For many journalists, especially those hanging on to the last thread of objective journalism, the concept sends shivers up their spines. It's something different being a columnist or critic than a hard news journalist — writers who prefer to be seen not for their style but for the masthead they make home.
But that's not what people want. They don't want to find the same news in every paper. They don't want truth in media if that means vanilla reporting. And they certainly don't want forgettable bits of top-down information that can be spun out by anyone no matter how hard print tries to maintain it.
Print-to-digital migrants need people that the public can identify.
Sooner or later, print-to-digital migrants have to realize that their decision (some of them, anyway) to cut costs by letting all their veteran journalists go in favor of young, cheap, and desperate writers was a mistake. They needed to double down and transform those old school journalists into quasi-celebrities, a status once reserved for columnists, investigative reporters, and Gonzo journalists alone.
Except, unlike some of their more biased brethren, they need to usher in an era of impassioned objectivists — journalists who aren't afraid to look at the world the way it is (rather than the way they want it to be) and still turn a phrase that causes you to turn your head or wreck you gut or shake you awake. They need to write so well, in fact, that we want to know them by name and trust them to shape our brains.
By shape, I don't mean the advocacy and affirmation news that broadcast serves up on daily basis. What I mean is striving for stories that leave people so deeply informed about a topic that they can form their own opinions. What I mean is writing articles that aren't afraid to dig deeper into topics so we may transcend the tit-for-tat tactics of sourcing two opposing viewpoints who only talk around the surface of the subject. And what I mean is raising the bar rather than insulting the public's intelligence.
How to make print media relevant again with modern reporting.
Just as news publishers are learning in Pakistan, news organizations are learning all over the world: The "power of the press" shrinks exponentially when the public can buy digital ink by the barrel too. In other words, reach ceases to be a value proposition when companies and campaigns frequently beat out the circulation of most major news organizations. So maybe it's time to change it all together.
• Develop more specialists. Whereas news reporters used to be generalists, the public craves to get their information from specialists. This is one of the reasons some research firms have thrived in recent years — they publish content by passionate analysts who are informed, visible, and objective.
Journalists can easily take a page from their playbook or any number of 'new media' publishers that began delivering better content in some verticals than the dailies did, starting almost a decade ago. These people didn't just report the news and other people's views, they provided real analysis.
• Market semi-public reporters. Of course, content wasn't the only place new media started to crush some dailies. Almost every new media publisher and content provider won on personality too. Instead of providing authoritative reporting from under a masthead, the public was treated to a snapshot of the people behind the words.
Much like broadcast has known for years, the messenger can be just as important to the public as the message. In fact, most of the public will even forgive openly biased reporting as long as they feel like they know the person behind it. Ergo, the reporter IS part of the value proposition nowadays.
• Content needs to be intuitive. Ask most people about the ideal length of web content and most of them will skew short. It isn't really true, but plenty of people make a great case for short. Most folks only want a few graphs that sum up everything, they say.
What they really want is tiered content — short introductions that allow them to discern whether or not it's a topic that interests them enough to dig deeper. In fact, I've met more and more people who tell me they use media outlets like Newsy to scan the content and then turn to The New York Times or The Washington Post for in-depth coverage in an attempt to create a DIY hybrid of content agility.
• Multimedia wins the Internet. Sometimes people want to stream clips and other times they want to scan headlines with pics, but they want so much more from anything they decide to dig into deeper. Just as it is having an impact on content marketing it is true for journalism too.
Different people learn differently so they want their content to be visual (see), auditory (told), kinesthetic (touch), or language based (read/write) as it suits them. So knowing this, it only makes sense that digital journalism needs to be multimodal whenever it makes sense — reinforcing whatever story that happens to interest them with maps, infographics, interactive displays, video clips, animation, or anything that make sense.
Maybe all we need are authentic journalists with dazzling content.
While most newspapers have been busy chasing eyeballs to make themselves look more viable than they are, they should have be reinventing their value proposition instead. Consider the obvious.
What if more print-to-digital migrants hired authentic reporters that people could trust to deliver passionate stories that could help us better understand the world? And, what if they did it in such a way that we could preview the content before immersing ourselves in interactive multimodal content?
While no one can be certain, odds are that this kind of publication wouldn't have to worry too much about circulation. In fact, when you look at how people cobble multiple sites together to get the same effect, they wouldn't have to worry about revenue either. Journalism would become relevant again.