The biggest challenge facing publishers isn’t revenue, technology or audience. According to Dr. Mario García, it’s the mindset.
“We are working with the journalism of everywhere and the journalism of interruptions,” said Dr. García, a global consultant and senior advisor for news design at Columbia University’s Graduate school of Journalism. “One of the biggest obstacles [for publishers] happens to be the notion of frequency. In many newsrooms, you still have people who mentally go there to put out tomorrow’s newspaper, the way we’ve always done. But in today’s digital world, publishers need to pay attention to how they present the information and at what time of the day they post certain stories.”
Dr. García consults with newspapers worldwide on designing a cutting-edge newspaper experience that fits the needs of both audiences and advertisers, and is currently working with GateHouse Media’s publications as well as outlets in Norway and the Philippines. He recently spoke on this topic as part of a breakout session at mediaXchange 2016, and sat down with News Media Alliance separately to discuss three of his top recommendations for publishers to create a thriving news experience:
“Publishers need to be aware of how information is consumed today. We are living in two tempos,” Dr. García explained. “We lean forward to get a headline, or a summary of what happened, and then we lean back to get an analysis of why it happened.”
He recommends that publishers identify the ideal flow of a news story across platforms and formats, structuring the placement and publication of a piece to match the audience’s interest at specific points in the day.
For example, a lengthy analysis shouldn’t be published in the middle of the morning, when readers are likely focused on their own tasks and are looking for a quick snippet of news. That’s the “lean-forward” position, where they are looking for immediate, up-to-date information on a certain story. But long form pieces and analysis should be prioritized around lunchtime and after 6 p.m., when people are more meditative and looking to unwind.
Although Dr. García believes that “analytics is one of the greatest tools we have today,” he cautions that newspapers should re-evaluate whether their current data is, in fact, useful.
He points to a recent paper by the American Press Institute’s Executive Director, Tom Rosenstiel, where he argues that the typical publishing metrics provide little valuable insight.
“Page views can tell a publisher how many times an individual piece of content was viewed, but not why it was viewed. Nor does a page view indicate whether consumers found that content valuable or an annoying waste of time they were teased into viewing,” Rosenstiel writes in the paper, Solving Journalism’s Hidden Problem: Terrible Analytics.
In a recent blog post, Dr. García listed The Financial Times’s Lantern as an example of a creative and useful analytics tool providing data on how and why readers engage with stories rather than the number of page views or social shares received.
Design for a Distracted Audience
Consuming news on a mobile device creates a very different environment than sitting down with a printed paper, and it’s one where readers are likely to be regularly interrupted by email, social media and push notifications.
“How do you write for the digital age? You have to deal with the journalism of interruptions,” Dr. García said. “You have to write shorter paragraphs and put subheads between paragraphs so people can advance.”
In his view, it is up to the newspaper’s editors and designers to pull the readers back into the story through easy-to-digest content and clear headings that allow them to regain their place in the story.
While most major newspapers have adapted to these concepts, Dr. García estimates that some 60 percent of newspapers worldwide have yet to make the transition. But he is encouraged by the progress and innovation seen so far.
“You’re beginning to see the transformation,” he said. “The main task is to really turn the corner, to forget about a cliché like ‘digital first.’ It’s nothing unless you apply it.”
Lindsey is the Communications Manager for the News Media Alliance. Prior to joining the Alliance, she led communications for a food and nutrition nonprofit in Washington, D.C. for over eight years.