News is not and will not be what it has been. The evolving journalism landscape changes at a faster pace year after year, and any journalist or news organization unwilling to adapt will find it increasingly difficult to maintain relevance as consumer demands focus more on speed, visibility, accessibility, and interactivity.
Audiences are no longer audiences; they are communities. Communication is no longer one-way; it's two-way. The world is saturated with screens, content, information and experts, and everyone in it is, simply, prioritizing.
As David Scott, managing editor and vice president at the Boston Globe, said during the 2016 International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ) in Austin, Texas, a war is underway. He said platforms are driven and focused on scale, reach and engagement while journalism is focused on "doing it right on impact." Scott pointed out that the two can be tied together at times but not always. "These platforms are at war with each other and we are kind of caught in the crossfire," he said.
News hasn’t always required tinkering and experimenting, but if news organizations’ communities are built of people who prioritize them, they must look closer at scale, reach and engagement. The challenge they face is becoming or remaining a priority by navigating and leveraging continuously advancing platforms.
It's been said - perhaps most recently by Joaquin Alvarado, CEO of Reveal/Center for Investigative Reporting, at ISOJ - this is the "Golden Age for Storytelling." Never before have so many ways of telling and sharing stories existed. The capacity for creativity is no longer bound by the limitations of technology; instead, it's made broader by the power technology gives us. "We as journalists have a lot to offer this revolution, and we need to play an active part in it," Alvarado said. But as more people and organizations realize the storytelling power they have with their own social media accounts - the ability to host a live show on Blab, break news on Periscope or introduce new ideas and projects on Snapchat - the need for traditional news and the time people assign to consuming it diminishes. News organizations, as a result, need to create content that's more enticing and distribute it more creatively.
Distribution, as Buzzfeed's Executive Creative Producer Summer Ann Burton said during ISOJ, is a creative art and shouldn’t be thought of “just as a box to check.” Repackaging information to appeal to different personalities on different platforms should be part of the creative distribution process. Buzzfeed used Winnie the Pooh cartoons with Donald Trump quotes, for example, delivering real news wrapped in humor to appeal to people in search of humor on social media. Beyond that, thinking about what's native to each platform is crucial because people consume information differently on each. Copying and pasting will not lead to scale, reach and engagement; understanding every platform and what each network of users wants to see will.
What do these changes mean for people and organizations working with newsrooms and journalists? For those wishing to get the attention of media, the strategy must evolve as the news landscape changes. Understanding new technologies, trends and demands and knowing the challenges journalists and newsrooms face are incremental to anyone hoping to gain the eyes and ears of news communities. Newsrooms are doing far more with far less. Some struggle and fewer thrive, but none of them have it easy or are taking changes lightly. Layoffs and budget cuts are a tragic reality; the need to be active on multiple social media platforms is a stressor; finding ways to produce more with less money and fewer people in less time is nearing impossible. Helping them is the best way to help yourself.
• Virtual reality and 360-degree video will become a valuable tool for journalists, and supplying newsrooms with those new visual elements will increase chances of coverage.
• Interactive content will be increasingly necessary. From clickable charts and infographics and live community-driven Q&As to Snapchat geofilters and brackets and contests, people don't want a story at surface level; they will demand to explore it in their own ways and be part of the story themselves. Having the ability to create or host interactive content that will engage a newsroom's community will increase chances of coverage.
• Storyboarding content for newer social platforms, like Snapchat and Facebook Live, will take up more news staff time while becoming more important, so supplying those events to journalists will increase chances of coverage.
• Creative content distribution across additional social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, will become increasingly difficult as more newsrooms recognize the need for different types of content native to each medium, so supplying newsrooms with ideas for distributing your content will increase the likelihood of them doing so.
Thinking of your email to a journalist or newsroom as a silver platter, you want them to raise the lid to meat, potatoes and vegetables: your message, your visual elements and your social suggestions. Your goal, as a distributor of news to a newsroom, is to make their jobs as easy as possible so they can use you to reach their own goals of increasing revenue, growing their community and becoming - or remaining - a priority.