Over the years I’ve read an awful lot of things about the future of newspapers in a digital age… and I mean an AWFUL lot.
Every so often though, someone utters a nugget that chimes so clearly with me that it lodges in my brain and becomes part of the structure of my own arguments and thoughts on the topic.
I realised today that two examples of these are from Rupert Murdoch.
“I can’t tell you how many papers I have visited where they have a wall of journalism prizes – and a rapidly declining circulation. This tells me the editors are producing news for themselves – instead of news that is relevant to their customers. A news organization’s most important asset is the trust it has with its readers – a bond that reflects the readers’ confidence that editors are looking out for their needs and interests.”
— Rupert Murdoch Before the Federal Trade Commission’s Workshop: ”From Town Crier to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” [PDF]
December 1, 2009
“What I worry about much more is our ability to make the necessary cultural changes to meet the new demands. As I said earlier, what is required is a complete transformation of the way we think about our product. Unfortunately, however, I believe too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers. Too often, the question we ask is “Do we have the story? rather than “Does anyone want the story?”
— Speech by Rupert Murdoch to the American Society of Newspaper Editors
April 13, 2005
Those comments certainly resonate with me, as a reader. An example from the Guardian today. Front page, a small piece headed ‘Honours lost’, about other people who have been stripped of an honour. This is repeated at far greater length on page 3.
My response – who cares? I want news, not history – and I certainly don’t want filler which is what copy of this type (and it is extremely common), feels like. Do other readers want it? I don’t know the answer – do you?
I have absolutely no idea!
I do, however, believe those who edit the Guardian newspaper are experienced in balancing different types of stories that our readers want to see in print. I know providing context for a current story is useful to many (in the specific case of honours, I had two different conversations yesterday with non-newsy friends about what you would have to do to get stripped of an honour).
I guess I approach the two quotes from the perspective of someone who nowadays works in digital and is tantalised by the idea that we have the chance to find out more than ever before about what readers might want through a combination of:
– user testing
– asking them
There are still ongoing questions about how effectively we use all of these and also, as online news brands go global, exactly who and where are our readers and learning what their varying interests and needs are.
However, I think if you go in to anything thinking “how is this looking after the needs and interests of our readers?” The outcomes are likely to be different than if it’s “how can I create something that wins me an award”?
I might be wrong of course, but it amuses me that an interest in collaboration in journalism has led me to reach similar conclusions to Rupert Murdoch. 🙂
I wonder if, when asking readers, the right (from my perspective) questions are asked, like:
do you want filler in the paper?
do you want the Guardian to copy (I’m thinking of the irritating ‘5 Things…’ construct) other newspapers?
do you want headline writers to use cliches?
do you want journalists to offer their opinions in news pieces?
All these things happen.
Hmmm, I think any researcher worth their salt would balk at the construction of those questions! A little loaded, don’t you think?
I’m not saying that all of those issues are not genuine issues, but if we presented those questions to a reader who may not have even thought about them before, the likelihood is their answers would be “no”. After all, who is going to offer up a “yes” to those?
Better that we test the issue by taking a specific article and trying to get qualitative feedback on, for example, the headline and the factual tone of the piece from a representative range of our readers.
This isn’t done enough, I don’t think. We user-test platforms, but rarely our content.
I’d love to learn how to do it better. In my experience it is quite difficult to get people to talk about the editorial construction of a piece, as it is often easily conflated with the news topic discussed in the story.
Certainly agree with the last paragraph – you see it every day in the comments pages. Do you ever ask about content, as opposed to where the sport should go?
As to doing it better, I’ve been banging on about, especially, opinion passed off as fact and misleading headlines for years but no-one at the Guardian, like the Reader’s Editor, seems to want to talk about it.
Take the front page today. Totally misleading. The prosector will not ‘decide Huhne’s career’.
Too much emphasis on trying to figure out what the information consumer is looking today. It’s driven by the advertising business model supporting the industry. A better framework for people to contribute to and an innovation in the economic engine of the industry is what’s needed. It’s coming, too! 🙂