Media Innovation 2022: Smarter Digital Strategies, Old-Fashioned Journalism

Innovating in a crowded media landscape is challenging enough without having to worry about setbacks like a pandemic, financial uncertainty and competing start-ups vying for primacy.

So publishers are using technology to drive innovation and are increasingly collaborating across various teams — editorial, product, data science and marketing — to create the best user experiences and subscriber retention strategies.

Innovation in News Media World Report 2022 (courtesy Innovation Media Consulting Group)

So says Innovation in News Media World Report 2022, the annual survey by the Innovation Media Consulting Group for the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

Some cases in point: experimental news products via blogs by The Guardian, The New York Times and the BBC.

Since October 2020, the BBC News Labs’ Graphical Storytelling has used automation to transform old stories into new formats or to enhance existing articles.

Screen shot of the BBC News Lab’s Graphical Storytelling

“BBC News is now the most popular news account on Instagram with over 15m followers. Our audience on the social platform is predominantly under 25. We wanted to see if we could reach this audience with content that isn’t jarring within their social feed whilst also fulfilling the BBC’s remit of informing and educating everyone,” the News Labs team explains in an article.

New York Times Open gives readers a peek into how that organization designs and builds digital products, and how machine learning and reader input are used to build a better system for article recommendations to create a smooth subscriber experience.

But, the Innovation report cautions, machines can’t do all the choosing, so the “Algorithmic Recommendations team” at the Times has been applying a variety of natural language processing models to rank and recommend relevant content.

Screen shot of New York Times Open

In November 2020, The Guardian introduced Typerighter, a tool “that takes information from the paper’s style guide and flags to journalists when they use terms incorrectly.”

Typerighter has been built into the Guardian’s existing in-house “Composer” editing software and contains more and more nuanced guidelines on issues like immigration, gender and many others that need correcting and checking, the report said.

Screen shot of The Guardian’s Typerighter

“As for sub-editors, we have more time for the other aspects of our job — the headlines, pictures and compelling stand firsts,” the Guardian blog explained.

To make everything work, news media have to keep revisiting their business models, to update, upgrade, tweak and innovate in a bid to maintain (and engage with) readership/viewership, generate revenue, keep ahead of the competition and ensure sustainability in a rough-riding environment.

The Innovation report points to 13 models publishers have used to retain their traditional readers, get new ones and secure a solid financial base. Among others they’ve included being educators, event organizers, IT providers, archivists and data miners, with varying degrees of success.

Business models (courtesy Innovation Media Consulting Group)

All the more reason to keep experimenting and innovating, what with shifting news priorities, audience interests and a wide range of demographics requiring ever more specialized content across platforms to satisfy assorted tastes.

A note from the report’s editors Juan Señor and Jayant Sriram is appropriately headlined “The New(s) Abnormal.”

“Face-to-face journalism, not Facebook, or desktop journalism after all, is what creates journalism that is worth paying for,” they wrote. “And people are willing to pay. There is finally a global recognition that independent, quality journalism is valuable and for publishers around the world, it has translated into a surge in online subscriptions.”

But, they noted, diversification remains vital, and urged publishers to try three or four of the revenue models they highlighted.

Understanding what content might trigger subscriptions and resonate most with audiences is important, with long-term investments in areas like science journalism and the ability to react to news and deliver content across different media like podcasts, pop-up newsletters, live blogs and instant analyses, they added.

The report provides ample examples of publishers worldwide using paywalls in a chapter describing how media apply them to lure and keep eyeballs.

Digital subscriptions were already an essential component of journalism’s business models pre-2020. But as with many things, the pandemic took a trend already evident in the world of media and supercharged it. In a year of unprecedented challenges, with advertising revenue collapsing, print sales under significant pressure and events businesses having to cease, at least temporarily, a spike in subscriptions emerged as the one bright spot for publishers as interest in news spiked and audiences were willing to pay to get it from trusted sources.

The report reviews the hard, metered, freemium, timewall, dynamic, hybrid and donations paywalls.

Models are increasingly becoming more adaptive and personalized and most publishers “are shifting toward variations of a freemium model that understands the differing values of each story’s contribution to the business rather than a standard metered approach.”

A key component of the news operation is fact-checking, to which many media have dedicated entire teams, and, as mis-, dis- and mal-information continue to pollute the landscape, newsrooms will rely even more on these accuracy warriors.

Fact-checking made easy (courtesy Innovation Media Consulting Group)

The Innovation report provides a handy five-point guide for setting up a fact-checking unit in newsrooms. Its advice: invest in the effort, define your remit, be constant, be precise, and be tech-savvy.

It also reviews its choice of the 11 best news marketing campaigns to convince readers to pay for news.

“In offering that sense of clarity amidst the chaos, news organisations found an opportunity to renew a contract with their readers,” the editors concluded. “It is also a reminder, as we look to the challenges and opportunities ahead, of one of our oldest maxims: only journalism will save journalism.”

Magda Abu-Fadil is a veteran foreign correspondent/editor of international news organizations, former academic, media trainer, consultant, speaker and blogger.