The common thread during INMA’s Sunday Brainsnacks seminar at the INMA World Congress in Washington, D.C. — connecting a well-established newspaper in India and an American television news division’s mini social media start-up — is that neither is accepting the traditional ideas of what it means to “do” the news.
Stay Tuned, a twice-daily news briefing from NBC News featured on Snapchat, considers itself a “weird hybrid of digital and TV,” said Executive Producer Andrew Springer. It revels in turning the inverted pyramid inside-out and sideways for an audience that views most network anchors as old enough to be their grandparents.
Half a world away, the English-language daily The Telegraph, published in West Bengal by ABP Ltd., is starting a conversation with its readers about what it calls the “pain points” in their lives. It is then redirecting its resources to help them solve their problems, rather than giving them news they largely consider irrelevant.
“The fundamental point is that readers no longer look at newspapers for news anymore,” said The Telegraph’s vice president, Dhruba Mukeherjee. “Right? Because they have so many other sources of news that, by the time the newspaper comes the next day morning, they don’t see a relevance in that particular paper.”
What’s needed, Mukeherjee said, is to expand the definition of “news” to “content.”
“We always talk about it, but often we don’t walk that talk,” he said. “Can we move away from news to looking at content — and liberating that content to engage with our readers better — so that they don’t look at you as a newspaper brand anymore, but they look at you as a content brand who’s engaging with them to make their lives better?
“If we are able to do that, we will be able to shift the conversation from discount offers and subscription offers to value,” Mukeherjee said. “And that is the purpose of this programme we have launched. We are calling it t3, and we are positioning it as a life-enhancement programme rather than as a newspaper subscription programme.”
The Telegraph launched an extensive research programme involving more than 5,000 people to identify the pain points affecting their everyday lives, Mukeherjee said. Editors then narrowed the result down to three primary areas in which the newspaper feels it can help:
- Lifestyle, or helping people groom and carry themselves better.
- Child development and, more specifically, parenting.
- Health and fitness to deal with life’s stresses.
Now under the t3 programme, The Telegraph tells enrolled readers to select one of these areas, with a promise that the newspaper will then work with them to provide content to help them deal with that issue — not necessary to solve the issue for them but to facilitate their ability to solve the issue for themselves.
With t3, The Telegraph feels it has re-established a value proposition for the brand such that it no longer has to offer any discount rates to justify its cost to readers.
Results to date reflect a higher income due to that pricing strategy change, more than 10,000 new enrollments in the t3 programme, and a noticeable improvement in how readers regard the publication as part of their lives, Mukeherjee said: “They are no longer looking at The Telegraph as just a newspaper.”
Of course, most of Stay Tuned’s 30 million unique viewers per month would probably never look at a newspaper in any way.
Most don’t even watch the network newscasts at the heart of the parent NBC News division. That’s because, by and large, they are members of Gen Z, born after 1997. As such, Springer told the INMA audience, they predominantly populate three media spheres: Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. That’s it.
Stay Tuned exclusively claims the latter of those as its home turf, crafting highly visual morning and afternoon editions of its programme each day during the week, a special weekend version, and breaking news updates throughout the day.
With a staff of 30, the nearly year-old, in-house start-up has produced and published more than 500 episodes of vertical video on the Snapchat platform. Seventy-five percent of its audience is under 25 years old. In contrast, Springer noted, the average age of a Today Show viewer is 55.
“This younger audience has no interest in clicking on political news,” Springer said. “And this may seem counterintuitive, but we have to talk the way people talk and dress the way people dress. I don’t usually dress like this. I don’t even own a suit, to be honest. And on the talking front, I noticed one newscaster starts his show every night and he says, ‘leading us off tonight …’ And I think to myself every time he says that, who talks like that? Who says, ‘leading us off tonight?’ Nobody talks like that! And we like to make it beautiful because this audience really cares about aesthetics.”
Which is not to say that Stay Tuned doesn’t cover news. It’s just different news, done differently, Springer said.
“We do a lot of crime. We do a lot of missing people … And I’m actually proud that our show has covered things that other places at NBC News aren’t covering. We’ve talked about Yemen. We’ve talked to this audience about what’s happening in the Philippines. We’ve taken this audience to the South Sudan. We did a whole special episode the day after Thanksgiving where we sent one of our anchors to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to talk about what life’s like on an Indian reservation for a Native American teenager. It wasn’t the clickiest thing, but we did get several million people to watch that. And when’s the last time you heard a 16-year-old think about an Indian reservation, or poverty on an Indian reservation?”
Another example of tailoring to the Gen Z audience: Stay Tuned went all out covering the death of Swedish musician and DJ Avicii a few days after doing just a minor obit on former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush.
Asked for advice for the more traditional media in the room, Springer said, “I would say don’t try to be something you’re not. I think news brands do that a lot … Be who you are and own it.”
He then added: “This might come back and bite me but I hate Facebook Live. I hate live video. So many people try to make things live that shouldn’t be live. Like, put some effort into it and edit it and make something somebody wants to watch.”