#ONALondon Session: Crowdsourcing as the ultimate strategic engagement

Panel: Mimi Onuoha, Research Fellow, Data & Society, Tow Society for Digital Journalism, Katerina Stravroula, freelance journalist and radio producer based in Athen and Tobias Dorfer

MO: Co-author of Tow report on the subject and before you read any further, you probably need to open this http://towcenter.org/research/guide-to-crowdsourcing/

Broadly defined by the Tow report as ‘The act of specifically inviting a group of people to participate in a reporting task’

People engaged in crow sourcing need to feel they have agency in contributing to a new story – we are not talking about scraping; people must not feel they are doing work for you. Everyone is getting something out of it.

The Two report says there are six types of crowdsourcing:

1. Voting – prioritising what reporters should tackle

2. Witnessing – sharing what you saw during a news event

3. Sharing personal experiences – tell us what you know

4. Tapping specialised expertise – contributing data or unique knowledge

5. Completing a task – volunteering time or skill to help create a news story

6. Engaging audiences – joining in call-outs (either informative or playful)

Crowdsourcing is about opportunities for communication via web technologies. As in the first session of the day it is about leveraging the collective intelligence of communities. People have something to gain, and it is it is crucial to the entire element of the entire story. It is just another part of the journalism process.

It is high touch, resource intensive and iterative. It allows journalists to tell stories that could not otherwise have been told, and it asserts the audience as an active participator in the story – the journalism is a relationship rather than a commodity.

TD: Engagement Editor at German news organisation Zeit Online which has about 10m unique users a month. User debates are at the heart of what it does and it has 67% of its audience aged under 49.

“Crowdsourcing is a really important part of our audience engagement strategy. It is not just about getting information that we might not be able to get otherwise, but it is about credibility. Crowdsourcing is the possibility of giving our readers the chance to be a part of project rather than consuming a product and it allows us to gain trust”.

Case study: Zeit Online investigated overdraft rates and asked the audience to send in their postcodes, BIC and overdraft rates. The project got 10k participants, information about 691 banks, and from that created a map of the two highest overdraft interest rats for every state, alongside several articles.

Case study: Bakeries that bake bread on the premises 

Crowdsourced for readers to share the bakeries they knew of that sold handmade-on-site bread and rolls, and what baked goods they recommended. 15K participants, with more than 2,500 such bakeries identified. A map was created and included readers’ favourite products from those bakeries.

With these two case studies, Zeit Online used Google Forms and ran the campaign call outs for around two weeks.

KS is a member of the radiobubble.gr community, contributing to the rbnews and rbdata teams. Radiobubble comprises journalists and activist in Greece.

She was part of the team behind Generation E, a data driven investigation into migration; with a small team she crowdsourced for people to tell their experiences and stories. (The E stands for Europe, Emigration, Erasmus, Economy, Exodus, Escape.)

The team wanted official data, but also the stories of those impacted by it. We used a form online – we first invited people to participate, and tell their stories alongside sharing their data.

They received 2,400 stories and their top level findings included the driving factors for emigration, the registration of non-European migrants, and the inclination emigrants had to return to their home countries.

Tools: Open Refine, Datawrapper, Trello, GoogleDrive and Forms. Doodle, Twitter, Facebook, and also the team worked with media partners.

Takeaways from the panel

You need to plan but be prepared for what comes back to be different to what you expected

If you have a data journalism project, as a freelancer, you cannot continue indefinitely without funding

 

*

So, a few thoughts from me as a result of sitting through this very rewarding session…

Personally I think the big point journalists can take away from this was just how much information and time people are prepared to share – IF you can hit a topic they care about.

A few years ago, when I was editing the Daily Post, we ran a survey on a notorious road, the A55, but – crucially, I think – as well as asking people if it should be given a 3rd lane (no brainer answer: Yes) we asked them to share their views on what the biggest problems were, what they thought should be done, and any experiences they wanted to share.

It was incredibly successful in terms of response and richness of detail and made for several days with of content.

Crowdsourcing, I think, means you cede control of your questions and your line of investigation – what people want to tell you about may be only indirectly linked to the question you ask initially, but if you follow that line of inquiry, you may find the rewards, engagement and validity of the journalism is far, far greater than you imagined at the start.

