The path to more news you can use

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

It’s carnival of journalism time again, and boy have I struggled with this one. You see, the subject matter is increasing the sources of news. And, my first, second and third reactions were all the same:

*Do we need more sources of news? Really? *

The internet has lead to a proliferation of sources, as publishing opportunities open up to a multiplicity of sources.Blogs and websites and information streams of various sources are coming at us in ever greater volumes. We get 174 newspapers’ worth of information a day. Time to put the brakes on, perhaps?

But the more I think about it, the more I realise that there are gaps, places when the enthusiast and the expert don’t often go, and that’s where the margin is for the publisher and the journalist. That’s where we operate, to some degree. We’re publishers of business information, much of which is journalism, but a significant chunk of which is data. We’re providing reporting to help people do their jobs, and actually, we’ve found there’s a market for information that is hard and time-consuming to collect and publish.

Now, I’ll be honest here: I’m using a very broad definition of news. Some of what I’m talking about here is information – stuff people can actually apply to their job. We style it “news you can use” internally, and I think that’s a neat summary of what we’re trying to achieve.

So what steps do you need to go through to produce effective News You Can Use?

  1. Let go of generalist information as the driving factor behind your news values – that’s a characteristic of print, where you needed to appeal to a wide audience.
  2. Figure out which niches are ill-served by existing channels – research, research, research. What subsets of information need the times and resources of experts to ferret out. Where can we as full-time find-outers add value?
  3. Figure our what information they need – and the emphasis is on need here. This is not about “what they might find interesting”. This is about key, useful, valuable information that can make their working day more productive.
  4. Figure out who is best placed to provide it for them – because, and here’s the thing, it might not be professional journalists. It might be researchers. It might be the professional community itself, who just need a place to share and exchange professional opinion and expert comment. Getting this right is going to determine your business model and the way you structure your site.
  5. Iterate, iterate, iterate – the feedback loop you get from your readers, your audience, your community is one of the most powerful tools that you have in shaping the future direction of your operation. You have both the explicit information – that which they tell you – and the implicit – that which your analytics can show you they like. Combine those and feed them back into your product, and you can be sure that you’re actually increasing the net stock of news with *useful *content. And that’s what we need more of.
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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.