The new digital storytelling rules: how journalism is changing

Digital storytelling is different to traditional print journalism. As mobile becomes the default device and visuals beat text, journalism is changing. Navigation is based on tap and swipe, video commands attention, graphics and quotes communicate better than copy. Distribution on third party platforms is essential to reach an audience. We are drowning in data on user behaviour, and only just grasping how to understand what it is telling us. Most publishers are aspiring to build paid subscriptions to reduce dependence on advertising revenues.

So how are publishers and journalists adapting their editorial craft for digital media? There were plenty of smart ideas available at the FIPP/VDZ Digital Innovators Summit in Berlin – here’s my top four themes.

1. Mobile first design

Text-heritage publishers are working out how to reinterpret their news values and long form journalism into more visual mobile friendly templates.

The Economist has 200k weekly readers for their mobile designed news digest Espresso and have invested in adapting their journalism style to visual stories on Snapchat Discover.

The Washington Post is also on Snapchat and publishes all its stories on Apple News. Vogue’s Instagram feed is full of relatively raw, vertical backstage videos.

Springer has launched a mobile news aggregator service Upday in partnership with Samsung.

And the venerable South China Morning Post has built Abacus, a digital mobile product on tech in China.

2. Breaking content into smaller units

To make it easier to repackage stories for multiple channels, publishers are breaking them down into smaller pieces, which can then be tagged and archived before being recombined for new platforms.

Ebner Media deconstructs articles into MIUs: “minimum information units” such as interviews, visuals, checklists, and then creates packages of information across in-house and third party media.

Escenic has developed a CMS, CUE that allows content to be tagged in individual elements and then reassembled for mobile friendly formats.

3. Create bespoke video

Established publishers are creating video channels to expand their reach to new audiences.

News provider reaches 56% of the population of Norway, of which only 9% via the original newspaper. Their video channel VGTV was launched 4 years ago and now has 70 staff. VGTV produce daily video editions, many using vertical video, and have found Snapchat a good way to with shorter video formats. Their long form video is now syndicated worldwide. VG collaborate with other media houses on the Faktisk fact checking site, emphasising the quality and impact of their journalism.
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The 84 year old Dutch women’s magazine Libelle has developed Libelle TV to appeal to the contemporary 40+ woman, with a focus on authenticity, creating drama series as well as more practical programming. Their ambition is to be the biggest video platform for 40+ women; their audience already stands at 500k.

US-based digital news service Cheddar, targeting Millennials, is taking share from cable news audiences, with a snappier presentation style and “visually vibrant” graphics, and distributing its content on multiple digital platforms.

4. Using data and smarter analytics

Digital content and the move towards reader registration and subscription has generated an avalanche of behavioural data. More publishers are beginning to mine this systematically for insights, and to use it to actively adapt their content and business models.

The Washington Post is benefiting from Amazon’s tech knowhow. They have developed analytics tools that offer alternative headline suggestions and can test which works best, and that can predict which stories will go viral. In this respect their AI can often beat editorial gut feel! Their focus is now on real time lead measures, so they can take action during the life of a story and enhance its reach.

Services like Content Insights can help publishers track what content drives engagement and paid subscriptions.

One of the most interesting stories was Dennik, a Slovakian start up digital news service which tracks what content generates new paid subs. Best performing content tends to be longer form in-depth analysis. Journalists are paid based on subs performance of their articles.


How you can reinvent your digital content

The message for publishers is to break down content into its constituent parts and adapt the style of journalism to suit each platform, while being mindful of the move to more visual, mobile friendly content. Smart tracking of reader behaviour will uncover what style of presentation works for each topic and audience. Publishers will need to be more fleet of foot at reacting to statistics, so they can widen the reach of a story while it is live.

This article is part of a series based on speakers and panels at the Digital Innovators Summit: you might also want to read:

Seven new digital business models for media owners

The new digital storytelling rules: how journalism is changing

How publishers should engage with social platforms

New thinking on digital subscriptions: 8 successful strategies

Five future tech trends that publishers need to watch


If you would like to discuss how you can evolve your digital storytelling style,  feel free to get in touch to have a chat over the phone or over a coffee.


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About the author:

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on digital publishing strategy.

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