Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Worth reading - CSM's Yemma on what works

Worth taking your time to read is this thoughtful and enlightening piece on Paid Content from John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, "Memo to News Sites: There is No Future in Digital Razzle Dazzle."

Yemma's take on much of multimedia:
Yes, people want multimedia. They want games, maps, 30 Rock on Hulu, bootlegged first-run movies from Pirate Bay, and whacked-out amateur videos on YouTube and a dozen other sites. But there’s no evidence that they want, for instance, a thoughtful interactive map/video/database mashup on Afghanistan or global warming on which they can comment. There’s no evidence that users love these things so much that they flock to them, stay around, and convert to a news site’s brand because of cool multimedia.
Yemma argues that paywalls won't work - he likens them to piling sandbags against a flood, but the digital waters never recede.

The answer he proposes is "relevant" content, but he goes on to acknowledge that's a lot harder than Google trends. It's content, he says, aimed at "influencers" who "live in narrow channels and respond to articles that make it clear why things matter and how problems are being solved."

The CSM, of course, has always been aimed at influencers, even when it was primarily print, and is quite a different organization from the South Succotash Gazette. Still, the everyman editors of the "Gazette" might consider relevance in terms of their local audience, too. The question is, can anything but a national or international publication truly make a business out of catering to that narrow wedge of "influencers"?

Yemma also has a good take on the challenges of all this:
What we’re learning is that the key to building and keeping traffic is far more prosaic than multimedia and sharing buttons. It rests on overcoming a huge cultural barrier: evolving a serious, experienced, thoughtful newsroom into an audience-first organization. I use the term “evolving” because this is all about the present tense. Trying to understand our current and future audience is a work in progress that will continue for as long as we publish on the web.

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