By: Nu Yang
Before you get overwhelmed by the thought of a company-wide digital overhaul, consider these smaller steps you can take today to help secure your paper’s digital presence tomorrow. Here are six strategies you can implement right now, with some advice from those who have already paved the way.
1. Give your website a makeover
Your website is the gateway for readers to reach your product both in print and online, so attention should be given to enhancing search engine optimization and improving the layout so content is easy to find.
The new Chicago Tribune website debuted last summer with more breaking news, personalized content, and a cleaner design with new fonts, fewer colors, and a faster load time. Navigation bars organize stories into categories, making it easier for online readers to find what they’re looking for.
The Washington Post (WashingtonPost.com) also revealed a redesigned website last year, created on a new content management system called Methode also in use at The Wall Street Journal and New York Post. The software allows stories and photos to be created, edited, and designed in a single computer system.
In its 156th year, the Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News (BGDailyNews.com) introduced a redesign of its site in December 2011, offering improved blogs, photos, and video, and content that is easier to find and more user-friendly. Readers are able to interact with stories with better integration on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Readers can also build personal profiles by creating their own blogs and sign in using a social media account. Businesses also benefit by setting up a business profile in the Social Marketplace section.
2. Deliver personalized content
It’s not just the look and feel of a website that attracts visitors; content is also key in retaining readers.
As E&P reported last month in our 2020 Vision series, readers are pulling their own content from their favorite sources. In order to encourage readers to keep coming back, news sites have to find a way to give readers exactly what they want to see.
By partnering with tech company Outbrain, The Seattle Times is able to link readers to the paper’s best content on its website and to articles on other sites that pay for distribution. Readers receive a more personalized data-driven selection of content, while papers see increases in traffic, revenue, and reader loyalty.
Social media also plays a huge part in content. In February, Reuters released Social Pulse, a dashboard that shows what’s popular in business news on social networks. The site is divided into multiple sections, such as “The Hit List,” which includes the most popular articles, and “Hot on Reuters,” which ranks Reuters articles based on the number of comments and Reuters videos based on the number of views.
3. Connect with your online community
It’s not enough to have just a Facebook or Twitter account to interact with readers — you must engage with them through other sources.
Media and technology reporter Mathew Ingram suggested in an article on GigaOm.com that papers reward regular digital subscribers, perhaps with a subscription discount, for interacting with the paper. An example included The New York Times’ attempt to build relationships with its readers through its new commenting system.
“Certain readers with a history of good behavior will be awarded ‘trusted’ status, which allows them to post comments without having them moderated,” Ingram said.
In a note to readers, Times executive editor Jill Abramson said the new system was a way to improve the community experience. The threaded comments give readers the ability to respond to one another as well as make it easier for reporters to comment.
The digital-first Journal Register Co. launched its Community Media Lab in 2010, partnering with existing blogs and citizen journalism sites. There is a full-time editor in charge of recruiting, training, and working with citizen journalists. These citizen journalists have free access to instructional courses on journalism, writing, and technology in a classroom built into the open newsroom at The Register Citizen in Litchfield County, Conn.
After the Washington Post launched a unique fact-checking system, the Register Citizen changed its report-an-error form to a fact check box, located at the bottom of every online story. It creates faster responses for corrections and at the same time builds trust between the reader and news organizations.
4. Go mobile
As more readers gravitate toward reading the news on tablet devices and smartphones, publishers are quickly creating apps to adapt to this new platform.
The Wall Street Journal released a free app exclusively for the Kindle Fire that allows subscribers to receive unlimited access to WSJ.com content. Within the app, WSJ also offers an automatically renewing monthly subscription.
Canada’s Postmedia Network announced updates to apps for nine newspapers, making them accessible to iPhone or iPod Touch users. The apps feature breaking news, local news, and photo galleries, and they also allow readers to stay connected and share stories with their social networks.
“Adding to our growing mobile and digital offerings, these apps continue to build on our ability to deliver a superior experience to our audiences,” said Wayne Parrish, chief transformation and revenue officer. “These new apps for iPhone and iPod Touch also give Canadian marketers another platform for connecting with an engaged and tech-savvy target audience.”
Gannett has taken the mobile initiative one step further by investing in equipment for its employees. In a December memo to employees, the company said it had purchased thousands of new devices including the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 for its journalists. According to the memo, “These new tools will help our journalists meet the demands of the new news cycle, one that requires agility in real-time reporting, social media, and greater emphasis on video storytelling, further increasing our competitive advantage.”
5. Develop smarter advertising
With so many facets in the digital realm, advertisers are now able to receive additional exposure online.
The Newspaper Association of America recently reported newspaper websites averaged more than 111 million monthly unique visitors in the fourth quarter of 2011 — an increase of more than 6 million compared to a year ago.
With online numbers growing, it’s no surprise an eMarketer study estimated that online spending would grow more than 20 percent to nearly $40 billion in 2012. The study also said U.S. online ad spending would exceed the total spent on print magazines and newspapers for the first time, at $39.5 billion vs. $33.8 billion.
“Tablet ad rates are running five to 10 times online rates, though that will moderate,” said newspaper industry analyst Ken Doctor. “In the next phase, probably 2013 on, we’ll see content producers offering dozens of new niche tablet reading and information products, some reader paid, some ad paid, some both.”
6. Invest in the future
Newspapers are learning to adapt and embrace digital technology — they have to in order to thrive. To stay ahead of the curve, organizations such as the New York Times and Philadelphia Media Network have begun to operate like tech start-ups.
According to the Times’ Beta620 website (beta620.nytimes.com), new tech projects are developed by software engineers, journalists, product managers, and designers who are “constantly striving to create new and innovative ways to present news and information, and interact with readers.”
In January, three tech firms were selected from 36 applications to participate in Philadelphia Media Network’s Project Liberty Digital Incubator, located at PMN’s headquarters. Funded by the Knight Foundation, the six-month residency program includes free rent, free office equipment, and infrastructure support to help the firms develop their products.
The selected companies include CloudMine, which will create an app platform that eliminates the need for mobile app developers to build custom backend solutions for their apps; ElectNext, which will build an app helping voters choose candidates who share their values; and SnipSnap, which will launch an app that lets users scan, save, and redeem coupons via mobile phones.