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Leading media in the digital era requires strategic thinking, execution

By Silence Mugadzaweta

Alpha Media Holdings

Harare, Zimbabwe

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As we come to terms and digest the World Press Trends Outlook 2022-2023 report, crucial questions arise on whether publishers are ready or they are still holding on to a sick patient who is in intensive care.

Although print is not dead yet, it is badly wounded, and the worst case will be extinction. Evidently, many who have seen or lived through different transitions do not agree; they will tell you that was said 20 years ago.

Print is not dead, but media leaders must get onboard with developing digital content strategy.
Print is not dead, but media leaders must get onboard with developing digital content strategy.

“Digital circulation revenue represents a small part of the overall revenue structure, with modest increases YOY (year-over-year), but over the last five years, it has grown more than 30%,” according to the report.

Revealing as it is, we still have denialists and, as usual, they will be caught flat-footed.

Critical questions come to mind: Are publishers aware of the new knowledge that is available in the industry? Are publishers aware of changes that have taken place in journalism?

From a transformation and strategy point of view, progressive newsrooms should be talking about solutions journalism, sustainable journalism, audience preferences, newsroom strategy, Artificial Intelligence, and research.

More than ever, publishers demand integrated operations, from commercial, distribution, and editorial. Of course, we know the tension between commercial and editorial dates back many years. But, to lead successfully in the digital era, a divided company will collapse.

Print: a sick patient giving us life?

The nosedive in print revenues is not a new phenomenon, as data and research is being published year after year shows, but we still find publishers gravitating toward liquidation. It is quite explicit and indubitable that technology is the key driver in change and digital transformation for publishers.

New audience needs and expectations now demand satisfaction.

“Not only must a company offer high-quality products or services, but the way they deliver them to the customer matters much more today than in the past,” according to a report by Harvard Business Review. This speaks to an intimate and dynamic understanding of the audience.

This sets a new standard and mandate for newsroom leaders, adopting the buzzwords “strategy,” “transformation,” and “change.” Someone jokingly said the next media editor should have an MBA, and the argument was, beyond writing and publishing, editors must calculate some commercial value in the content they are manufacturing. If there is no economic sense to it, it simply means sustainable journalism as a business has not been put into account.

Of course, arguments arise on editorial independence and public interest journalism, but even public interest journalism has to be novel to attract readers. If newsrooms are not creating areas for exclusivity, they will be committing suicide. Nowadays, the audience will just ignore unappealing content.

But in a world where audience preferences have gravely shifted, the purpose of serving the audience may need reinterogation. Newsroom language needs to breathlessly shift from traditional modes of thinking to strategy, transformation, and change. This will guarantee the much-needed exclusive, high-quality content, satisfying the audience need.

Understanding audience dynamics and being data informed

Audience research has revealed that demographic information, psychographic information, and geographic location are key elements in defining the market. This makes it easy for editorial to manufacture content with a guaranteed consumer.

Geographic information: As content transverses into focusing more on communities, it is now apparent that editors consider how content can draw the attention of a substantive number of people. People are likely to relate to coverage that speaks to their proximity.

“People want to know what is happening near them,” according to research published by Sage. In most instances, this has given birth to hyper-local content. The key ingredient here is that people want to be in the headlines.

Psychographic information: There was an old belief editors used to mirror the audience as homogenous and passive. But research shows that inasmuch as people may be of the same age, live in the same locality, or even have the same education, it does not naturally mean they share common values and interests. There is always an independent strength of opinion on various subjects driven by singular thought and sometimes ideology.

Demographic information: Publishers are struggling to attract young audiences, but harvesting demographics and analysing habits will help in curating customised content and maximising reach. As publishers target communities, Big Data analytics are being utilised as the basis for content creation that targets audiences with specific news resonating with them.

When all this is defined, publishers should move to packaging. This is because the question “how do my readers want the information?” is critical for publishers to survive in the digital era.

Days of heaping and randomly throwing content on platforms are buried in the past. Some readers, especially those browsing using mobile devices, may prefer all their content in a central location. Others may prefer notifications by e-mail throughout the day, and some may want a mix. All this resembles a flip side where audience now dictates almost everything from trending topics to packaging.

About Silence Mugadzaweta

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