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Paul McNamara / NewsCred Staff –
The New York Chapter of the Online News Association hosted a discussion on 2013’s top tech trends in digital journalism this past Thursday in the Joseph Pulitzer Hall at Columbia University.
Journalists, students and varied media professionals watched as Amy Webb, author and head of Webbmedia (in partnership with NewsCred, Dutton and Digital First Media) discussed the technological innovations that will (and are already) heavily impacting online news reporting in 2013, during a half-hour conversation with Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at Columbia, and all around media king. For those that don’t know, Sree (as he’s known – he’s borderline mononym) is one of the most prolific and popular figures in media and journalism. So what does the future hold?
1. Print plus video = secret sauce
No surprise here, really. Webb discussed what she called the resounding success of HuffPost Live, and mentioned that the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and MSN are planning to allocate significant resources to their video production teams. Sreenivasan said the shift to video was as monumental as the shift from broadcast TV to cable in the mid 1980s.
Why? According to Webb, it's a fear among news executives that “nobody under 30 reads anything anymore.” While that’s admittedly an exaggeration, nobody can deny that this coveted demographic is embracing video wholeheartedly.
Sree didn’t think it was as bad as the unnamed execs, saying that a balance between print and video would be the secret to successful content production. Quality, he reminded the audience, was what really mattered, not the medium.
“People who will succeed aren’t necessarily video journalists, they’re people who are comfortable in the language of video.”
2. More aggregation
Content aggregation is nothing new. But the ethics of aggregation, and how it can work against you were the topics covered.
Sree and Webb bantered back and forth on the ethics of, for lack of a better term, paraphrasing articles and then claiming original authorship.
“It’ll break on the New York Times, and then you see a chunk on Buzzfeed, a chunk on HuffPo, then The Atlantic, then everywhere,” Webb said. “Your exclusives stay exclusive for about a second,” Sree answered.
Webb and Sree both agreed that publishers needed to be wary of aggregating too fast, making their version of the story too close to the original, and then warned the audience that too much aggregation can eventually spin out of control, citing the online community at Forbes.com as an example. Forbes has built a robust community of bloggers, but in the past has apparently had problems policing the content they posted.
How then to best aggregate content while simultaneously keeping the quality high, and ensuring everything stays on message? Said Webb, Turn to a specialist.
In what seemed like a scripted moment, but really wasn't, Webb said specialists in content syndication like us here at NewsCred offer a tremendous service to brands and publishers looking to make their content a stronger part of the brand identity. By getting the best of the best, syndication specialists are able to broaden the scope of the content and simultaneously ensure the quality of each little bit of data. Quality matters, probably now more than ever. Talking distribution and syndication doesn't matter if the quality isn't there. That's cart before the horse right there.
3. The Atomic Unit of News, or, "aggressive versioning"
There are a few names for this concept (“aggressive versioning” is one I like) but the core concept remains that by using an algorithm and responsive design, a content provider would be able to give you the best version of the story based on your device and past browsing history.
So, theoretically speaking, if I wanted to read about Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, my content provider of choice could use my past browsing history, and maybe a series of questions on the subject to provide a story with the appropriate depth and scope. If I had never looked at anything about Wikileaks, I would receive a basic introductory story.
Sree said a lot of this versioning was intended to stop the dreaded “bounce” wherein a user begins to read a story on one site, and then stops partway through, does some research, and then moves to another site and continues reading. By tailoring the story to the reader, content providers have a much better chance of keeping that consumer on their site.
“We need to serve people the nugget of news that matters most,” remarked Webb. Webb also addressed the need to tailor content to whichever device the reader is using. She said that some content works well on some devices, but falls flat on others. The New York Times’ landmark story “Snowfall” was an excellent example, agreed Sree. One of the most popular pieces of journalism in recent history, he said the story was spectacular on a computer or tablet, but lost its vibrance on mobile devices. He said, “It was the form factor.”
4. Syndication: the alternative to traditional aggregation
So now what? The challenge for many brands looking to be aggregators (brands as publishers) is taking good content and positioning it well (as opposed to burying it in poor design and praying people don't ignore it). If you want a masterclass in good content design, Webb and Sree said look at Pepsi.com.
In quite possibly the most flattering moment of the night, Webb acknowledged that with NewsCred's assistance, Pepsi.com has a better grasp of effectively using content than most major news organizations. We blushed a little, but also believe her. It's our area of expertise.