The four-platform opportunity

For Business of Journalism (NNS 525) with Kathy Vey, Ryerson University

Last week, Jordan Timm of Postmedia shared his thoughts on the future of journalism with NNS 525. When he began by saying that the state of the industry is due to a series of mistakes by rich old white guys, it was hard not to wonder how decades of poor decisions could possibly be counteracted and turn things around.

Timm told the class that one of the key mistakes legacy media companies have been making is presenting the same stories in the same way on every platform. Here, a challenge offers huge potential for the sustainability of journalism going forward. To address the challenge, however, we must ask: how can we manage content for different audiences who prefer different platforms?

Print, mobile, web, and tablet: industry professionals have been researching who uses each platform, and in what place at what time. The smartphone apparently has the youngest audience, and needs to be immediately available and quickly updated. Newsrooms looking to further integrate the mobile platform are currently lacking a presence of its target demographic. The platform would benefit — and likely enhance its “cool factor” — if young people were more involved in development and decision-making. Web also needs to be direct and up-to-date, as the digital hub that never sleeps. It is crucial that web content is designed to be compatible for mobile.

Unlike these two on-the-go platforms, print and tablet are considered lean-back platforms — for relaxed reading. Timm says that print is most useful for sharing analysis and review, and should focus on those areas, since it is not built to be as frequently updated. Newspapers are there the next day to offer readers more, to enhance their understanding after they’ve initially absorbed the news. The tablet’s role, by contrast, could be what Timm calls the reinvention of the evening news experience. Tablets have the potential to offer more than headlines; they can put into context the news of the day through well-designed, experiential learning.

Now, it’s all very well to discuss how each platform could benefit different users, but will users really listen to what researchers and experts think they should be doing? The Ottawa Citizen has begun launching a rebranding campaign to inform readers, galvanize support, and convince them that the company has their best interests in mind in promoting the four platforms.

But in telling people that we know what they want, in showing them what they should use when and where, are we trying to force habits on people? The tablet is an especially good example of a disconnect between innovation and adoption. Despite product development and the industry’s focus on incorporating tablet-based news, users don’t seem to be in the tablet habit. Small screens and data usage make smartphones less sexy than tablets, but they are still the leading news source by far. What does this tell us?

If all goes well, the possibilities for modern storytelling will expand enormously. The reality is, we can’t tell people how to live their lives and where their news consumption fits into that. Getting people to engage with print, mobile, web, and tablet will determine how this four-platform strategy plays out — and whether it really is the saviour of the field of journalism.

Sharing some of my thoughts on Twitter while listening to our guest speaker.