Crowdsourcing is not “send us pictures of your children in Easter bonnets”; that’s a UGC shoutout. It is the collaborative act of putting inquiries into the world, and seeing what develops – of making stories with people who are outside of your newsroom and your bubble of perception.

Audience engagement and newsroom attitudes

Several years ago, when the words ‘content is king’ was everywhere, I remember Joanna Geary observing  ‘collaboration is queen’. I loved that.
I’ve been thinking about Jo’s twist on King Content because the phrase ‘audience engagement’ is so prevalent right now, and I think that if collaboration is queen bee then being part of the conversation swarm is a vital part of it.
‘Content is king’ became a cliche thanks to a combination of overuse, misuse, and buzzword bingo; essentially, it holds truths, but it’s hard not to groan when you hear it.
Today we’re all about ‘audience engagement’; everyone (mainstream media, brands, marketers or social media players) is looking to, y’know, #engage the #audience with #content that is #shareable and possible even #viral. It’s in danger of becoming disengaging; a phrase on the precipice of becoming a placeholder in strategy documents for the future of journalism.

I think about audience engagement a lot because it’s the cornerstone of my employer’s strategy – Trinity Mirror doesn’t do paywalls, it does audiences – in a nutshell we want to increase audiences, keep them coming back, and know them well enough so that advertisers find the right customers. This isn’t a blog post about TM, it’s about my personal view of how audience engagement should be considered in (many) newsrooms and  what the phrase means to me.  It means this: Creating a newsroom where the process, culture, planning, and output takes the reader/audience/customer/end user – whatever you want to call it – into consideration, and produces stories that begin a second phase of development post-publishing.

I heard Alan Rusbridger speak last week (funnily enough, I had already written most of this post, and so I’m not plagiarising him, I promise) and he spoke of his admiration for Glen Greenwald. Greenwald, he said, was a journalist who thought the real and exciting part of his job started after he’d published his story, and people started talking to him about it on social media. How brilliant (and fearless) is that?

When we hold our news conferences, we’re deciding what the parameters of what is a good story, how it is presented, what platforms we are going to market it on and how, and what time people can read it.
Once a story is in the world, and going great guns on social or on the live analytics board, the most important thing to ask is not “what else are we doing on this?” but “what are people saying about this?”
How are they reacting? Do they see the story as we do, or have a different view point? What aspects chime with them? When they share it, what editorialising of their own are they doing?
If they’re not saying anything, are we
* looking for any conversations in the right places
* inviting people to talk about it
* listening and making ourselves available to discuss further

Getting audience engagement right isn’t a complicated equation (it doesn’t take a vast cognitive leap to know a news story about heavy overnight snow will leave the morning audience wanting to know if the roads and schools are open).
It doesn’t begin and end with the idea of simply making content people want to view/interact/share either – it’s far more sophisticated, and it is also understanding your audience well enough to know how to tell the stories that probably don’t trigger an automatic urge to click.

I was in a news conference recently where a mildly-important-but-dull story about business rates came up. As regional and local reporters, it’s not enough to cover the story that and then expect people to work hard to get the sense of it – if you think it’s boring, ask yourself why would readers care, unless they were directly impacted (and even then, why would they chose your content over a rival publisher’s? Or a social media update from a councillor? Or – more likely- a business owner directly impacted by the change? Competition for attention is brutal and the audience is a promiscuous beast. Similarly, if/when Twitter adds the option to bust 140 characters, user options for storytelling become far more open. So the business owner can write a considered 200-word piece on how rates affect them instead of a short view, or a jumbled rant over several posts. The context available to Twitter audiences will grow – and that is an area where, for the moment, news media have been able to claim an advantage simply by being able to link to a story on a website.

Audience engagement is a newsroom where the reader is considered at the start of the story process. It’s thinking about the people we’re telling stories to, beyond the timings of audience spikes and social uploads. I think it’s about bringing a blogger mindset to our journalism – that live construction of a story that happens, and is refined with reader input to show how it’s developed. People might leave a comment on this post, for example, about what audience engagement means to them, or they might tell me on Twitter (and I could embed a collection of tweets if there were enough).
They might write their own blog post and link to this, so my post will track back to theirs and anyone reading this can find it.

