What will the future hold for the content we produce? It’s a question that everyone – whether they be marketers, journalists or inventors – is pondering.
Last week key figures from major media brands gathered to gaze into the future – exploring new ways of delivering and consuming content at rewsrewired, a conference organised by the team at Journalism.co.uk.
Zazzle Media sent me and Ellie Roddy to the event, at Reuters in Canary Wharf, and here are the key points we picked out:
1. There’s a need to repair trust in the media – and that might mean different approaches to journalism
The phenomenon of ‘fake news’ is seen as having undermined trust in the mainstream media. Not only that, but the partisan nature of coverage of big issues – and a blurring of comment and reporting - has also brought the way in which journalism is conducted into the spotlight.
Peter Bale, the founding editor of WikiTribune, was the keynote speaker at newsrewired and he explained how his project aims to tackle both issues. As the name suggests, WikiTribune is taking the ethos of Wikipedia and applying it to news – with articles all rigorously sourced and open to review by its community. Peter said: “We are opening up the sausage factory. It’s pretty scary.”
It remains to be seen if this project will work, but it’s definitely worth checking WikiTribune out.
2. Humour and personality are important, especially with storytelling on mobile
Quartz global finance and economics editor Jason Karaian stressed the importance of humour and personality when delivering content to mobile users. He said: “We don’t need to shy away from it. Even when I am writing about the Brazilian bond market there are different ways to make it accessible and fun. We think very deeply about this.”
He added that it’s important to realise that content on mobile devices is competing with texts, tweets and emails from friends, family and co-workers for the reader’s attention.
Brianne O’Brien, lead news curation editor at BuzzFeed, agreed that personality is important and said that her company’s mantra is ‘say it like you would say it to a friend’.
3. It’s important to remember the mobile user’s experience when delivering content
Colleen McEnaney, graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal, said her publication is moving away from complicated graphs and charts that force the reader to play with data or click on lots of menus and options. She said: “Think more simply, rather than larger and interactive.”
She also stressed that it’s important not to assume that every reader has the very latest device. Content that doesn’t perform on older devices might create issues. She said: “Look at stuff on the crappiest phone in your team.”
Jason Karaian agreed, adding that mobile stories have to have a different momentum in order to justify a significant number of thumb scrolls. Mobile behaviour, therefore, continues to shape the way content is delivered and consumed.
4. Voice is going to be big… but no-one has quite worked out how just yet
With increasing numbers of people turning to systems such as Alexa and Siri, many speakers talked of the importance of voice (it’s a theme we’ve been exploring recently too).
Nick Cohen, director of video products at Reuters, said: “We’ve seen a massive upswing in the market in terms of producing audio content. With the investment from the likes of Google and Amazon into voice recognition technology and AI systems, I think that’s only going to increase in the years ahead.”
However, many speakers admitted that media companies are yet to settle on how they will exploit the potential of voice technology.
Indeed, Olly Grundy, head of Google Surveys for publishers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said: “We are still trying to work out what voice is going to be.”
Quartz’s Jason Karaian said: “I hear a lot of excitement about voice. There’s definitely something there with Alexa and voice control. The news will get in there somehow.”
BuzzFeed already offers flash news briefings for Alexa.
5. We need to treat content with more respect
Does the word ‘content’ diminish what we do as writers? Monocle editor Andrew Tuck thinks so.
“I think content is a killer word. It’s the death of us all. It’s not something to be squashed between the gaps on websites.”
Maybe content needs a re-brand to improve its image?
6. The chase for clicks is not healthy
Mr Tuck also explained how his publication does not judge itself on website traffic figures, which he feels are a bad way to judge the success of journalism.
He said the race for clicks ends up putting outlets in touch with ‘promiscuous consumers’, one night stand readers who don’t come back or have any deep relationship with the brand.
He added: “We would much rather have fewer people coming to the website but that they were the right people.”
7. Beacon technology offers the chance for location-based news
Stuart Goulden, founder of Otherworld, explained how he has conducted a Google-backed trial in Manchester to look at delivering news updates using beacons.
The technology – already popular in the tourist industry, for example - allows smartphone users to receive news updates that are relevant to the locations they are in, with push notifications alerting people passing the beacons that there’s a story to discover where they are standing.
Stuart explained: “Stories come alive and it breathes new life into squares and public spaces.”
8. Experiments with the Internet of Things might change the way we receive news
Trinity Mirror has teamed up Thomas Buchanan Consultancy to develop a series of products that tap into the technological potential of the Internet of Things.
Its NewsThings inventions include PrinterThing – a device that allows you to store up articles you’d like to read during the day and print your own personalised paper at the end of a day.
There’s also RadioThing, which allows you to pick the news you want to hear and even re-arrange the running order if, for example, you want to end on a positive story. Finally, it has developed ConeThing, a device which sits in a newsroom and tilts in different directions depending on the reaction to a story online.
Trinity Mirror editor in chief (digital) Alison Gow said the products had been developed after extensive research, asking people what stops them from consuming news content currently and looking at how technology can address this.
9. Virtual reality has huge potential to allow stories to be told in new ways
What’s it like to be in solitary confinement in prison? Or a refugee fleeing from danger? Or a baby taking its first steps into the real world?
All of these topics have been explored by the VR team at the Guardian, which is leading the way in using this technology to tell stories that are difficult to deliver in print.
Nicole Jackson, deputy editor of virtual reality at the Guardian, said: “We place the viewer in the story and give them chance not just to watch but to participate.”
Marc Ellison, video and photojournalist, described 360 video and VR as a chance to deliver ‘story living not story telling’.
10. Monetisation matters – with a number of solutions being explored
Reuters’ Nick Cohen said a generation that has grown up with Spotify and Netflix is coming round to the idea of paying for content. The New York Times, for example, now makes 60 per cent of its money from its audience.
Monocle editor Andrew Tuck also explained how his publications avoid social media platforms that won’t make them money, shunning Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. While this might only be plausible for niche or luxury publishers, it is working for Monocle, which focusses its digital attention on podcasts and internet radio.
Are there ways in which other media outlets might stop relying on the likes of Facebook to get their message out?
Mr Tuck explained: “A lot of social media companies are mustard. They have got nowhere to go unless you give them a sausage.”
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