Some ideas the panelists shared about how to approach cooperating with technology platforms and managing change:
Vivian Schiller, former Twitter head of news and current media consultant, said publishers should “absolutely” experiment with Facebook’s Instant Articles feature. She said that success is not about referral traffic to a media organization’s website, but about the ability to test, optimize and adopt business practices in order to succeed on a platform. “You have to be there.”
Learn from what you try
American Press Institute executive director Tom Rosenstiel recommended that media organizations continue to operate their developed business but think like startups when it comes to changing aspects of the business. They shouldn’t in every case worry about immediate financial return on trying something new, he said. Often, what is learned — not what’s earned — matters.
Continue to invest and experiment in your own technology
Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, emphasized that while experimenting with tech platforms is important, overreliance makes journalism organizations worse off. Regarding uploading only to Facebook Instant Articles or similar scenarios, “Temptation will be to say, ‘This is an opportunity to reduce our costs,’ but you will be reducing your future,” Rosenstiel said. Publishers need independent channels.
Act not just as publishers, but as technology, content and data companies
Today’s news readers are consuming news across platforms on multiple devices. There are not separate print and social media readers; “Technology is a behavior, not an audience,” Rosenstiel said. Organizations that accept that and work to better distribute content across platforms along with better tracking it will do well. All three are important, not just content.
Work to understand the audience very deeply
News organizations have better knowledge about their audience from reporting and living in the community that tech platforms do. Better understanding what works within that journalism adds to a publisher’s ability to succeed. Rosenstiel cited API’s Metrics for News as one initiative that works to help media organizations better understand what qualities of content resonate with audiences. The program uses meta tags of journalistic concepts and other tools to put other Web analytics into better context.
Plan for five years, not five quarters
Thinking only about short-term gain or reacting to change is not a strategy that works in the long run. Rosenstiel emphasized that publishers should have a plan for where they’d like to be and work backward. Even if curveballs come that force change, publishers can iterate. “If you don’t have a vision, you’re simply reacting to what happens to you rather than [being in a position to] leap ahead,” he said.
Pick a few topics at which to excel
Media organizations have traditionally acted as general stores, having content that spans a range of topics, Rosenstiel said. But the Internet rewards specialization — a better source on a topic is just a click away. To build audience, media companies should thus develop a few pillar topics, coverage areas they can become known for. Then, readers can find additional content once they’re there.
By API staff