For newsrooms it’s about starting the day looking for and asking what people are talking about, what they want to know more about, what stories they’re reading, sharing and responding to – and what they are ignoring, and why.
It’s about holding regular open sessions with readers (and this can be an exposing and difficult thing to do) such as an editor committing to hold regular, scheduled hangouts to discuss ideas or decisions with readers, reporters doing live debates on Periscope or in Facebook Q&As on their work, news conferences being held in public (and if you think that’s impractical, the Liverpool Echo once held theirs on on a bed in an art gallery).
And it’s about sustaining the practices you put in place not because they are the flavour of the month, but because they bring you as a journalist, or your newsroom as an exec, closer to readers.

That’s the other thing about audience engagement, you can’t be half-hearted or engage a little bit; all you do that way is confuse people (including your newsroom, if you are an editor who blows hot and cold on the subject), or end up sticking with safe trivia that allows a bit of easy bantz but isn’t meaningful.  It’s a commitment but the outcome more than repays the investment made.

 

 

#formatDEN: Audiences, realities and goats in hats

 

Goat. In. A. Hat.

Recurring themes in journalism conferences I’ve been following (and sometimes attended) this year are:

  • Try innovating, not imitating (aka don’t be Buzzfeed-lite)
  • Everyone is a reporter, so be a curator and editor
  • Don’t be scared of failing
  • Get developers coding in the newsroom

At FormatDEN this week, these were raised but so were some others…

TELL IT LIKE IT IS
This was a takeaway from Trushar Barot, Mobile Editor (editorial/product/partnerships) with the BBC. I really enjoy listening to Trushar, he’s incredibly smart, very business-minded and asks tough questions (I sat on an innovation judging panel with him once and he cut straight to the woolly bits of the business case)
His talk on messenger apps and BBC approaches was excellent and I especially liked his thoughts around the real practicalities of using WhatsApp for UGC sourcing.

His view on culture change is to find people who are passionate and excited by change, and put them in charge of digital projects, rather than having the digital experts leading on them.
His view was that showing someone a shiny that would make their job easier, wider adoption of would follow.
But he is also an exponent of treating people as adults, telling them realities and drawing their attention to what is happening in the wider world – to the successes of other competitors, to the successes of their counterparts with said competitor, and by pointing out how skills are changing, and to be relevant and required in a business, individuals have to change too. “And that works as well,” he finished.

Trushar shared a Google Doc of relevant BBC links too. They’re here.

Two other takeaways from this talk, for me:
Working on messaging apps is a way of grasping what content could work on these platforms. It also is an indicator how we engage an audience in what will be, I think, the next disruptive stage in the news industry. We’re going to have to shift from ‘open social’ distribution method to a ‘one-to-many’ distribution approach. We will be less visible, but perhaps the content will have greater value, and impact.
The other thought I had: Is it a good investment of time to work lots on apps if people are – within a few years – going to have moved beyond them and into opt-in receivers rather than seekers of information? The answer is yes, I guess; what else are we going to do?

WHAT ARE YOUR VALUE METRICS?

Juan Senor, a journalism consultant, visiting Oxford Fellow and academic, said page views weren’t the metric to trust (side point: Our metrics-that-matter at Trinity Mirror shifted to dwell time. pages per user and completion rates a while ago) but also had a suck-the-air-out-of-the-room moment when he said social metrics didn’t count either.
“Good journalism will always be shareable” he said, saying there was a need to move from the “anarchy of the mob and the idiocy of the mob”.
“If what we are selling is good journalism we need to think about what we do when we dumb down the content. We should look at the Huffington Post (he was alluding to the fact that the HuffPo has had some bad press recently) and unless Mashable and Buzzfeed look to that example they will go the same way.
“The money is coming in but the metrics they want are time spent, and video completion – not Likes, and RTs. Advertising departments want people to spend quality time with their client’s messages – not shares and page views”.

I should say that a lot of DEN is Chatham House rules, but given that Juan was probably the presenter who had the most soundbites tweeted while I was there, and is a consultant whose views are widely aired, I don’t think he will mind me quoting him directly.

