‘The scoop is dead’, and other news industry trends

Whether you are a journalist, a blogger, a media manager or a reader, the fact that the media world is experiencing a dramatic upheaval is hard to miss. Changes in reading habits, economic challenges, new technical possibilities: it’s an ideal situation for media companies to promote innovation and remain relevant in a changing world. Instead, their the tone is often pessimistic and resigned, though some of the trends offer more opportunities than risks. For example:

Interdisciplinary teams

The traditional newsroom today is still largely much as it was in pre-Internet times. Journalists work primarily with other journalists. Technicians, designers and programmers are rarely an integral part of the editorial process. Yet this cooperation would be a great opportunity. Online journalism today uses only a fraction of the technical tools available – among other reasons, because these two worlds do not communicate with each other. Computational journalism opens up new possibilities for Investigative and watchdog journalism, proven for example by the U.S.-based non-profit ProPublica.

Visual Communication

Journalism on the net is still mainly text driven. There are good reasons for that: Nothing is better suited than the written word to explain complex issues, to promote awareness. However, there are equally good reasons to devote more attention to photos, graphics, videos and drawings.

Studies show that video and pictures are shared much more frequently through social networks than are text links. New media companies like BuzzFeed rely strongly on visualizations to better engage their audience – but they lack a quality journalism approach.

The scoop is dead

Online news platforms still rate themselves by how many “scoops” they get  – even if the lead against competitors means only several minutes or even seconds. The “scoop” was born in a time when an exclusive message still had a half-life of several hours until the next paper issue or the nightly news, hours during which the competition could only tear their hair in despair.

Today, the concept is not only outdated but also error-prone: The constant race for first place leads to situations like the recent one when even the honorable CNN reported the health-care reform ruling incorrectly. With the rise of real-time micro-blogs like Twitter, it is becoming increasingly clear that quality media can not win the game with speed, but with analysis, research, monitoring, and context.

Open the newsroom

Journalism is the only industry that not only does not care about its customers, but also likes to publicly insult them. It is not uncommon for media managers to complain openly about their users or to lament that “the reader” just does not appreciate what is being offered. No wonder that hardly any medium enters into a real, open dialogue with its readers, viewers or users. It’s high time they did. If journalists and media outlets want to remain relevant, we must know what our users see in us, what bothers them, what topics they miss, what they hope and what they fear. Many journalists have forgotten to just talk to people. In the United States (“Journal Register“) and Great Britain (“Guardian“), some media outlets try to overcome those shortcomings with the concept of Open Journalism.

The neglected article

Media companies give their homepage an incredible amount of attention. They re-launch, test and tinker endlessly over page one – forgetting that fewer and fewer people ever see it. Depending on the medium, up to 50 percent of users make their way through search engines or social networks to a specific article. And yet, the article layout get’s virtually no attention. Facebook’s Journalist Program Manager Vadim Lavrusik is one of several media managers calling for a focus on the article level. “I completely agree with this idea of re-thinking the article page design. The way news pages are designed is still the traditional way. It doesn’t line up with how people are discovering that content.”

This article was initially published in German in derStandard.at.