Shoptalk: Making News Media More Attractive to Online Users

By: Atul Tulshibagwale

A recent survey by Reuters reveals that a full 65 percent of U.S. users say online media is their sole, more important, or equally important mode of consuming news, as opposed to traditional media. Furthermore, the younger users tend to be get their news online than via traditional media, making online the way of presenting news in the future.

While there may be issues in effectively monetizing digital media, there is another issue that is thought of as a deterrent in driving more engagement and ultimately, more revenue: The apparent paucity of innovation in online media.

Online media has been around for several years now, so what are the innovative ways of presenting news that are unique to online media? Here are some that come to mind:

Slideshows: These are all the rage and especially relate to surveys such as “The Top 50 Cities in America”.

Interactive infographics: These were especially popular in election seasons—drill-down and slice-and-dice data as results come in.

Video: Although video has been around for decades in television, its use on newspaper websites is innovative. Some publications such as USA Today have aggressively pushed the video format of presenting stories.

A blog is not an innovation in its own right, but its use as a less moderated, more opinionated extension of the newspaper is certainly innovative. It also extends a newspaper’s reach to specific areas of interest

Topic graph: Publications like the Economist have a topic graph of related topics that seems to be automatically generated. It’s quite interesting, but doesn’t personally appeal to me, possibly because it is likely automatically generated and the topics don’t appear to be specific to the story.

Assuming we can address the digital monetization issue (if that sounds like a big “if”, it could use some innovation too—something my firm is working to create), what are the potential innovations that can drive more engagement to online news media? Here are some ideas, mostly exploiting more interactivity and newer technologies such as HTML 5:

Interactive Concept Introduction:
The iPad application from Scientific American does a great job of this, where concepts touched in an article are sometimes detailed using an interactive model that can be navigated and zoomed in on. I’d like to see more of this happen in the news media. I can see publications having libraries of such content that can be easily updated and referenced when a new related story comes up.

Game-like scene rendering: Publications could have in their possession libraries of wireframes of elements and scenes and assemble, modify and render them in HTML 5 for specific scenes of interest, which could then be “walked through” or “flown over” by users. This would have been great for stories like the recent Asiana Airlines incident at San Francisco Airport.

Breaking news “tree”: When a story develops, it often has multiple aspects. One could construct an interactive “tree” that has the core story as its roots and multiple branches that cover stories that relate to specific aspects of it. So, for example, a story relating to a tornado in Kansas could have “Crisis Response” stories on one branch, “Human Toll” stories in another branch and “Climate Change and Tornadoes” stories in yet another branch.

Issue central: This is a collection of important articles, pictures, videos (interviews, live-action captures), and diagrams that relate to and explain a specific issue, created specifically so uninitiated readers can familiarize themselves with an issue quickly and get more in-depth knowledge as required. This can possibly be done by better curation of existing archival content for many issues.

The “blog-gregate”: User-generated content could be another source of interesting content. However, since the signal-to-noise ratio of un-moderated content is very low, it often becomes uninteresting. So, let’s imagine the following:  

  • Bloggers are given a platform to blog on the newspaper’s website, in a separate, compartmentalized section.
  • Bloggers may socialize and popularize their own posts hosted on the newspaper’s website.
  • The most popular posts from this section are then picked up for further editing or moderation to feature in one of the mainstream sections of the newspaper.
  • A weekly award or even an online badge of a “featured blogger” from a reputed publication would make all the difference in attracting user generated content.

Note: None of these ideas have been vetted by me and are provided here “as is” without any warranty of performance or feasibility.

Atul Tulshibagwale is founder of Laudd, Inc., a startup working on an innovative new monetization system for digital content. Contact him at [email protected].

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