MILLENNIALS AND THOSE WHO THINK LIKE THEM

Blathnaid Healy, the UK Editor of Mashable, said the company was obsessed with audiences and used its early adopter chops to try new platforms, because that’s what the audience expected, and where it would follow (or lead, I suppose. So the more early Mashable is, the more audience comes with them).
Something I really liked about her talk – and there were many highlights – was the phrase ‘Millennials and Those Who Think Like Them’ – I get a bit tired of hearing about Millennials doing this, that and the other. I know people who patently aren’t millennials by their birth certificates, but who romp across the digital media landscape like toddlers, grasping bits of it and cooing with delight.
They live and breathe media in its current form, and there are plenty of them.
My other takeaways from Blathnaid were that explainer video can be nearly five minutes long, and users will stick with it, if it’s good it and informs them of things in entertaining ways.
She also got me thinking about longform formats and how we can experiment by using people’s own stories in their own words. And she had the quote of the day:

“Journalism can be shareable as much as a goat in a hat can be shareable”.

Words to live by.
Unfortunately I had to leave DEN before the end, but it’s worth looking back over the hashtag for comments and links. One of the other big impacts on me was Ed Miller’s immersive news documentary on Hong Kong unrest (shot on Go-Pros, highlighted in his talk on VR for journalism) because it’s an area we’ve done some work in and the results – i.e. the audience engagement – are really telling.

People love interactive multimedia, especially photos they can explore, and we need to make it more of a part of our portfolio, rather than a special event.

So, thanks to the Wall Street Journal, John Crowley, Francois Nel and Nick Turner for a great event.

The end of ‘behind closed doors’ journalism

There are times in a journalist’s career when you are going to have to approach someone who is not having the finest moment of their life, and ask them to help you.

It might be calling on a grieving family, or approaching witnesses to an accident, or asking someone who has just emerged the loser in a tussle with Justice to talk about How They Feel.

The outcomes are sometimes unedifying, occasionally unpleasant but – more often than the non-journalist might credit – can also be mutually successful and beneficial. These interactions were also largely unwitnessed, except by those participating.
They happened behind closed doors, or, more accurately, on doorsteps – whether you got inside said door or not hinged, no pun intended, on how you conducted yourself, and represented your intentions.

I called it the Black Edged Voice and it would be employed for death knocks (low, respectful tone, apologetic demeanour for intruding, much stressing of the fact that I would leave  if the door-answerer wished, and would not return) and I was more often than not invited in.

I would interview the person or family; I would do my utmost to do justice to their dear one with a tribute. My goal was to give them a cutting that they would come to regard as a mini-memorial. Every newsroom had reporters who were ‘good on the knock’ – I suspect it comes down to empathy… and luck.

Things started to change in… I’m going to go out on a limb and say 2008, because that was when the first pebbles of social media sliding down a slope became a rumbling avalanche. In 2009 this happened, which gave me a personal insight into how my old-school ‘contacts’  had become my (much-wider) network and a plane crashed in the Hudson and (most) mainstream media suddenly got what was going on.

Now, when a news break happens, you can bank on Twitter being at the heart of it in some way, and often that’s because it’s where the witnesses are. If I’m passing a huge traffic snarl-up on the M6 my instinct is to photograph or video it and post it on Twitter with a hashtag (from the passenger seat, officer, of course) – my natural instinct is to share. And it’s a common mindset; whether you’re wondering what the noises overhead are, or seeing the Clutha tragedy unfold sharing the experience on networks is now a common thing.

But as a witness, or someone who acknowledges a connection to someone caught up in a newsworthy event, when you share that on Twitter you invite reaction, and a side effect of that is that the massed ranks of media are likely going to be in your @ mentions within minutes, asking for a) your content or b) an interview or c) probably both. For a journalist, it means these interactions are happening in the world; they aren’t behind closed doors or in a one-to-one exchange on a doorstep – you’re asking your questions on Twitter and onlookers may well view them as intrusive.

It’s not necessarily pretty but that’s beside the point – asking the questions, respectfully, within the Editors’ Code of Conduct, and knowing that varieties of “NO” may be the comeback are part of the job. There are two problems: Dozens of other media may well be @-ing the same “can we [use your photo, speak to you, ask you to put us i touch with X]?”; others witnessing the Twitter scrum get outraged (sometimes with good reason) and start throwing abuse back. This will usually include references to vultures, lazy journalism, disgrace etc etc.

