Since leaving The Guardian last April and striking out on my own, I joke that I’ve become an occupational therapist. I’ve had the chance to speak to journalists, editors and media executives around the world and hear the issues and challenges facing them. Most of them are instantly familiar, but one issue that I first heard about in Norway in 2009 and heard with increasing frequency in 2010 was prioritisation. In digital, there are a myriad of things we could do, but in this era of transition and scarce resources, the real question is what we must do.
In the comments on my last post covering the opportunities for news organisation in location services and technologies, Reg Chua, the Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Post, had this insight:
Kevin’s point on prioritization is a critical one. We can’t do everything well; in fact, we can’t do everything, period. I’d argue that we should think about the product we want to come out with first – and then figure out what data is needed to make it work. I realize that leaves some value on the table, but I suspect we all need to specialize more if we’re to really create products that have real value.
For the news organisations that I’m working with now in developing their digital strategies, one of the things that I look at is where they have the most opportunity. I agree with Reg that there are a number of opportunities in terms of creating products using data, and I also think that data is important in determining which products to develop. News organisations need to get serious about looking at what their audiences find valuable, digging into their own metrics. Right now, we’ve got a lot of faith-based decision making in media. It’s critical that we begin to look at the data to help determine what new products we should deliver and how we can improve our existing offering.
For a good start on this kind of thinking, Jonathan Stray wrote an excellent post last year, Designing journalism to be used. He wrote:
Digital news product design has so far mostly been about emulation of previous media. Newspaper web sites and apps look like newspapers. “Multimedia” journalism has mostly been about clicking somewhere to get slideshows and videos. This is a little like the dawn of TV news, when anchors read wire copy on air. Digital media gives us an explosion of product design possibilities, but the envisioned interaction modes have so far stayed mostly the same.
This is not to say that the stories themselves don’t need to change. In fact, I think they do. But the question can’t be “how can we make better stories?” It must be “who are our users, what would we like to help them to do, and how can we build a system that helps them with that?”
Josh Benton of the Nieman Lab says that we have an opportunity to rethink the grammar of journalism during this period of transition in the business. Jonathan and Reg are definitely thinking about rethinking the grammar and rethinking the products that we create. Digital journalism is different, and the real opportunity is in thinking about how its different and how that creates new opportunities both to present journalism and support it financially.