Why “produce and publish continuously to meet audience needs” is Table StakesDouglas K. Smith, Quentin Hope, Tim Griggs, Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative,
Organize to provide an ‘always on, always there’ flow of digital-first content matched to the life rhythms and habits of your target audiences, their time and attention availability, their interests, needs and problems of the moment, and the platforms they use.
Treat print as a unique platform that benefits by curating from the rich content of continuous digital first publishing rather than the platform that drives the schedule, workflows and resources of the newsroom. Put differently, get beyond either/or-ism of digital versus print. Use audience-centric approach to digital first, print later AND better.
Why this is Table Stakes
Audiences expect fresh digital news on their own schedule
Audiences have always had their own particular habits and patterns for consuming news. Even in pre-digital days not everyone did all their reading of the paper the moment it was delivered. It might happen through the day and into the evening. Or the next day. Or days later when the paper was picked up and given another look just before throwing it out.
But none of that mattered. Legacy newsrooms captured all of that readership so long as the paper was delivered on time every day. There weren’t competing sources of news to turn to at any given moment and there weren’t expectations that the news would be fresh every time they picked up the paper.
Today, audiences’ habits and patterns matter far more. Audiences can catch up on the news at any moment they choose, from any number of sources, on any number of digital devices, anywhere they are. They expect the news to be fresh in the moment they choose. If it’s not, they can move on to another source in an instant.
The chart below illustrates how these audience patterns look through the day, by platform, for one digital publisher:
Share of access to the Guardian by platform by time of day
Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2014; Guardian audience research
Stated simply, your target audiences look for news throughout the day with varying patterns of peak usage on different devices. To meet their needs and expectations for fresh content, you need to be publishing in sync with their patterns and habits.
Yet, too many newsrooms provide news on their own print-driven schedules
The audience patterns of news seeking may already be familiar to you because your own habits likely reflect them. But do you know how well your newsroom’s digital publishing patterns actually align with them?
It’s an obvious question – and answering it can be surprising. It was for Minneapolis and Philadelphia who looked at the data and drew charts comparing their daily digital audience traffic rhythms to their digital publishing times.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Philadelphia Media Network – Philly.com
The mismatch was immediately obvious and attention grabbing. Less obvious but critically important was that this analysis was for their existing audience, an audience already shaped in part by the newsroom’s existing publishing timing and practices. It did not account for further mismatches arising from contrasting usage patterns of the entire local market’s digital audience across all local news publishers – including underserved audiences (e.g. millennials) Minneapolis and Philadelphia sought to grow.
Someone from one of the Knight Temple newsrooms used an analogy to an out-of-step restaurant to drive the point home:The mismatch was immediately obvious and attention grabbing. Less obvious but critically important was that this analysis was for their existing audience, an audience already shaped in part by the newsroom’s existing publishing timing and practices. It did not account for further mismatches arising from contrasting usage patterns of the entire local market’s digital audience across all local news publishers – including underserved audiences (e.g. millennials) Minneapolis and Philadelphia sought to grow.
In pre-digital times a legacy newsroom operated like a restaurant geared to preparing and cooking a very large meal overnight that it then served to all its customers at breakfast time in the morning. Customers ate some of it then and used that same meal to nourish themselves throughout the day and even into the evening (unless an evening meal was ordered from the “evening” restaurant).
Now, with mobile digital media, customers can get something fresh to eat all day long, from early morning to late into the night. And they can choose anything from snacks to full entrees, with expectations for a selection of cuisines and a choice of formal and informal atmospheres. Yet many legacy newsrooms, despite years of attention to digital content, are still operating largely in their traditional print-driven “one big meal a day” mode.
Everyone loses out
This mismatch results in everyone in the metro area losing out:
- Local digital audiences miss seeing stories as soon as there is something to tell from a trusted news source they can always turn to for the latest local news they need to know.
- Local print audiences miss the benefit of stories that have been re-versioned, enriched and sharpened through digital publication throughout the day as well as story selection informed by digital metrics of audience interest and engagement
- Journalists and the newsroom lose by having fewer people see their work, missing opportunities to get the story in front of readers earlier to flesh out more sources and story angles, and being scooped by faster-to-publish sources. Journalists also lose by not developing and honing the skills they need to be personally competitive as an audience-focused digital reporter, producer and publisher.
- The news enterprise loses by not attaining its full digital traffic and engagement potential – and the related revenue, missing opportunities for more frequent visits per day that build habit and loyalty, not developing audience habits that lead to subscribing or paying in other ways, and weakening its brand value as the local market’s leading news source.
Continuous digital publishing as a Table Stake capability
Digital news consumption rhythms and habits are trackable thanks to the ongoing flow of digital usage data. The costs of not matching your digital publishing to these rhythms are clear and substantial. This makes it a Table Stake to intentionally publish when the audience is there – and doing so on the platforms where your target audiences are. Put in the reverse, your newsroom cannot successfully serve and grow digital audiences if you fail to publish content when and where the audience seeks content.
But this Table Stake involves more than a single adjustment of posting more content earlier in the morning (though that’s a good place to start). The broader capability required is to publish continuously and responsively to match the news consumption rhythms and habits of your targeted audiences in terms of both general patterns and specific opportunities.
And, while perhaps an obvious Table Stake, it’s not one that’s easily achieved. It requires resetting deeply ingrained rhythms and practices that go back some 170 years to an earlier technology driven transformation brought on by the invention of high-speed rotary presses. These print-driven rhythms and practices are embedded in every aspect of the newsroom – roles, skills, workflows, technology, work schedules and meetings. Fundamental changes are needed across all these areas to move to truly digital first continuous publishing. But the changes should not be seen as a win-lose matter of digital versus print or digital over print. They are about seeing yourself as a truly audience-focused, multi-platform publisher seeking to optimize the use of every publishing platform – including print as platform that benefits from digital publishing first and continuously.