Print copy is stone, online copy is water.

Journalists have a very strange view of archive content sometimes.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

This lurks towards the end of a slightly odd piece on Poynter about evergreen content:

My instincts say it’s weird to dig up old content without a specific reason, but it’s worth asking if our hyper-sensitivity to timeliness can get in the way of serving readers who might not care as much about news hooks or newness as we do.

Sam Kirkland starts off talking about some research, but drifts into gut feelings, and assumptions. And there’s a deep problem with that: most journalists’ instincts in this area are completely skewed by the process of journalism and their own interests:

  1. Most journalists are news junkies. They’re far more interested in news as an idea than the general population. That’s why they’re journalists. The rest of the population is far more inclined to seek out interesting information than inherently newsy information in the run of things. That’s why pretty much every single news site I’ve worked with is baffled by the fact that what they perceive as “old” stories are getting great traffic. They’re not “old”, they’re interesting – and that value does not diminish with age.
  2. Print publication demands news. The shift from print to online has reversed the traditional pattern of publication. Print is fixed but transitory – the story is calcified at the moment of publication, but the assumption is that the vehicle of publication will not have a long life. A publication is “today’s issue”, or “this week’s issue”, or “this month’s issue”. That time-based definition shapes the way we think about the content within from both a production and a consumption standpoint. Online is mutable but permanent – the story itself can be changed at any time, but it can, in theory, live online forever.

One of the problems in building sustainable online businesses is not recognising this shift. We’re still building journalism for transitory vehicles, in an age of the permanent site.

Evergreen content isn’t an odd quirk – it’s a major part of the future of publishing.

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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.