Monday, October 28, 2013

Journalists: You’re doing the Internet wrong

As journalists, we often make a MAJOR mistake by publishing the same article in the paper magazine and then copying it - word for word - to our tablet version.  As a graduate student in the Medill School of Journalism focusing my studies on interactive storytelling, I see examples of how journalism is getting the internet wrong on a daily basis. The following are a couple of articles that point out the good, the bad and the ugly of online journalism.

The Gaurdian’s “The rise of the reader: journalism in the age of the open web” is a long read but important as Katharine Viner brings up a few interesting ways to think about journalism on the web. One idea is that by putting journalism online storytelling is brought back to a free-flowing form of Ancient Greece and Homer. The stories are always changing and are “limitless, relentless.” This makes storytelling online perfect to be molded into any shape and in innovative ways beyond the rectangles of newspapers.

Gigom’s “Why tablet magazines are a failure” is an article that isn’t surprising but a necessary one. Everyone is putting their magazines on tablets, thinking that it will automatically bring in the same amount of revenue. Not true. It cites a Nielsen study that the average mobile user has 41 apps but only uses eight apps a day. Magazines must take these numbers and really think out of the box to become one of those eight apps a day.

A tough pill to swallow for most media companies, but things can be much better online with a few simple ideas.

1.     Switch it up – You’re not one of those eight apps a day? Readers need a reason to open your app everyday and most times the same content across platforms isn’t cutting it. Even a few changes (a weekly blog with the editor, behind the scenes interactive content, etc.) can entice the reader to open your app more.
2.     Design matters – Would The New York Times’ “Snow Fall” have as much impact if it were in the same template they use for most of their stories? Absolutely not. Design has the power to make a story sing on the web. Don’t forget about it.
3.     Go with your gutbut back it up with data – Taking a suggestion from Katharine Viner above, when thinking about ways to innovate trust your guy instincts, but look at the data too. Your audience isn’t interested in photo slideshows? Don’t do them. What works well for one publication may not work well with your’s, but use the data you are most assuredly stockpiling to further understand your audience and their behaviors on your website.

The internet and online journalism isn’t a passing fad that companies can sit by and watch. Particularly now, this is a time of transition between three different digital platforms and the strong traditions of print media where every media company is expected to change. By rolling with this internet tide and understanding the trends, you might be able to acquire a new, better and more interested audience.

Hailey Mahan is a journalism graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She specializes in interactive storytelling and web development for journalism. Follow her on Twitter @HaileyMMahan.

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