Most major media publications have made the transition to distributing content digitally. However, there is still some fine tuning to be done, and the constant push to bring in more readers is still one that plagues newsrooms. One of the biggest challenges facing publications when trying to problem solve in this new media landscape is figuring out how to bring in readers without sacrificing your reputation or integrity.
News publications have to figure out what appeals to audiences now that content is so readily available on the Internet. In an article in the New York Times by Margaret Sullivan, New York Times senior editor Patrick LaForge is quoted saying that the reader controls the content and decides what is news more now than they have in the past. This could be because the advent of social media has created a market where readers can share what they have read, encouraging their friends and followers to read the same thing, which leads to certain stories trending in the news over others. If your publication is missing out on the trending stories, you are less likely to attract readers to your page because they will go looking for the trending stories elsewhere.
To combat this issue, the New York Times developed what they call an Express Team, which looks at the stories that are trending and quickly generate content that will go along with what has already been sent out. A Washingtonian article by Andrew Beaujon discusses a similar innovation by the Washington Post called the Morning Mix.
To some extent, keeping an eye on the trending stories is crucial to maintaining relevance in the minds of readers – especially those in the younger age brackets. However, the most crucial part of this is deciding what the priority level is of trending stories over solid issue reporting.
The New York Times, for instance, caught a lot of heat for missing out on the Flint water crisis as it began to unfold in fall 2015. According to the article by Sullivan, editors claimed they did not have the resources to cover it. While anecdotal, the New York Times miss on the Flint crisis coverage while still managing to report on other trending stories is a good example of how priorities can be misplaced. As the Times has a national relevance, they could have reported on Flint sooner, but it was missed in pursuit of other stories in their attempt to gain readers.
While gaining readers is important, major news publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post must tread lightly about what they choose to cover. Too much focus on the light and the trendy, and they could lose long time, devoted readers. On the flip side, completely missing out on the lighter news will mean a struggle to maintain or gain relevance among readers who go primarily to social media for their news.
As the media landscape continues to change, we as reporters must also continually be willing to change. The most important piece of that, however, is making sure that publications do not lose themselves along the way. For the foreseeable future, publications will continually figure out how to adapt while gaining readers, yet still maintaining their integrity and style as a publication.