The central challenge of the news business has been turned on its head. It’s no longer a matter of keeping up with the news. Now the challenge is to keep up with consumers. ITN Consulting Principal Gary Rogers explains.
The media environment has evolved rapidly over the last five years. Firstly through the growth of online, then mobile and most recently tablets. News organisations have been good at rolling out new products on new platforms to keep up. However, this has usually meant building separate operations, resulting in higher costs and a lack of editorial coherence. The challenge now is to evolve to truly multi-platform operations that can serve audiences “anytime, anywhere”, based on genuine integration within the organisation.
Consumers have made an effortless shift into the 24 hour, multi-platform news cycle. Data from the US shows 70% of desktop/laptop owners and more than half who have a smartphone or tablet are using their device to access news. The evidence suggests that those with mobile devices are particularly frequent news “snackers”.
This shift is not so simple for news businesses that are trying to adapt. Globally, newspapers facing circulation free-fall are shifting their attention online, but struggling with advertising, paywalls or hybrid freemium models to make it pay. And broadcasters need to change their thinking too. Back in 2010, ITN Consulting carried out research that found most people had heard the stories in the headlines before the anchor uttered a word. (See chart)
As a result ITN’s news division (which has the contract to produce the news for ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) re-examined how it added value in terms of analysis, context, narrative skills and high production quality, so viewers were getting more from a story than they could get from their online browsing, and had a reason to watch again.
Refining the product is vital to staying relevant to consumers. But it is not the whole story. For many organisations the time is right for a more fundamental look at whether the current structure of news operations is the best way to serve the increasing range of output media. Does it make financial sense and is it making best use of the editorial firepower?
Broadcasters are shifting quickly. In the UK, The BBC has placed a highly integrated multi-platform operation at the heart of its newly developed newsroom at W1, London, for the first time bringing together all its journalists. In Australia the ABC is looking at how it can best co-ordinate its journalism and resources across its many programmes and platforms. ITN Consulting has been working with the ABC on this project.
We believe that organisations need to look first at how news is gathered if they are to deliver the strongest journalism across each platform:
- Multi-platform is not just a distribution strategy but also a way of thinking about content. It should inform how you plan to cover stories;
- Barriers between platforms should be broken down and replaced by story-based commissioning, dividing tasks on the basis of gathering content for all, not parallel plans and separate teams for each output;
- Stories must be told across the day, across different platforms. The audience won’t wait for you, and you need to be part of the ongoing conversation. This may mean adjusting your priorities; and
- You must share what you know within your organisation. Internal competition is healthy but not if it means that one part of your organisation is being beaten by a commercial competitor because another part didn’t share intelligence.
These steps require considerable cultural shifts in how journalists typically look at their job. Journalists are rightly focused on their own end-product but, in the new world of news, that end-product is no longer one place at one time. Most news businesses recognise this, but too few have refined their operations to deal with it.
News organisations need to review both their output objective and their newsgathering structure if they are to survive and prosper.
ITN Consulting is a specialist media strategy and operations consultancy with offices in London, Singapore and Sydney. We have worked with leading broadcasters globally to restructure their news operations for the multi-platform world.