Wednesday, May 28, 2008

'Content just isn't enough ...'

Pat Dougherty shared this long and informative discussion of where online journalism is headed. I'd recommend that everybody interested in where we need to be take a look and think about the issues raised here.

The piece is a Q&A with John Byrne, a top magazine writer and author who recently made the move to the digital world as editor of His basic point: we need to move way beyond print's traditional focus on content and instead learn how to focus on the audience. We need to think differnet.

Here are a couple of tastes, and there's lots more at the link above:

Content just isn’t enough and readers prefer to get their news online from multiple sources. So content isn’t your King on the chess board. It’s probably not even your Queen. That’s hard for a lot of journalists or editors to fully understand. Some think those changes diminish what they do and what they’ve dedicated their working lives to do well. That’s an emotional reaction to the profound changes in our business. In fact, those changes make journalism a far more creative craft than it has ever been and a far more exciting place to be. In this world, context becomes King, not content. The environment you create to enhance and extend your core journalism by harnessing the intelligence and participation of your readers is what counts. As Jeffrey Rayport, a former Harvard B-school prof and a friend of mine, puts it: “Content and brand are table stakes today. The main game is to engage users directly in authentic, compelling, loyalty-inducing site contexts.”

Let me put it a different way. By and large, journalists and editors are product-centric. They think this business is still all about stories as products. They pour a lot of energy and intelligence in those stories to get them to be as good as possible. But truth is, they rarely think of the reader in shaping those stories. We need to move from a product-centric view of the world to an audience-centric mindset. That takes me back to all our reader engagement initiatives. Mike Shatzkin, the head of a consulting firm called Idea Logical, says it best: “In the future,” he says, “you will not monetize ‘content;’ you will use content as a tool to monetize ‘community.’”

If you're not trying new ways to engage your audience and co-create your products with them all the time, you're missing the point. Tools are important, but ideas and willingness are far more essential.

As far as I’m concerned, you can’t create meaningful reader engagement by simply putting an off-the-shelf piece of technology on your site. It’s about people, not technology. So if you’re not really committed to this, it won’t happen—it’s a real mindset change that requires a lot of handcrafting. Software isn’t going to have a conversation with your readers, and software isn’t going to accept story ideas and report and write them. That’s the job of editors and writers who need to fully embrace their audience. The collaboration that results from this embrace will really change the game.

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