Will audience grading lead us to success?


A new year usually means new resolutions. But nothing points to the fact that the digital subscription wave rolling over the entire Western Hemisphere will lessen in force during 2013.

Media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic are putting part of their content behind digital entrances, to which only premium customers get the key.

The pioneers already are capable of drawing some conclusions from the first phases since the launch of their new business models. 

The fear of losing traffic or having disruptive start-ups grab market shares, by offering similar services for free, seems to have melted away as more and more media executives have gone public, declaring their faith in paid digital content.

Some of the giants, like The New York Times, are hailed as success stories, but analysts worry that the smaller outlets following in their footsteps, with neither the traffic volumes nor the global market potential, will fail.

To me, there is yet another challenge at the core of the paid content strategy. In order to be able to sell something in a competitive environment, your offering has to be of the utmost quality.

Given the last decades of down-sizing newsrooms, while new platforms have emerged and added new tasks, we have actually been forcing fewer reporters and editors to produce more.

Not really a recipe for quality, is it? Even though there are some executives who turn against the current

If we add to this picture the current level of digital competence within legacy media, the outset seems more than gloomy. A European colleague with whom I had a conversation not long ago said that if he could give notice to every person in his newsroom and rehire only the ones with the right competences, he would keep only one out of 10.

The Internet has moved out of its teens, but many old-school journalists still believe digital publishing is technically challenging and often blame management, claiming they have not provided enough in-house education. 

Their weak desire to learn was understandable as long as the digital platforms were not generating revenues – since they saw their companies giving away the effort of their work.

And this is where we come to the hope part of this evolution.

As an increasing number of media houses turn to digital revenue strategies, calculating that the decreasing print and distribution costs will outweigh the lower conversion rates, we might experience some new passion in the newsrooms.

Suddenly, journalism is valued again!

 So, let’s claim that we now have everyone on the wagon, mentally pulling in the same direction. How do we physically turn the print-heavy journalists and editors into top-class digital storytellers?

Being an avid advocate of co-creation, I got an idea some time ago, while lecturing at the unconference “Himmelohelvete”(“Heaven n’ Hell”) in the Bonnier building in Stockholm, Sweden.

What if the audience has the answer?

What if instant feedback from our customers is what we need to succeed?

In December, during a visit to China, I got a new reminder. At the passport control of Beijing International Airport, the passengers are invited to evaluate the performance of the staff – encouraging them to deliver top service at all times.

Now, would that not be an interesting industry experiment for 2013?

When I was appointed editor-in-chief of regional daily Norran in 2009, we added smileys next to every article to allow audience members to express themselves. Since then, many news organisations have followed; major regional daily Sydsvenskan uses colour codes for “happy,” “angry,” “curious,” etc.

What if we used these tools to evaluate journalism, enabling the users, next to each piece of content, to grade our performance on perhaps angle, accuracy, and storytelling? (Feel free to add more category suggestions in the comments field below.)

What if the wisdom of the crowd helps us deliver the caviar content?

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