This week’s Smiler crash saw a spate of no-closed-doors journalism approaches. Mercifully no one died, although the terrible injuries (I would imagine mental as well as physical) suffered by those caught up in it meant it was an incredibly sensitive story to stage a “can we have…” media grabfest on Twitter. This is pretty typical of what went on:

and this

Followed by

There are scores of these exchanges – I imagine her mentions column was in meltdown. She obviously was sanguine about the journalists who approached her (although if you read the full exchanges, it shifts from journalists asking for interviews to some fairly nasty tweets from non-media, taking her to task for the original tweet). But there are also variations on a theme of this

And it wasn’t unique – other people tweeting photos were getting similar requests, and similar views were being expressed

Is it fair? No. Do they have a point? Yes. Am I contradicting myself? Sorry but I don’t care. Publicly requesting content like this is a legitimate part of the journalist’s job, while taking photos without asking is obviously not; and yes, it can look shoddy to the wider world. That’s ok – most of us don’t come into this job to win an award for our high-minded purpose and nobility, we come into it to tell stories and let people know things they otherwise wouldn’t.

If someone wants to tell a journalist their story because said hack asked the right questions, politely, mindfully and within the Code of Conduct, that’s a valid exchange. When it fails is when the question is posed in a crass way, or we barge into exchanges between friends, because we had a Tweetdeck search running.

The above tweeter posted her content and opinion to broadcast it – she was happy for journalists to amplify the message. But an enormous amount of Twitter users don’t understand the network, or think that when they @ a friend, it’s not public. Leaping into what they think is a private exchange is a bit like opening the front door and walking in the room to ask if you can interview the grieving family, without knocking.

Just observe for a few moments and follow the conversation – you’ll soon work out whether it’s something you can step into (or another journalist will jump first, and you can take a cue from the reaction). Being first isn’t a great thing when all you’ve achieved is a mentions column of abuse, and retweets with added angry comments. It damages you, the brand you work for, and the wider journalism community.

When you’re using Twitter to find witnesses, treat it like a door knock. Sometimes, in real life, the journalism pack gets there first and you can ask them what reception they’ve got so far. On Twitter, a couple of minutes of observing conversations, or watching others rush in to the breach, can be very valuable. Knock at the metaphorical door if you think it’s appropriate, and be prepared to have it shut in your face – or to have someone else tell you to clear out.

But if you aren’t respectful, or you don’t conduct yourself in a way that reflects well on you and the title you represent (quick sense check: How would you react if you were the person you’re about to approach?) you can expect to get flung off the metaphorical doorstep and land in a heap.

Update: Here’s a link to Robin Hamman’s post on the VirginiaTech shooting – it’s not a new phenomenon.

Six thoughts on emerging opportunities for journalism

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmagictorch.com%2F%3Fp%3D62&ei=xIxrVL7vC8e0sATyvoCACg&bvm=bv.79908130,d.cWc&psig=AFQjCNHbdgW8g1Er8Ob1oHVzTX879Q3oSw&ust=1416420924455214

Attending the Society of Editors* conference on November 10 and 11 meant a trip back to my old stamping ground of Southampton. I spent several years there in the ’90s with the Southern Daily Echo (editor Ian Murray completed his term as SoE president this month) and it was good to go back – not least to see how much the city has prospered since my last visit.

The conference had some excellent sessions  – I particularly enjoyed the Full Steam Ahead panel, the Continuous Development panel on training, and the New Threats to the Media debate, with a special nod to Matthias Spielkamp, of iRights.info for his insightful view of journalists’ needs to protect processes, not just sources. The links above go to the SoE summaries of each debate but the Daily Echo also undertook a commitment of covering the conference live. Respect.

I was invited to take part in a panel on Emerging Opportunities for Journalism with my fellow panellists being Kathryn Geels, of innovation charity Nesta, and Peter Jukes, whose account of crowdfunding to live tweet the hacking trial was fascinating. At the end of the session it did feel a little as though digital journalism was still viewed as the freeloading cousin of the more solvent print product by some, although I don’t think it’s hard to find value in engaging audiences, getting social media right, and concentrating on dwell times and user needs rather than page views.

