Home' Local Media Today : December 2014 Contents 14 | LOCAL MEDIA TODAY | December 2014
Q&A David Arkin
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We saw that online readers were interested in enterprise content as well.
Enterprise or in-depth news content doesn’t necessarily always mean longer. It
means relevant. We have to stop just regurgitating what happened yesterday.
We have to take an event that happened, a meeting, and explain the significance and
the impact. What happened isn’t necessarily the impact. But taking what happened a
day later and breaking down the issue, talking to people who aren’t politicians to find
out how the news affects them, and driving more depth — that is what readers told us
they wanted. This wasn’t shocking news. Readers want to know more than the 5Ws.
How does a reporter who is time-strapped do that? We’re not talking about three-day
reporting projects. We’re simply saying that for your main front-page center piece, go
beyond what already occurred, and explain it. Connect the dots for readers. Do we
want investigative journalism? Of course we do. But to move the needle here, we need
more effort put into explanatory journalism.
Q Are the content preference findings essentially universal? In other words,
similar across markets?
The responses were incredibly similar across the 17 markets. While there was
some variation, the Top 5 were similar and the great majority of those topics
hit everyone’s Top 10 most popular categories. We received comments from
readers in the survey, and the specifics on the issues and wants that readers had were
very similar. Here were the Top 5 content interests: things to do, in-depth news, crime,
state/nation/world, and politics and government.
Tell us about the design prototype work and what you now know about what
readers like and don’t like. Can you share the winning design and tell us about
We tested six page prototypes, ranging from traditional to a billboard approach.
The prototypes used real content from the newspapers that took part in the
survey. By an almost 2-to-1 margin, respondents said they wanted a design
that was closest to what we produce today.
This is the content that performed best that we’re now recommending appears on
the front page:
n Large skyboxes
Important to promote the top content interests here (i.e., things to do, crime, politics).
n Three-day weather forecast
While there may be a weather report inside, having it appear on the front page in a
three-day overview performed very well.
n A1 rail that consists of local/state and national/international briefs
Run briefs daily in a rail. These briefs should be no more than two paragraphs and
could refer to content inside but don’t have to. Two sets of briefs should run — one for
local/state and the other for national/international.
n Four-story front pages are preferred
On most days, run four-story fronts. This gets to the desire from readers to have context
on their front pages — not just teasers. That’s not to say that you can’t blow out your
front page with a two-story front for a really big story or enterprise package, though.
n 4-column photos
Readers said they thought that large photographs were a signal that the newspaper
didn’t have strong enough local content and were using the image sizes to fill space.
Using four-column photos on most days is recommended.
At our Center for News & Design, designers created prototypes and executed the
changes for many of the newspapers surveyed. We were able to respond to the surveys
quickly using that centralized resource.
Put yourself in the shoes of the editor of a small market, limited resource media
company who is looking to enrich the reader’s experience with the paper.
Based on what you’ve learned through this major study, can you share a couple
of enhancements that you suggest they consider?
I would get a three-day weather forecast on the front page and launch a rail that
is a mix of local/region and state/national briefs. I would put a premium on at
least one center piece a week that offers more context and depth. I also would
work to get some things-to-do content in place. That might be a weekly restaurant
feature or day trip story. Doing those simple things will have material impact.
Finally, I know that you and your team are always looking ahead for ways to
improve the reader/user experience and to grow audience. What lies ahead?
Next big initiative and/or current project that is percolating?
There are a few things that I think will be important going forward:
n In-depth news: I have talked about this topic a lot in this interview, but it’s
huge going forward. In-depth news is what will drive our business forward and
differentiate us from competition. Readers want news, but they look for newspapers to
explain to them the importance. We will continue next year to invest in our Pinnacle
which engages four reporters annually in separate national reporting projects that are
provided to all of our newspapers.
n Entertainment : While our main focus has to be driving more in-depth news and
watchdog journalism, a clear shift is happening with reader interests. The survey work
we did clearly shows that readers — both in print and online — really are interested
in Things To Do content. We have seen from our own video analytics that readers are
hungry for entertainment video, such as bar-hopping tours and chef profiles. Read-
ers look to us to tell them how to spend their time, and we have to do more than just
provide calendar information. We have to aggregate the calendar for best picks and
find interesting trips readers can take in the region. Plus, we need to tell them the best
places to spend their money on food and drinks. A newspaper should be a guide to
n Using data: Looking at daily or weekly analytics has become the norm in most of
our newsrooms today. But we have to go beyond the looking part and make those
analytics much more actionable. Part of the issue is that much of the analytics we’re
looking at just includes page views or unique visitor totals and don’t get deep into
engagement. Technologies exist that we must pay attention to that can help us under-
stand what is driving engagement in social media, what’s drawing the most time on a
story; the kind of information that would lead an editor to understand that people are
engaged with this content. That understanding should lead newsrooms to act on that
data, meaning they should do more coverage with the stuff that’s driving engagement
and less with the stuff that is not. Using digital data to help guide decision making —
obviously our own news judgment has to play a key role as well — is critical for our
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