16th June 2016

Traditional News: Evolving to Thrive in the Digital Age

There’s been a lot of noise in recent months about the decline of the newspaper and traditional news in general. In March, the Independent moved online, ending its daily print edition after 30 years. Then, in May, the New Day, a bold new paper launched by Trinity Mirror to appeal to lapsed female readers – and those used to getting their news in bitesize online form – announced it was shutting up shop, after just two months of operation.

Even those papers that have successfully developed their online presence are finding their market share eroded by the new kids on the block, Buzzfeed and Huffington Post.

However, the traditional press are not taking the changing media landscape lying down. News outlets are fighting back and adapting their offering to ensure they continue to provide the content their audiences are interested in, in formats that fit their busy lives.

Take City AM, for instance. The daily paper – given away for free every morning at Tube stations across the capital – recently announced it was taking the brave step to allow corporate brands to upload advertorials directly to its website, without being overseen by City AM’s editors first – the so-called contributor model. Brands will have to pay a monthly fee for the privilege, and the advertorials will be clearly signposted, so readers know exactly what they are reading.

City AM also revealed it would be giving a small number of freelance writers and industry specialists access to its content management system, so they can upload articles to the site themselves, again without the involvement of the paper’s editorial team.

A number of commentators have expressed a fear that this will lead to a blurring of the lines between news and advertising – even possibly resulting in a loss of impartiality – but there is precedent for such a move. Forbes magazine has been doing something similar for six years now, handing the keys to its website to brands to provide its audience with the ‘unedited voice’ of experts and business leaders. The strategy seems to be working for Forbes – five of its eight most read issues were published in 2015 alone, all chock full of content contributed by brands. It remains to be seen, however, whether City AM, with its declining readership will enjoy the same success.

The contributor model isn’t the only innovation being trialled by traditional media. As more and more of us get our morning news fix via our mobile phones, rather than the paper or the computer screen, the likes of the Guardian and CNN are now exploring the potential of what has been called ‘conversational news’ – news that you can interact with. CNN has recently been experimenting with a chatbot that, via the Facebook Messenger, Line and Kik apps, curates a news feed personalised to users’ interests. Users can even ask the bot for more information on the stories that catch their eye. The Guardian is playing with a chatbot of its own to deliver a similar service.

The experience offered by this new generation of messenger-style news apps is, of course, a world away from that provided by traditional media channels. Nevertheless, the move seems to be paying off. CNN’s chatbot service on the Line app alone has been downloaded more than 400,000 times since its launch in April. On Facebook Messenger, it has reported a significant uptick in the number of readers spending more than two minutes engaging with the bot, suggesting they are finding the stories they want to read.

While in their early stages, these experiments by established outlets are signs that there is plenty of life in traditional news yet. Digital technology is revolutionising not just the way we communicate with family and friends, but the way we learn more about the world around us, so it’s important that the media works to stay a step ahead. At the same time, brands should make sure they keep up with the changing face of media, to ensure they continue to deliver the right content for their target media channels – content that is engaging for readers and in the format the channel requires.

By Michael Wood, Senior B2B Copywriter