I have a bit more room to explain my ideas on this blog and, obviously, I work in regional legacy media so my view is slanted towards that segment of the industry. However, everything I talked about at the SoE is already being done by other companies – some are recognisably in the content creation business, others perhaps not so much – and they are making money.  These are emerged opportunities but parts of the mainstream have’t cottoned on to that yet. So, these were the themes I chose to talk about:

1. Data and the roles of journalist/developer: Twenty years ago, I would go on a job with a photographer and between us we would tell the story using our own choice of media, which were blended to enhance reader experience. A posh way of saying, I did words, the toggie did pix, and the end result was a content package that was greater than the sum of its parts.  In Trinity Mirror we have the data unit, where facts, figures and whole paragraphs of exposition are enhanced by developer coding skills to create entirely new pieces of content. Like the WWI search widget, for example. A standalone story, with data and visuals, that through existing brought in new stories as readers explored the data, discovered new things, and shared them. Of course, you can be your own developer, just as you can be your own photographers. I just think that the dynamic will see developers and reporters working closely in mainstream newsrooms in the future, just as we have always done with photographers and sub editors.

2. Mobile/wearables: From my notifications column in Tweetdeck, the most tweeted point I made as a panelist was ‘if it doesn’t work on mobile you need to ask yourself  why you’re doing it at all’. The opportunities for mobile journalism are enormous – commercial developments aside (and there are so, so many) simply being able to deliver your new content into a platform that your target audience’s is already holding in their hand – (and tell them about it through some judicious notifications use) is a little mind-boggling when you stop and consider it. Apps aside, why would any media company have a news website that wasn’t responsive? It’s surprising how many do. In terms of wearables, we’ve only just reached the foothills; I’ve no time for dismissive ‘Glassholes’ chatter – if we aren’t looking at how the potential opportunities offered by these spaces now, when the audience shift happens (and, as with phones and tablets, it will be at a gallop when it does move) we won’t be there as a familiar brand to greet them. So ‘our’ audience will form new alliances with brands that did get there first. Under the innovations banner, we’ve got a Google Glass project running at the Manchester Evening News in conjunction with UCLan’s John Mills and we are already discovering wearables have advantages over handhelds for telling some stories (like the Manchester Live video linked to in point 5).

3. Socially shareable content: Just a glance at a news website’s real time anaytics shows how important the social audience is to driving traffic. The opportunities for mainstream media to create content – images, text, audio – that has a standalone life on social platforms are obvious and although I wouldn’t say this has been cracked  yet I think the native advertising content being created around games and lists is a pointer A bit of a digital air plant; socially shareable standalone content should have a built-in life-support system of editorial and commercial content, and in a social media ecosystem users would interact, consume, and move through on to other points of interest on a website served up through linking and curation.

4. Immersive storytelling: I’ve seen for and against discussions on whether there’s a really life for long form online (here’s a long Twitter debate that’s worth a read). If you ask will people read 400+ words on a mobile device I’d say, on the evidence I’ve observed, you have the wrong question. As ‘how’ people will take in the information and you’re on the right track. Personally I think if they are 400+ worthwhile words, with associated multimedia, engaging graphics, interactive content and clean, easy scrolling, on an engaging subject, then yes, people will. And then there’s the immersive opportunities of long form audio storytelling – as the statistics of TAL’s Serial podcast show, for example.

5. Live and collaborative journalism: This is my favourite point, because it involves drawing people into the journalism you propose, and quite often it becomes a better – and perhaps different – thing because of that. Live invariably means more transparent – the immediate need to convey information to a waiting audience takes out the editing filter, often, and what’s comes across are pure facts or descriptions. It’s exiting and often compelling – readers stay for longer, share more, involve themselves and – particularly in the cases of regional brand liveblogs – living stories become authoritative pieces of work. Collaborative is fun to do because the crowd you work with knows so much.  The Manchester Evening News ran Manchester Live for one day but the learnings it took away have been incorporated into the day-to-day fabric of the newsroom. A real case of seizing an emerging opportunity, seeing the value to an audience, and acting on the feedback.

6.  Audience analytics and reader trends: None of the above points work without knowing the audience, their behaviour and the user trends. If we don’t know what our audience’s habits are, what devices they use, where, when and what information they are going to want, it’s very hard to deliver the right content. And this is a competitive market – we compete for users’ attention against other media, against their preferred music, their work, their loved ones… getting a slice of their attention is hard, and our best hope is to insert ourselves into their day at the points when they’re likely to have time to want information and entertainment. Layer real time analytics with historic data and social information, and you have a matrix to work from. Personalisation and automation of some content/content delivery are more opportunities that spin out of knowing audiences.

