The conversation that followed made me think again about the changing role of digital journalism over nearly two decades. Here are a selection of those thoughts – a few fully formed, most partially constructed…
On the skills journalists need in the digital age
“Some of the advice never really changes. Read widely, read well, read good journalism whether it’s the New Yorker or the Financial Times or it’s a brilliantly crafted tabloid newspaper. Learn to deliver lean and concise and effective copy… Then combine this old stuff with a bunch of new skills. So, for example, as as digital journalist you’d need to learn how to open a spreadsheet and understand the data that you are seeing … Then familiarise yourself with the newish tools of the trade – do you know how to put audio together? Do you know how to use video? Do you understand how to use social networks?”
On data journalism
“Data gets to the heart of a truth and if journalism is about getting to the truth data journalism is really important.”
On the new tools of the trade
“I’m not sure all journalists realise how easy [the tools] are to use. I run workshops on social media and what I spend a lot of time doing is getting people over that hump of fear, fear of the technology – ‘I can’t possibly use Twitter because I don’t understand how to use it.’ Well, it doesn’t take very long learn how to use it. And once you understand how to use it – once you understand the lingua franca, the code of Twitter, Facebook or any of these other tools – then you are into the world of communications. It’s then about how you apply the technology not the technology itself.”
On the impact of smartphones
“The medium impacts consumption habits. We see that most obviously with the growth of the internet-enabled smartphone … which has made the internet day and the internet week longer in terms of consumption … If lots of people are consuming our content at 7.30 in the evening via a smartphone what does it say about us as a publisher in terms of what we deliver, when we deliver it, how we resource our staff, how we push this stuff out on to our website but equally through social media.”
On the dangers of infinite online space
“Just because you’ve got infinite space doesn’t mean that your reader has got infinite time. In fact they’ve got less time than they ever had because they are reading more words from more sources than ever before. So some of those old world skills of being concise – writing short and sharp and to the point – absolutely apply still.”
I’ve just published a piece at the Press Gazette which explores a significant milestone for the BBC and anyone else involved in the world of fast moving, content-rich websites. For the very first time more people visited the BBC online via mobile phones than via desktop and laptop PCs. It happened on Sunday 14 July. And then again on Saturday 20 July.
As I note in the piece this is merely an extreme case (for now) of a trend that has been apparent for a while:
The direction of travel is clear: more and more people are accessing news-based websites from mobile devices (tablets as well as smartphones) and we have plenty of evidence that this is the case.
In an effort to identify the meaning of this milestone, I suggest that it matters in three ways*:
There was a really smart piece of analysis by Jasper Jackson over on The Media Briefing yesterday where he looked at the impact of mobile device usage and how it affects “when consumers access your content”.
His findings, based on data from the FT and the Guardian, mirror the experience of the New Statesman and the Press Gazette – specifically how heavy usage of smartphones and tablets at weekends is filling the deep Saturday and Sunday troughs previously typical of news-based websites.
The FT graph also shows clearly the pre- and post-work ‘check-in’ via mobile devices during weekdays.
A key point here is that the bulk of this traffic is additive – the FT is seeing high levels of traffic to its website during times when there was previously very little, simply because people now have a way of accessing it.
Again that mirrors my own experience.
So what lessons can digital publishers draw from this data? For one answer Jackson quotes Tom Betts, FT’s head of data:
We are starting to see a number of changes to the way editorial teams publish. Obviously having someone working nine-to-five on mobile publishing doesn’t work.
And if you don’t have a weekend operation, perhaps now is the time to start. More over at The Media Briefing.