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How to create a great content experience with fragmented news sources

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


The way audiences get their news has changed, and that creates a new challenge for publishers: how to find where people are getting their news and reach them where they live.

Jodie Hopperton, lead of the INMA Product Initiative, piloted a conversation during Wednesday’s Webinar to look at how those changes are affecting newsrooms and what role product could play in meeting some of the challenges.

Joined by Damon Kiesow, Knight Chair in digital editing and producing at the Missouri School of Journalism, and Kara Chiles, SVP consumer product at Gannett, Hopperton kicked off Creating a great content experience with fragmented news by giving an overview of the current landscape. Today, she explained, users get news from their friends, from news articles, from social media — but that doesn’t mean they are getting the necessary depth of news needed.

“How do we, as product people, start thinking about how we organise that?” she said.

With more than eight in 10 Americans getting their news from digital services — smartphone, computer, tablet, TV, etc.— the way people are consuming news continues to change. In the U.K., as in most regions, Reuters found people get their news in a fragmented mix that includes online, print, television or radio, and sometimes social media.

Today, users are finding news in different places, which means they approach it with different levels of knowledge, accuracy, and interest.
Today, users are finding news in different places, which means they approach it with different levels of knowledge, accuracy, and interest.

“So when people get to us, they’ve got fragments of news,” Hopperton said. “If you follow a story, we’ve got no idea how much someone knows about something.”

That means people are coming to the table with different views, some of which may not be accurate, which can complicate the customer journey. Kiesow said that he doesn’t think news works as effectively on digital platforms as it does in print. Chiles added that digital consumption has forced news companies to change and has splintered the way users consume content:

“How we’re thinking about it is evolving,” she said. “It used to be enough to have a Web site and then you had to translate your Web site into a mobile version of it because people were suddenly consuming on their phones.”

That led to the creation of apps that allowed better consumption on smartphones. All of these things, she said, indicate how different the news consumption experience has become.

“Users are getting all kinds of inputs that form a different view of news and information than the classic framing of what is on a homepage or a front page,” Chiles said. “Today, the user may never touch a front page.”

That means the challenge for news media companies becomes how to develop a relationship with users so they’ll keep coming back.

And Kiesow said it raises an important question: What is the job of news?

“If we’re going to say … it’s helping people understand their world, make sense of their world, how effectively are we doing that? Is that the thing we want to try to measure? We don’t actually measure that right now.”

Jodie Hopperton, Damon Kiesow, and Kara Chiles took a deep dive into how news consumption has changed and how product could play a role in helping newsrooms reach their audiences.
Jodie Hopperton, Damon Kiesow, and Kara Chiles took a deep dive into how news consumption has changed and how product could play a role in helping newsrooms reach their audiences.

The prospect of personalisation

Whether or not users identify it as “personalisation,” that is the kind of experience they are looking for in a world where Netflix and Spotify have learned to spoon-feed them content that appeals to their interests.

Personalisation can be challenging because “we are only a fraction of their digital life and only a portion of their digital news consumption habits,” Kiesow said. That means companies can only learn about users when they visit the site, which means it is important to find a way to reach them earlier in their journey. The easiest way to do that, he said, is to create news experiences that will keep them engaged.

Chiles noted that also takes an awareness of where the reader is at on their journey. That means understanding not just what they might want to see next and what they might already know about a specific topic, but where they are at in their day. For example, people who are at work aren’t likely to have the time for a long-form in-depth piece; that would be more appropriate for them to discover on a night or weekend.

“I think a goal for us is to anticipate, based on where they are in the moment, what is the next likely action that makes sense for them and also makes them feel like we understand and respect what they are trying to do,” she said.

“A user could actually be thrilled that we are understanding where they are, and we’re not asking more of them than they’re able to give.”

Whose job is it, anyway?

A recurring question, Hopperton said, has been trying to understand whose job it is to make sure people walk away with an understanding of a story or topic.

“Is it the editor’s job? The journalist? Is it product’s job to make sure that we are giving them the tools to do it? Whose job is it to do that?” she pondered.

The changes brought about by an increasingly digital world mean that an editor can no longer curate for readers, Kiesow said: “We’ve taken the cognitive effort of an entire newsroom … to digest and compile and arrange and design that news package, and we’ve scattered that to the winds,” he said. “And we’ve said to readers, so to speak, ‘Go find it. Good luck.’”

That creates what he called a “cognitive load” for readers in which they have to do the heavy lifting of connecting and understanding news stories — and at the same time, there’s less engagement and loyalty with news brands.

This also means companies need to redefine what success looks like in terms of how they interact with users, Chiles said: “I like to think of it as, how are we identifying what success looks like based on the moment where we are in interacting with the user?”

Kiesow added it is changing everything about the way news media companies interact with users, including the way they write stories. Hopperton questioned whether product could have a role in helping with the customer journey, and Chiles affirmed its value.

“It is really about creating the right infrastructure and organisation,” she said, emphasising the need for a strongly architected information infrastructure to manage the volume of content created by a newsroom.

Hopperton pointed out this is a conversation that will continue as newsrooms wrestle with how to reach users in a changing digital world.

“It’s such a challenge, and I think it’s one of the biggest things [facing news media organisations] — and that’s a bold thing to say,” she said.

“This is going to be an ongoing challenge for us as product people and figuring out those really complicated customer journeys and how we bring in all these atoms and fragments of news to make sure that people have got real stories. This is a massive challenge for us all.”

About Paula Felps

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