Putting digital news first can help publications stay competitive

28 Mar

Keeping publications competitive these days means putting as much content online as possible. Potential readers are only a Google search away, but they have to be “wooed”: Why should they visit your site as opposed to someone else’s?

Attracting readers is the goal of many online publications, and making sure the content your publication is producing is what readers want is very important. So why not have them chime in and write exactly what they ask for? If getting pre-publication feedback on a story idea means losing an exclusive, the payoff has to be long-term. The question must be: If by allowing readers to shape the stories we can ensure they will be interested in our content, isn’t it more important to keep a loyal, enthusiastic and involved readership than to beat the newspapers to a story?

A major downside of this method, I think, is the extra time it takes to listen to all these other people weigh in on stories. Getting reader commentary may save reporters some work (finding sources for stories would probably be a lot easier, for example), but the time it would take to weigh the commentary and chose from the dozens of perspectives offered could be overwhelming if the story is large.

On the other hand, tools such as Twitter and blog sites make submitting stories to news sources unnecessary. If someone who is not a journalist witnesses an event, feels like he or she has enough information to report accurately on it and decides to share it to the world via social media, that person has the power to do so. It may be more practical to forward the information to a news source in order to get the story out to more people, but that doesn’t have to be the first step.

The fact is, news is distributed faster and, generally, more efficiently online, so digital news should be the top priority of news organizations if they want to be competitive. However, just because the content comes out online does not mean it should drastically differ from print versions. Digital and print versions of publications should be of the same quality; one should not outshine the other. Sports Illustrated, for example, does not have a “digital department” and instead has the same group of people producing content for digital and print versions of the magazine. Having the same group of people working on all formats of publication ensures consistency in quality, brand and voice.

The Atlantic has been able to revolutionize its role in modern journalism by placing emphasis on its digital component instead of print. The magazine’s editors say its “platform for voices” that defines its style is better suited to the Web, where “strong individual voices get heard.” Readers may not be regular subscribers to the magazine, for example, and may only stumble across it via a search engine; in this sense, the Atlantic is well-suited to attracting a variety of readers by posting content that will bring in niches of new readers.

Online publishing allows writers to think about how to reach niche audiences. With so many potential readers on the Web, writers don’t need to worry as much about producing stories that appeal to broad audiences. In fact, putting out short, pithy stories that appeal only to certain audience may be to their advantage: Many people now personalize the news they read, meaning they streamline what they read online and only seek out what interests them. Promoting these smaller-audience stories via social media can attract audiences that print versions just can’t reach.

Putting online content first allows publications to stay up-to-the-minute instead of changing only day-to-day, and catering to readers — at least to some extent — can help draw traffic that could benefit print sales in the long run by building loyal audiences.

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One Response to “Putting digital news first can help publications stay competitive”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers March 31, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Well-done and well-edited

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