Above: A scene from NewsFoo. Photo credit: Elise Hu.
It was a real pleasure to attend my first NewsFoo conference this past weekend. Sponsored by O’Reilly Media, Knight Foundation and Google, NewsFoo gathered a cross section of folks (read: rock stars) in the digital news space to talk about an agenda created on the spot.
One of the most interesting observations shared by many news-fooers is that people by and large did not choose to discuss the ongoing revenue problems of news-gathering companies, which is the focus of many other news conferences.
Perhaps because there was a strong presence from some of the organizations that have best adapted to the new realities of news (Wikipedia, NPR, Digital First, Bleacher Report) and startups that are being built on the opportunities of news in the digital age (Branch, Cir.ca, Poetica, Submittable, Syria Deeply, Watchup), people instead were focused on problems and potential solutions being faced by news organizations that have already made the transition to digital, and it was enlightening for me to better understand some of these:
1) Building credibility (and engagement) in digital news
Most news publications are not as transparent about their own reporters and their sources as they could be, and many don’t report retroactively on whether pundits/sources got things right or wrong. Notable exceptions, like Wikipedia which footnotes all entries, have become very trusted (and popular) sources of information. How can news orgs move towards embedding more credibility into news? Also, can news animations be credible?
2) Improving content recommendations
Currently content is largely recommended based on relevance (you are reading about bridges, here’s another article about bridges), social context (your friends are reading about bridges, read this too) or editorial selection (Our editor believes you need to know about bridges, read this). What other ways could be available to enable discovery of content? How can we broaden the perspectives being shared?
3) Freeing news content from news sites (in a big big way)
Only 1.1% of total page views online take place on news sites (even less on mobile). If content is restricted to news sites, digital ad revenue will remain small. Can news makers develop a standard to allow news to be distributed as easily across web and mobile as ads and preserve some benefit for content creators?
4) Scaling media-focused social enterprises (while safeguarding mission)
Media companies have traditionally had a source of revenue (advertising) that is not directly tied to content or customers. New, socially-focused media companies (PolicyMic, Upworthy, Zeega) have ads as well as other revenue sources (lead generation, content creation). How best to balance these and other potential revenues against the needs of the people whose lives they are trying to change?
5) Making data visualization work on mobile
Data visualizations are 30x as likely to be shared as traditional text articles, and have become an important part of the news landscape. But as more news gets read on phones, the impact of these visualizations is mitigated. Can we develop standard practices to maximize the impact of data visualizations on mobile phones?
Because of the nature of the conference, it is entirely possible that another news-fooer identified a completely different series of issues that folks are focused on. I look forward to hearing these as Knight gathers more perspectives on the conference.
By Ben Wirz, director/business consulting at Knight Foundation