Where The Readers Are

Cross-platform, mobile, multi-source news consumers need to be met wherever they go

By David Cohea, King Features Weekly Service

Readers are getting their news in dramatically different ways now, and editors who fail to read these trends risk losing their audience. And if newspapers want to stay relevant, newspapers must follow their readers to mobile.

That was one the messages to community newspapers at a recent conference titled “From Disruption to Transformation: New Strategies for Prosperity in a Digital Age.” Sponsored by the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association’s Traveling Campus and the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the conference was organized by Penelope Abernathy, author of Saving Community Journalism.

In a session led by Tom Rosenstiel, president of the American Press Institute, current research shows the following trends have become overwhelmingly evident:

Most Americans across age groups are now cross-platform, multi-source news consumers

A majority of Americans use five devices or technologies to get news in a given week. The average American adult uses four. Also, they consult more than one source of news — on average between four and five newsgathering sources.

“Technology is thus a user behavior, not a distinct audience,” Rosentiel said. “There is no such thing as a ‘mobile’ or ‘print’ audience. Users will use the device that is most appropriate and convenient within the current context they are in.”

What this means for newspapers is that they will need to be on every platform but in different ways.

“Social is no longer social,” said Rosentiel. “Your home page is not your home page. Your goal is to serve people, not platforms.”

Topic, more than demographics, is the key determination where people turn for news

People turn to newspapers for topics such as local news, arts, culture and education. They turn to specialized media (such as apps) for national sports, celebrity news technology and lifestyle, TV for traffic, weather and breaking news.

Nowadays, “the news cycle is not so much continuous as asynchronous,” said Rosentiel. “Every reader has their own personal news cycle.” Consumers learn what they want on their own time and terms. Newspapers can help them.

Newsroom strategy should exploit this multi-platform behavior and leverage the “synergy of screens”

What this means: if you aren’t delivering to mobile yet, get busy. Social is a gateway to new audiences. Mobile is the gateway to more frequent engagement. Multiple platforms are the gateway to message synergy.

People move across platforms to act:

Source: American Press Institute

Seeing ads across multiple platforms multiples impact:

Source: American Press Institute

Mobile ads are particularly effective:

Millennials are pointing the way. They are not abandoning news; instead, they tend to use social for some topics, search for others and news sites for still others.

  • Millennials look directly to news gatherers for “hard news” topics such as government, economy, the environment, public safety, weather, traffic, town and neighborhood news and sports.
  • They turn to social networks for lifestyle topics (celebrities, pop culture and fashion; food, cooking and restaurants; and music, television and movies.)
  • Finally, millennials turn to search and aggregators for news-you-can-use such as how-to advice, product information, career information and hobbies.

All this affects the newsgathering process. Rosentiel had the following advice for editors:

Rethink your content model. What topics can you be GREAT at?

“The old model for newspapers was the general store,” he said. “You had it all. Having it all also made it convenient; you didn’t think about building brand around pillars of excellence.”

The web rewards personalization — think TripAdvisor, Yelp and Craigslist. And with online, a better source on any topic is potentially always a click away. Therefore, editors should build their brand around franchises they can be great at.

Think knowledge, not stories

Newspapers are in the business of creating knowledge and community connection for audiences, not just writing news stories.

  • Knowledge, not just stories is more audience-focused, not process-focused. It helps create content that fits how people use you on different technologies.
  • Knowledge, not just stories helps editors rethink coverage holistically. What helps people on this topic? What are we not producing? What new audiences are affected by this topic our content is not helping, not reaching?
  • Knowledge, not just stories encourages initiative (which drives engagement) and it encourages listening to audiences, which makes journalism smarter and more useful.

You must understand engagement at a different level

The American Press Institute’s Metrics for News program helps publishers grow audiences through journalism analytics that enable data driven editorial decisions.

Their research reveals the following:

  • Initiative stories get 40% more engagement (61% more page views, 21% more time spent and 78% more time shares).
  • Major enterprise stories work. Drives 22% more engagement than dailies and are twice as likely to be viewed after one week.
  • People like long stories. Long-form stories (avg. 1,147 words) drive 21% more engagement (17% more views, 27% more read time and 34% more shares).
  • Writing it straight still works, especially for hard news.
  • Analysis works better with cultural topics such as food and dining, arts and entertainment and sports.
  • Use more photo sand graphics. Stories with photos earn 27% engagement (45% more page views, 7% more shares, half a minute more of read time).
  • Use audio and video; they add 30% more engagement (81% more views and 68% more shares).
  • The reason readers engage with content varies by topic. For example, what works with inside beat coverage? Initiative and explanatory works best in government beats; for-the-record posts in crime; short stories in business; analysis in sports.

“Tell unique stories no one else has,” Rosenstiel says. “Put more effort into major enterprise stories. Stick to straight stories but write analytically with culture new and add photos, audio and video where you can.”

If editors will do that, a newspaper’s great news won’t go unnoticed.

The lead photo is from the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives,Cornell University Library.

Email David at dcohea@hearstsc.com.