So that was the tone of my contribution. I tried hard to avoid jargon but when you’re talking about ‘wearables’, ‘immersive storytelling’ and ‘analytics’ it is kinda hard not to sound buzzword-y. Hopefully the message didn’t get too mangled by it though.

* A bit of disclosure: I’m a (very new) member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Editors

Bonus content: Since taking part in the panel, I’ve managed to catch Amy Webb’s immense 10 Tech Trends for Journalists slideshow, which is essential viewing in my opinion.

I need to think less about Audience, more about People

Image

I managed to make it to the Digital Editors Network meet-up on Thursday – #visualDEN if you search for it on Twitter – and came away with head and notebook stuffed full of ideas.

The theme, as the hashtag suggests, was around the visualisation of stories, and talks touched covered the presentation of information through graphs, graphics and multimedia, among other things.

But the talk that metaphorically smacked me right between the eyes came from Amy Webb, because she made me realise I have to stop thinking about The Audience. 

I say it a lot – one of my hobby horses is the need to be ‘audience first’ – and we know a lot about The Audience because our analytics keep us informed.

I know what time they start waking up and reaching for their phones or tablets to scan the morning’s news agenda; I know when they get that pre-lunch attention dip and start surreptitiously  pointing the browser on their work desktop at interestingness on the internet; I know when they have their lunchbreak and head out armed with their mobile phone, and I know when they want to find out about their commute home. 

Most of all, I know The Audience likes to slob out at home, tablet or phone in hand, and watch TV while taking part in a running commentary with millions of others online. 

I know this because we monitor The Audience and try to meet its baby bird demands, as it gapes expectantly for content and entertainment. 

However, yesterday’s DEN made me realise, to paraphrase Ygritte: “You know nothing, Alison Gow”.

I have to stop thinking about The Audience and start thinking about The Person. There’s a tendency to adopt a hive-mind approach to your users when you use analytics to learn about them – we make assumptions because we can see the bigger picture, and this approach is fine and correct because the data backs our assumptions up, but the smaller picture offers a rewarding and rich canvas of information too. 

So I know that between, say 6am and 9am, The Audience is waking up and reaching for a device, but I really need to imagine what The Person is doing at that time. 

They might be using that tablet or phone in bed, or while blearily boiling the kettle, or using the bathroom. 

After 8am they might be on their commute – either in a car, so that’s the end of our involvement at that time, or on public transport, in which case they are still with us. 

What The Person probably wants at that time of the morning are snippets that fit around their busy routine; pieces of content that are quick and simple to consume and which deliver their information without requiring participation. Passive consumption of information: It’s probably why the Prozac lull of BBC Breakfast is so attractive compared to the technicolour of ITV.  

Does that mean a breaking news blog is ultimately, a frustrating use for The Person, as it involves a level of commitment to scrolling and finding things out? 

Putting myself in The Person’s shoes, I guess the answer has to be: Yes, sometimes; even with pinned summaries, it makes me work harder than I want, to find things out. 

However, breaking news live blogs are among the most popular things we do – so is the theory sound but the platform and delivery improvable? Or does it depend on the type of rolling news event being covered?

The answer may well be to ask users on one of our live blogs if it works for them but it’s never occurred to me to do so,because The Audience data tells me breaking news live blogs are a hit and, well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what if, by tinkering, you could take something that wasn’t broken, and make it amazing? 

It’s the same with the lunchtime traffic spike – factor in what people have to do in their lunch hours (or 30 minutes), from heading out to find food/a cashpoint/a service suppliers etc etc to doing actual exercise, and you realise this is a very time-poor Audience indeed. 

Amy Webb, presenting at DEN, warned against consumer-centric design because it did not take account of people’s lives as individuals, and said, according to my shorthand, anyway: “Modern journalism is incompatible with devices so it is important to design for people, not their devices”.

So the thing I’m musing on post-DEN is this: When you are Audience-guided is there a danger you can become Person-blinded? 

 Pic: BBC