Predictions for digital journalism: audience, diversity and newsroom leadership in 2022

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Credit: Moritz Knöringer to Unsplash

This year, we asked 12 industry experts and commentators to share their predictions for digital journalism in 2022. In this article, we put together ideas from five of them, while the others will be published next week. .

Apart from one expert who works with CNN, they are all independent consultants and creators. It gives them a unique perspective when they talk about trends in audience engagement and growth, digital strategy, diversity and inclusion, and newsroom leadership. The topics are listed in alphabetical order.

Public

Dmitry Shishkin, independent digital consultant

In 2022, more newsrooms will transition to user-driven content creation models.

The success of digital publishing lies at the crossroads of two axes: focus and quality. Ignore the first one and you won’t be distinctive enough. Ignore the latter, and your pedestrian nature will be discovered soon enough. Content models based on user needs address both axes. Our product counterparts understood this about 20 years earlier than the media did, but luckily we are catching up.

The sooner you identify your audience’s needs and start creating content to specifically meet them, the better. It’s about doing it creatively, strategically and consistently.

The beauty of a user needs model is simple: it comes from the audience. It is external and not internal – it challenges the editorial staff by reminding them not to preach but to listen, before starting their commission.

Create content that does something useful for your audience, whether you inform them, or educate them, or connect them to their own place of life.

Specialty newsrooms and B2B publishers are leading the way. Their product-market fit is much easier to find and agree, and the internal singularity of the goal is more achievable. Travel, finance, sport, entrepreneurship, lifestyle, art, local – as long as you identify specific needs, you will be valuable and your “focus + quality” paradigm will be easy to support.

In 2022, ignore user needs at your own risk. Ultimately, it’s about answering a million dollar question: what will happen in the lives of my audience if our media is gone tomorrow. Many editorial staff will not like the answer.

Corinne Podger, Director and Principal, The Digital Skills Agency

My prediction is that newsrooms will stop using the word “public”.

I observe two major camps of newsrooms: those that actively interact with target audiences and consult them on preferred content, formats, and products – and those that still don’t. No prizes for guessing which media generate more revenue for readers and do a better job of building public confidence and support for independent journalism.

Consider banning the word “audience” from your newsroom and replacing it with words like “community” and “customers.” Identify and learn to use online and offline methods to research and understand the needs that exist in your community that you can meet with public service journalism.

Also look for needs that are best met with a commercial product. Then assess target customers’ demand for that product, to see if they really want it and what they would be willing to pay.

Digital strategy

Lucy Kung, Strategic Advisor, Board Member and Author

Niche-ification

The transition from generic to specific will accelerate. More and more publishers will seek to “own” specific niches that appeal to both audiences and business partners. The obvious candidates – big tech, China, climate, crypto – are pretty much occupied (often with pure digital games that combine depth, speed, and great user experience), so newsrooms will need to get creative. to identify the next harvest. The game plan is often to turn them into a “prosumer” (think Politics) and B2B offers, but this movement is more difficult than it seems. A main exponent of this strategy is Axel springer (bought Morning infusion in 2020 and Politics in 2021).

Back to scale – but through acquisitions, not organic growth

2022 will be all about growth. Covid has brought a welcome increase in subscriptions, but organic (i.e. core business) growth from here is likely to be hard-won and slow. In response, media companies will look to buy growth through acquisitions. by Vox the purchase of Group Nine corresponds to this model, just like the future exceptional growth fueled by acquisitions such as Time Inc and Dennis Publishing. The one to watch in this regard in 2022 is The daily mail.

Content goes to community, activist, advocate

Many newsrooms have found that ‘community’ content is a silver bullet, so expect more newsrooms to focus on projects that deliver real benefits to the communities they serve. It is about becoming a platform where publishers identify challenges and bring together various actors to solve them. This is an extension of the hub to readers (the closer you get to the audience, the more you know about the issues that matter most to them). Strategically, it also makes sense. This type of “active content” is very differentiated, establishes a visceral connection with the audience, and is an area in which platforms cannot compete.

Diversity and inclusion

Shirish Kulkarni, journalist, researcher and trainer

To make predictions for the future of journalism, I should have some confidence that the industry is willing and able to respond to the systemic issues facing the profession in a rational and ethical manner. 25 years in the industry haven’t done much to give me that confidence. I have some hope, however, that individuals and organizations will do work that creates momentum for change, showing the industry as a whole that there is a better and more effective way to tell stories.

Tackling the problem properly would mean recognizing that journalism has systematically under-represented or distorted many of our people and communities. It would mean working with these people and communities to bond, build relationships and enable them to better tell their own stories. The only way to inspire confidence is to do things you can trust.

It would really mean understanding that our industry is doing a terrible job of reflecting the diversity and richness of the people we are here to serve and do something to correct it rather than make it worse. It would start by working to make our industry less systemically racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic, etc. rather than tolerating, creating or working for platforms whose business models are built on (or bow to) hatred and discrimination.

This in turn drives transformation in the established industry. There have been some great examples this year, including The Elephant’s Trail film, “Made in Bury” backed by The Guardian, and the “Does the job work?” Project made by The mirror and ITV News (in partnership with my own employer, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism). These showed how truly collaborative journalism, created with people with genuine lived expertise, can open up new forms of storytelling that engage, inform and inspire in ways business as usual simply cannot. or does not want.

Like I said, I never make predictions, but my fervent hope is that we are at a crossroads.

Corinne Podger

We will see a return to face-to-face journalism conferences and it will exclude diverse voices from journalistic discourse, just as the industry has started to make real strides in addressing and resolving its diversity issues.

A real silver lining to the pandemic has been the opening up of international forums and conversations to journalists who cannot normally attend industry events around the world. It democratized access to knowledge and ideas in an unprecedented way.

Now is not the time to push the diverse voices and experiences to the fringes. If you are planning a face-to-face event in 2022, now decide how you will make it truly accessible. Choose platforms that will benefit remote participants as well as those in the room. Create online networking opportunities and invite remote speakers and panelists.

Think about what a successful hybrid version would look like and factor that into your planning and budget from the start. Make a commitment to free yourself from manels, whanels and – to coax a term – “fanels”, the people lucky enough to be able to come in person.

Head of the press room

Blathnaid Healy, Senior Director EMEA, CNN Digital International

Empathetic, collaborative and inclusive newsroom leadership will be essential in 2022 and I predict that we will see more and more emphasis on this in the news industry. Applicants will have more choice in what will be an increasingly competitive job market where attracting and retaining the best journalistic talent will become more difficult. These essential elements of leadership can no longer be relegated to soft or discretionary skills. The journalism we publish and the editorial offices we run depend on it.

More than ever in 2022, recruiting the best and brightest to our teams and organizations will require a mindset similar to that of an A&R person (artists and repertoire) in the music industry – always looking and seeking potential hires if openings arise, expanding personal networks and developing and learning from those entering our industry through mentorship or other means.

I predict a pressing need to advocate for journalism as a career choice, as adjacent industries become more attractive to those already in our industry and the younger generations, considering how their work can be. better impact on the societies in which they live.

Embedding the right cultural values ​​by investing in learning and development resources – be it coaching or peer-led support structures – will reward organizations. So will leaders who focus on these attributes and inspire confidence in their teams, giving them the foundation to deliver bold and compelling journalism.

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