your research. You’ve found out that we are hard-wired, literally for the hero story or the heroine story. We want to have that arc of the story. Now, how can organizations apply that to journalism and still keep a credible balance? Because of course, drama can quickly become melodrama. It can become exaggeration very easily. So how do they approach this to give us the story? But again, also the engagement, because that’s the way of generating revenues.
Kulkarni: So, I see the tension, I’m all for kind of fact-based journalism, which sometimes, we get into kind of click bait stuff, which is about creating a particular kind of drama, right? When I’m talking about, this kind of hero, heroine story, it’s that fundamental evolutionary need for a particular kind of story, which you might describe as essentially, a fairy tale, is a great example of that. It’s why they’re so popular and successful. And that could be by just thinking about who are the characters in this. We don’t have to go off into kind of writing “non-objective,” but I’m going to put objective in quotation marks there, “non-objective” stories. What’s the sense of character, a resolution as well, because fairy stories always have a resolution. And new stories very rarely have a resolution. And actually, at that evolutionary level stories which don’t have a resolution leave us feeling uncomfortable.
So actually, that’s where we get into kind of news avoidance, because so much of our storytelling is inverted pyramid storytelling. Leaves us feeling uncomfortable and unresolved. So that’s a really important point as well.
Salz: So the answers here are context, narrative, linear narrative, AI, imagination, innovation, engagement, but achieving this, internalizing, this can take time, maybe even other talents. So what would you leave us with here? Give me a few steps news organizations can take right now to change the old habit.
Adopt the new model, adapt the new prototypes that you’re proposing such as the accordion, and also integrate AI more into this process. What can they do that they’re not already doing?
Kulkarni: When I started doing my research, I think people wanted me to come up with some kind of nonlinear gamified piece of storytelling, innovation, right? And I quickly realized that’s like putting a $100,000 kitchen in a house which doesn’t have a roof, right? We need to sort out the fundamentals. It’s journalism which is broken, and we need to fix that.
So, that comes down to understanding the user need, the audience need, remembering that journalism is for citizens, it’s for people. It’s not for journalists. So our audiences shouldn’t be other journalists. They should be what people really want from journalism. And so we need to listen to that research, not going with preconceived ideas of what we think journalism should be like in the future. We need to listen to what people actually want from journalism and then action that. And in terms of the storytelling, yeah, I think it’s using personalization, meeting people where they are, meeting their needs. And to do that, we need to leverage AI, essentially. Because to do that at scale, we need to use automation.
People want that information, they do want to understand the world, they do want to engage with it, but they’re feeling let down by journalism at the moment. So there’s repressed kind of need for that, which we can tap into. And actually, yeah, people are willing to pay for that if they get something which meets their needs. I talk about it in terms of, if you were working at Procter & Gamble or Unilever, and you never listened to your customers needs, you just carried on doing what you’ve always done without thinking about what you need to change, then you wouldn’t work at Procter & Gamble or Unilever for very long. But actually, in journalism, that’s what we do. We just carry on doing the same thing we always did, because we like doing it and we know how to do that. Regardless of the fact, we know people aren’t engaging with it or consuming it. So, there’s a really clear, hardnosed business model for doing storytelling better.
Salz: Shirish, I can’t thank you enough for sharing and, yes, for being exactly like your research, open, transparent, a bit provocative. It’s been great to have you.
Kulkarni: Thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure.
Salz: Thank you. And of course, thank you for tuning in taking the time.
Of course, more coming in the series around how media companies are taking charge of changing their business and also increasing revenues. And in the meantime, be sure to check out digitalcontentnext.org for great content and including a companion post to this interview. And of course, join the conversation on Twitter at DCNorg until next time I’m Peggy Anne Salz signing off for Digital Content Next.