NPR is hosting a “Digital Day” at each of this year’s regional conferences where we share lessons with stations based on what we have learned on our path to producing and delivering digital news. The following list of Top 10 Challenges presented at Digital Day were learned in part from our Core Publisher News Pilot and USC Event. These challenges represent what a GM might hear as new demands are put upon the staff to implement a continuous river-of-news style digital effort. To be fair, our pilot stations have been surprisingly open to our bold ideas and have pushed themselves (and us!) to succeed in the face of these challenges.
Blogging isn’t journalism
The continuous news approach has been a surprising direction and unfamiliar format for many traditional news providers. There is an expectation that newspaper-style sites are the gold standard for online news presentation. However, we feel this new approach best addresses both the emerging needs of local online news consumers as well as allowing stations to get started with as little as one digital reporter.
Our website news should reflect our on-air coverage
To save time and leverage what is currently being done well, most newsrooms prefer to repackage existing audio work online, however, this approach presumes the online audience is a subset of the on-air audience, and that needs of users in the digital environment are the same. We have found a profound difference in preferences, needs, and goals of online users, and this requires a radically new way of thinking about content, presentation, and format online.
We’re not a news station, we’re a music station
Stations with multiple formats or strong music identities on-air must think hard about how they want to present themselves online. The assumption that the identities must be identical presumes the audiences are the same, but they are not. We have seen that addressing new audiences and new needs provides the capacity for a fresh approach – one that can leverage trusted assets, but need not be bound to less digitally-relevant historical approaches.
We don’t have the staff or resources to do this on top of radio
While there certainly some truth in this, it is often the first reaction to any significant, required change. When approaching these new digital demands, a newsroom must take a hard look at practices currently in place to see where there are opportunities for change. Stations need to find ways to shift resources away from less valuable activities and introduce efficiencies that will fuel the new needs.
Building audience means sacrificing our journalistic values
Many successful online content providers have proven that combining an uncompromising set of values with a culture of aggressively monitoring what your audience cares about and engages with is a key aspect to building audience online.
This job is best suited for the web or online marketing staff
The world where digital tools to publish or edit content rest solely in the hands of a webmaster is dead and gone. To succeed in this new, fast-paced digital medium, the tools must be easy to use and training systems must be in place to equip and empower the individuals in the news organization to directly publish news and engage with online audiences.
Building audience online is hard
While these actual words are not often heard, we see languishing efforts, limping stats, and hear complaints about “if only” features that are hallmarks of content producers struggling with the core skills required in this new medium. To succeed, news producers must master a suite of new and often foreign capabilities, such as:
- Gaining a deep knowledge of their online users
- Responding quickly to their user’s needs
- Publishing at a high frequency of 10-20 times per day
- Developing and refining a personal voice
- Engaging with and growing online communities
We shouldn’t feature or promote other people’s journalism
When the basic facts are a click away, reauthoring a story is a waste of critical resources and a missed opportunity to inform your audience when news is happening. A focus on finding and organizing other sources is where the real value lies – this has been demonstrated repeatedly by the best news bloggers. This doesn’t mean that original reporting is gone, but it does mean that deep dives need to be selected carefully, when the most value can be realized from the effort expended.
Social media isn’t relevant to our news operation
Embracing social media is absolutely central to a continuous news effort. Engaging an online community around your content is the only way to build your audience. Use it simultaneously to drive traffic to your stories through social networks and to tap your communities for original sources, content, ideas, facts, and follow-ups.
How do we know this is the right strategic direction for our digital efforts?
There is often an initial discomfort with the test-and-learn style of web content production; however, the speed at which fickle consumers and online technology moves requires:
- vigilantly monitoring user activity
- adopting new ideas
- continuous improvement based on user activity