News Leadership 3.0

July 15, 2008

Amy Mitchell: News audience dynamics

Knight Leadership Conference:
Audience increasingly sees news
as a service, not a product

(Live blogging: Please excuse typos ahead.)

Amy Mitchell, Deputy Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism, opened the Knight Leadership Conference with an overview of the project’s new research on news audiences.

She described NBC plans for the Olympics next month, including 3,6000 hours of programming and 2,200 hours of streaming video, something like eight days of coverage every single day for 17 days! The network also will continuously collect audience feedback—television viewership, web users, page views, a survey pf 500 consumers each day, cell phone tracking, and a focus group throughout the games.

What’s the point?
“To touch the same people across all kinds of platforms” and “To create and present your reporting in a way that meets the needs of the changing audience.”
Says Mitchell: “These examples speak to goals of all of you—to create reporting that meets the needs of the audience.”

The dynamics of this audience is changing, Mitchell says, and that means change for news organizations. Key points:
1. News is a service more than a product. News is no longer a finished product since it is constantly updated and added to via links and e-mail alerts.
2. The role of the journalist is becoming broader than telling stories.It’s important that new Web sites help people navigate and use information. “Give them the tools to make sense of that information and to use it.” Mitchell says.
3. Your story, your Web site is just one stop along the way. This means linking to other news and information, even that of competitors, has value because it increases the usefulness of the site. Most people come to the Web site through the back door, not the home page.
4. Brand matters less BUT franchise content—what you have that others, including investigative reporting—matters more.
5. The user is NOT becoming the reporter.

That last point may engender some debate. But Mitchell contends that users are valuable contributors of ideas that still need professional reporting by journalists. “What we were hearing in 2006 and 2007 was that it was all about citizen media…. What we’ve seen int he last year is that there really is a pulling back. Citizens are getting involved in ways they have never been before. We value ideas, they add the conversation but they cannot be the reporter,” Mitchell said of shifting attitudes.

One editor said citizen input and questions help journalists frame stories in ways that are more relevant. Another, noting newsroom cutbacks, said she would rather have citizen reporting on certain issues than no reporting at all. “As our newsroom is shrinking, I would prefer to have trained journalists out reporting on things ... (but citizen reporting) has value.it has value, especially if it’s that or nothing.”

An online editor suggested looking at citizen content in two forms:  1) Information that “we put our arms around and bring into our product,” which works best when the newsroom provides direction on what it wants. 2) Community blogs that contain reporting that traditional news organizations can aggregate.

Mitchell says news Web sites are getting over their reluctance to link outward. A 2007 survey showed 13 percent were linking. In 2008, the percentage had grown to nearly half.

Producers of original news still hold power and value, and tradition-based news organizations continue to be main source of news, Mitchell said. And newsrooms are innovating.
“The degree to which there is experimentation and energy and innvoation among journalists in the newsroom both in print and in the online side, that’s really something that did not exist in 2006 and 2004. What we’re finding now is stagnation on the business side. Clearly there is a new burst of energy inside journalism.”

Upate/links:
Here is Mitchell’s presentation.
Here is a link to PEJ’s 2008 report.
Here is Mitchell’s bio.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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