This post is obviously going to be geared more toward print journalists than broadcast journalists, but it may contain useful information for both. To all the newspaper editors out there, if you feel like you’ve tried everything but you just can’t gain traction online, it is likely because your mindset needs to shift from print to digital. Here are a few things you need to know about how digital media differs from print and how your online audience is different from your print audience.
NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR HOMEPAGE
In the tech world, people have known this for years. In fact, it has been the mantra of the digital world since Google started crawling websites. However, newspapers have been slow to realize this. In print, your front page is the single most important part of the paper. That isn’t the case online. Your homepage probably does get a lot of traffic, but the vast majority of your web visitors are not coming to your website each day and browsing the homepage the way they browse through a newspaper. Most of your traffic is coming to individual articles that a visitor arrived at either through social media or a Google search. They are on your site because they found something specific that interested them.
This has implications for where you should focus your attention online. You should be spending more time on quality content and on making sure there is a clear path from each story to a related story than you spend making sure the homepage of your website looks perfect each day. This also means you need to make sure that elements on your homepage like the breaking news bar also show up on top of article pages. This way a reader who is on your site for another reason will be aware of the breaking news.
GET USED TO NATIVE ADVERTISING
This one is going to be tough and you’re not going to like it. But, native advertising is the direction the industry is heading in and we’re going to need to get used to it. If you’re not sure what native advertising is, these are links either in lists of stories or inside stories themselves that link to an advertiser‘s website. They can also take the form of “related stories” or “popular stories” at the bottom of articles. Most journalists can’t stand them and see them as selling out. I’m not saying it isn’t selling out, I’m just saying, get used to it. Display advertising isn’t where the money is right now, but native ads are where advertisers are putting their dollars. Instead of fighting your ad department on this, instead focus on ways to make your original content even more valuable to readers. If you are doing your job of providing informative and useful news to your readers, they will not mind the native advertising as much.
YOU CAN’T CONTROL SOCIAL MEDIA
As a newspaper editor, you’re used to having almost godlike control over the appearance of the day’s news. You set the design and layout, you choose the photos, you determine the headline and subhead — and it drives you crazy when you see one of your articles posted on social media and the photo is cropped wrong. Don’t call your web or social media team and ask if they can fix it. They can’t. Once a story is released to social media, the social media network, its algorithm and its users will determine how the story looks and what happens to it. These are separate businesses, and they aren’t going to bend to your demands.
Also, realize that you are relying on other people to share your story, because — as the original source — you really can’t make a story go viral. It’s one thing to write good content and to expect it to go viral, but whether or not that story becomes Internet gold is not up to you. The nature of social media also means that conversation about your content may take place on another Facebook page, a Facebook group, or on Twitter, but not in the comment section of your website. Don’t be jealous. At least the article is getting attention and your organization is getting exposure. You just don’t get to control or moderate it.
YOUR PRINT AUDIENCE AND YOUR DIGITAL AUDIENCE ARE DIFFERENT
One big mistake print journalists make is in assuming that their print audience and their digital audience are the same people. Generally, they are different. An elderly print subscriber who has been reading the print edition for 30 years is probably not impressed by your attempts at getting them to go online for expanded or crossover coverage. They aren’t going to put down their paper and pick up a tablet or go into their dining room and pull up your website on their computer. It isn’t part of their routine. Likewise, your digital reader probably isn’t going to sit down with the print edition over a cup of coffee. These are two different types of people.
This means you shouldn’t be afraid of cannibalizing the print edition by posting an important story online before your print edition goes out. I can promise you that 90 percent of your print readers aren’t going to see the story before they receive their print edition. It also means you need to think about how your online readers get their news. Remember, they are coming from social media and Google, not browsing your site. Your headlines in print assume a reader who is already interested, so you can be more vague. “New development comes to area” might work fine for print. But, online that story will never come up in a Google search. You’re going to need to name the development and name the area.
IF YOU’RE LOCAL, YOU NEED A BIGGER DIGITAL AUDIENCE
The key to growing your digital audience is to go beyond your geographic area. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write national news stories, but you nee to present your digital stories in a way that appeals to a larger audience. This could be as simple as localizing a national story, or keeping up with online trends and writing local stories that reflect what people are talking about online or that add to the broader national conversation. If your organization is going to survive in a digital age, you are going to need to attract eyeballs from areas outside your traditional coverage area.