We can now conceptualise the idea of the new range of publishing tools available to us as an arc of content. At the beginning we have social media. It is inevitable that stories will break on social media. There’s no way we can have a journalists on site at every breaking news event as it happens (unless you have a handy time machine, in which case you probably have better things to be doing with it…). This has been clear since the advent of the mobile phone put the power to report via social media in the pocket of pretty much everyone.
And so we have to adapt to that.
And then we flow through “real time” modes of publishing, like liveblogging and living articles, which take advantage of the updatable nature of web pages. Our “traditional trio” of news, analysis and features still have a role to play, but behind them come the evergreen articles and explainers, which, in some ways, have more in common with book publishing than with traditional journalistic publishing.
Social media participation
Sometimes, before we put finger to keyboard on an articles, we want to participate on the online discourse around a breaking news event. That allows us to both establish that we know about it - and that articles are coming (this is especially important for sites with a periodic publishing model, or a focus on stock content) and also establish ourselves as a trusted authority on the subject.
Of course a focus on social media verification or original reporting is vital here.
Aggregation – the act of bringing together material from social media (once appropriately verified, of course) – is a now well established way of creating content from social media embeds. From the trivial (comic reactions to a celebrity event) to the serious (eyewitness media from a tragedy or disaster), they are both relatively quick and cheap to create and, if done well, useful to the reader, because it pre-filters the vast amount of potential relevant material on social media for them.
With most social media service offering the ability to embed posts, they have become a staple of fast-reacting media.
The liveblog has become a staple of many newspaper websites. They are built of short updates, sorted chronologically, with the newest update at the top. Contrary to popular misconception, people rarely sit with liveblogs open “watching” them. They tend to come back and visit them multiple times during their life. The reverse chronological ordering means that once they have hit an update they recognise, the reader can be confident they are up-to-date.
They tend to be huge traffic drivers during the event, but dead afterwards. In many ways, they are the ultimate flow content.
The next stage on from liveblogging are Living Articles, which take the base principles of liveblogging but give them a more stock-friendly focus. These are updated in place on a periodic basis to summarise everything that is known about a particular topic at a moment in time: “Everything we know about the London Bridge attacks this afternoon” for example.
These are designed to be more accessible than a traditional news story to the casual reader, because they summarise everything, not just the latest events - but are also more accessible than a liveblog, which works on the expectation that you will check back fairly regularly to read it. But they require regular updating in place, to keep them relevant. They tend to perform very well in search - and can do well on social media, too.
The traditional stretch
Beyond that we move into the more traditional stretch of journalism - the regular cycle of news stories, the news analysis pieces and finally the features.
These all have their place. For example, the traditional news model of publishing a new story every time there’s a development in the event works really well for SEO purposes - if you’re a Google News publisher.
Equally, news analysis is still valued by many readers - but understanding when to deliver it should be part of your content planning. Some years ago, the Financial Times did some analytics work that suggested that their readers actually valued analysis most in the early evening. That led to them experimenting with deeper pieces of analysis delivered later in the day.
And timely features are still a big draw, especially when people feel they have time to indulge in longer reads, in the “lean back” way we discussed above. But the glory of features is they are often timeless in nature, which leads us to the back end of out curve, as we move into the stock content area.
Explainer journalism takes a step beyond the news cycle to create articles that are one-stop shops for a story. If you want to know both everything that happened, and get the context to understand the story, then explainer journalism is for you.
Here’s another definition for you:
“Explainer journalism gives users the background knowledge they need to understand the stream of updates to a story. Another way to say it: explainer journalism specializes in the “why” and “how,” so that the “who, what, when, where” make more sense. The aim is not just to deliver the latest news but to increase the number of people who understand the story well enough to follow future developments in it.”
This has clear uses during the phase of the story when it’s still part of the news story, allowing readers to quickly catch-up on events, without reading their way through multiple individual news stories. It’s also a handy article for journalists to link to in those news stories, stopping them having to always repeat that background information in every story.
Evergreen articles — stock content — is one of the areas many journalists struggle with. After all, we’re often news junkies, always keen to know what’s news, to move on, to keep reporting. Yet, again and again, we see old articles resurfacing in our analytics, and tracking into the most read articles.
Well, as it turns out, for most people new to them can be as important as new. Often a good feature, piece of analysis or interview can be a compelling read months or years after the event.
It turns out that yesterday’s newspaper is not tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapping, it’s tomorrow’s long term traffic-magnet. One client wrote an article about the physics of football, thinking of it as little but a bit of fun, and found it one of its most-read stories over a decade.
More and more titles are realising the value locked up in their archives:
- Recipes, gardening and pet advice often don’t age - they’re relevant for years to come
- Reviews can be repackaged into guides: the annual resort review becomes an on-going resort guide. Reviews of telephoto lenses can be compiled together into a guide to the best lenses on the market, that just needs to be updated, not rewritten
- Obituaries are being supplemented with the best historical articles, images and cartoons about the deceased person of note
- Readers using the website for research value having information arranged by company, or market, or subject, in a way that makes it easy for them to find everything they need.
For SEO reasons, good evergreen content needs to be updated - not continuously, but on a regular basis. And you need to give thought to the language - wherever possible you should use time-specific language “April 2015”, “in early 2017”, rather than time-relative language “last month”, “at the beginning of the year”. That makes the piece so much more comprehensible when it’s discovered by a reader in the future.
In essence, it’s a small expenditure of effort in rewriting, or editing, a piece written in the moment, to make it valuable over the long-term. And a piece which delivered good traffic for years is a good investment of your precious time.