A critical issue facing journalists is how to find an audience for their pieces in an age in which millions of stories are immediately accessible online. Here are some takeaways from the Perugia journalism festival.
Every year, journalists, publishers and all sorts of media people gather in Perugia, Italy, for a five-day conference to talk all things journalism. One prominent debate in the panels and workshops at this year’s International Journalism Festival, the IJF16, was how to capture and keep readers' attention.
Here are four key takeaways:
Explanatory journalism is the future. Definitely. Probably. Maybe.
Speaking at the IJF16 about explanatory journalism, Jay Carney, now at Amazon and formerly US President Obama's spokesperson, said he believed the online environment gave journalists unlimited space to provide background information on current news stories. He highlighted the US website vox.com as an exemplary model for explanatory journalism because of the way it contextualizes news in a fast-paced, overwhelming media environment.
Long reads matter. Short news pieces matter. It's the stuff in between that's becoming obsolete.
In their presentation How the longform can succeed in a short form world, Alessio Santarelli, the European director of Kindle's content store, and Italian radio journalist Simone Spetia said the middle ground between short news pieces and longer, in-depth pieces is becoming less and less important. Data they presented showed people were most likely to read pieces shorter than 500 words or longer than 800 words.
The Buzzfeed model is the future. The homepage is dead. Definitely. Probably. Maybe.
Well, that's according to Buzzfeed at least. What's the Buzzfeed model? In this context, it refers to distributing content through social media first and your homepage second. "Some things … aren't meant to live on a website, they're meant to live on social media," said Alfredo Murillo, founding editor of Buzzfeed Spain, talking on a panel about Buzzfeed's international strategy.
In fact, all three Buzzfeed employees on the panel repeatedly stated that media outlets had to "go where the readers are" – meaning that if people are increasingly consuming content through social media, Buzzfeed will make its content available on Facebook and Co. instead of linking from social media platforms to their own website. (However, this approach to publishing online, which is often referred to as "homeless media", isn't without controversy. The editor-in-chief of digital content at Germany's FAZ newspaper, Mathias Müller von Blumencron, recently argued that the homepage was essential for news outlets wanting to build a believable brand.)
What succeeds in one country might succeed in another country – if it's adapted correctly, that is.
Originally a US company, Buzzfeed now has offshoots in eleven other countries. Buzzfeed's US entertainment content is often adapted for the other Buzzfeed sites. But a word of caution – the Buzzfeed panelists emphasized that not every story which succeeds in one market will necessarily succeed in another.
Because tastes vary from country to country, knowing the cultural differences between the countries is essential to the adaptation process. For example, when English-language listicles were initially simply translated into other languages, they usually performed quite poorly. Now, posts are tweaked to suit a country's culture.
The editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed France, Cecile Dehesdin, gave a few amusing insights into the differences between US and French culture to illustrate why Buzzfeed US pieces can't just be translated into French to succeed. "We found that in the US, awkward is a really strong identity," she explained. "In France, awkward isn't really something we identify with strongly. For us, hating people is a really strong identity."
Thus, if the listicle "15 things only awkward people understand" does really well in the US, it'll be rewritten as something like "15 things only people who really hate people understand."