The idea that journalism matters is almost commonplace, but it may never have been so true. This does not mean life is becoming easier for journalists. There is no one at our newsrooms worldwide cheering as the post-truth crisis evolves. However, the raw material of journalistic work has been not just extremely rich but also super valued.
And it is not “rich” just for those who are dedicated to researching, interpreting, writing, and distributing content. It is equally valuable to readers, wherever they are, whether they’re news junkies or not.
Anyone who has enabled notifications on their cell phone or computer, for instance, has already realised are arriving with more intensity, updating us as frantically and dynamically as journalism itself.
From April to May 2017, The Washington Post studied the frequency of alerts sent by 12 U.S. media companies for 30 days. The average number of notifications was 44 per day. According to the news media company, the recordholder was USA Today with 263 notifications per month. The Washington Post sent more than 90 in the period under review.
At GaúchaZH, a digital platform based in southern Brazil, what started as a beta test with only a few users became a major conversation about planning and daily meetings. It eventually turned into a fundamental distribution channel and is responsible today for 5% of the audience (in absolute numbers, that’s half of the social traffic source!). Last March, we sent, on average, 40 notification a day, not just Web but also to the applications of our ecosystem.
Today, the registered users receiving GaúchaZH’s alerts surpasses 1.3 million. With base growth and positive results day after day, new processes needed to be created and systematic evaluation routines drawn up. Some lessons we’ve learned are:
Do not underestimate the news: Despite the invasive nature of the push (on the screen of the computer or cell phone), it does not always have to be “breaking news.” In the tests we did with our audience, soft news was clicked on just as often as political events or important traffic or weather alerts.
In the GaúchaZH app, the Cars and Health selection, for example, performs better than Economy and Culture. In Web alerts, the Economy, Politics, and Technology options generate more clicks than City Life.
Name someone to be responsible for the channel: At GaúchaZH, the time editors are responsible for identifying the articles, planning the submissions, and preparing the messages according to the user’s journey, even taking into account the devices and operating systems. They are in charge of it, and they know it.
Evaluate the results like crazy: The tracking must be in real time, from the deliveries through the clicks, on both the Web and in the app. At GaúchaZH, for example, a qualitative report is generated every day, mapping the sense of urgency of the sent message, origin of the news (local, national, or global), subject matter, headlines, day of the week, schedule, and, of course, delivery and opening rates.
The insights shared with the newsroom include the number of pushes sent, the number of clicks, best and worst performers, and a time range that could have been better utilised. This information becomes essential material for our newsroom staff and for time editors.
Create a schedule (but do not become a slave to it): Our schedule sets a “send rule” between 7 a.m. and midnight on the hour, but breaking the rule is as precious as following it. One of the best times on weekends, for example, is 11 p.m., when we would not normally send out an alert since our audience would be not available. But in the case of culture-related articles, the best time is around midnight!
You need to have data on the one hand and a journalistic sixth sense on the other. You do not want to lose the opportunity to deliver content at the time the audience is available. And always remember: The week starts Sunday night!
Every strategic decision behind the operation — with teams dedicated to producing the best messages and sending them at the most convenient time for those on the receiving end — already set forth a need for a brand new and noble job position in the newsroom: the “push editor.” His or her skills are under construction, but very concrete. Can anyone doubt the importance?