Online media seeking a stronger relationship with readers

Article  by  Karin DANJAUME  •  Published 25.06.2013  •  Updated 25.06.2013
Guardian Coffee
[NEWS] In its constant hunt for the new idea that will bring it out of crisis, the media is increasingly turning to readers, with the objective – among others – of tightening the bonds between newspapers and the public for news of greater quality.
Given the difficulties confronting the media, some publishers are multiplying their attempts to sell print copies as long as this is still possible, while making newspaper websites profitable at the same time. The challenge is twofold, but the aims are the same: to continue to exist. In order to do so, newspapers initially opted for the traditional path of advertising to generate revenues; however, the expansion of the online news offer made this much less lucrative than anticipated. It was thus necessary to diversify revenue sources, but the explosion of social networks and multiplication of ways available for getting news (sites, blogs, content aggregators) once again exacerbated this difficulty.
 
A subsequent indispensable effort for the survival of the media emerged: increasing reader loyalty. Subtler than subscriptions, the main idea was to establish a close relationship between the readership and the newspaper staff in order to create a community as involved as possible in editorial choices. As is often the case, Anglo-American newspapers proved to be the most creative in this area. In January 2012, participative journalism pioneer The Guardian launched News Desk Live, its platform for interaction between the newsroom and readers. In a similar attempt to get closer to the “public”, some newsrooms, such as the French Rue89, opted to open their news staff meetings to readers.
 
More recently, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg decided to create their own networks respectively emulating LinkedIn and Twitter, in order to drive readers to interact over current events and connect with others sharing their interests. The problem is that LinkedIn and Twitter already exist and it is difficult to imagine that users could be led to massively desert them for more restricted (albeit more specialized) networks – hence, the skepticism displayed by some observers. Meanwhile, The Guardian has continued down its innovative path, getting its teams physically involved with the opening of its own coffee shop in London. On the menu: coffee, croissants and conversations with news staff (#guardiancoffee on Twitter). Doubts have been voiced once again in response to this initiative, although The Guardian’s efforts are commendable. But don’t the paper’s journalists have things to do other than drink coffee with their readers? The Guardian and the WSJ are hardly aiming to distract their journalists: the underlying idea is above all to get to know their target as specifically as possible in order to be able to offer content best adapted to what readers are seeking. Such formulas are behind the success of sites like BuzzFeed and Reddit, which prides itself on attracting 70 million monthly visitors. However, despite audience success, the media is moving on from this era of buzz, having understood that in order to preserve its credibility, draw in readers and ensure their loyalty, it must offer quality content.
 
In a strange sequence of events, while these initiatives are flourishing, the role of social media editors in newsrooms is paradoxically being questioned. A Buzzfeed article entitled “The social media editor is dead”, by former Huffington Post social media editor Rob Rishman, sparked off the debate in pointing out the massive role played by social networks in the treatment of news. Whether the community providing the news is physical or virtual, the question remains the same: how to wade through the mass of information? How to avoid drowning in endless feeds to the point of only providing meta-news? As highlighted by Mathew Ingram in a Paid Content article published May 30, 2013, if by the death of the social media editor we mean the death of “the notion of a single person who spends their entire day on Twitter creating hashtags and calling themselves the social media editor”, this is a good thing, according to him. The idea of being “social” and “engaged” with readers is the duty of all journalists, going hand in hand with the regeneration of the role of the Web editor (editor’s note: those who above all else produce the content)[+] Note“So is the notion of a single person who spends their entire day on Twitter creating hashtags and calling themselves the social-media editor dead? Yes — or at least I hope so. The idea that being social or engaging with readers in new ways belongs to a specific subset of journalists reminds me of the bad old days when newspapers had a single ‘internet editor’ or ‘web editor.’”X [1].
 
Be it through the creation of reading communities or the definition of the meaning of the term “social media” within newsrooms, all of these initiatives share one ultimate aim: building loyalty in order to allow for the emergence of a business model best adapted to the transformations of a market shaken up by digital first. In this respect, creating communities out of readerships means knowing more about news consumption habits: how often, in what format (print, mobile, not mobile)? The problem is that it is unsure that newspapers will be able to use this data for profit-making purposes. Regardless, one thing is certain: the task of energizing reading communities, both virtual and real, must be handed over to those who understand the news, and do not object to working with the necessary transformations brought about by new technologies. Whether we like it or not, the media has become – and will continue to be – social.
 
Translated from French by Sara Heft
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Photo Credit:
Guardian Coffee in London by Jim Waterson
  • 1. “So is the notion of a single person who spends their entire day on Twitter creating hashtags and calling themselves the social-media editor dead? Yes — or at least I hope so. The idea that being social or engaging with readers in new ways belongs to a specific subset of journalists reminds me of the bad old days when newspapers had a single ‘internet editor’ or ‘web editor.’”
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