Readers readers readers readers readers

At the start of March FT Strategies and Knight Lab released a new study called Next Gen News. It looks at the news needs and preferences of the next generation. It’s a thorough piece of research that speaks with young news consumers from America, India and Nigeria. If you work in publishing you should read it.  

While the focus on the news needs and preferences of the next generation is important, the underlying calls to action—such as building affinity with audiences, enhancing personalization, catering to different modes of consumption, and giving hope and empowering action—are applicable to all audiences. 

If we wanted to boil down the industry’s myriad problems into a single one. I’d argue our failure to engage with readers on their needs and how we can serve and satisfy them is the place to start. Personalisation, consumption, empowering action all naturally follow from being focused on what our readers want from us. 

Mattia Peretti led me to a perfect summary in his recent piece on the industry's lack of a coherent strategy for how we harness the potential of AI.

Mainstream media might be the only industry in the world that continues to supply endless product with no real information on the demand for it. 

It is stuck where it started decades ago, with
no clue about user needs, habits, or expectations, no new distribution strategies, and no new ways to make money….Mainstream media is a bad product.
Rishad, Splice Frames

While we may be starting to see some more extreme emerging consumption behaviours from Gen Z, we shouldn’t ignore that older, existing audiences are dissatisfied with the product too. 

We can argue that we’ve tried to change (a little bit) but the only change newsrooms have been interested in is the kind that wasn’t really very painful for us. 

We’ve given things a lick of paint, sometimes even sanded down the surface first. But we haven’t really reconfigured rooms, or laid new foundations. 

Audience development teams are now commonplace in legacy media, but their influence is often limited, and the elements that really need to change, like workflow and team structures are deeply entrenched.  

If no one is happy then, how do we bridge the gap from where we are to where we need to be? This is where I would start:

  1. Invest much, much more in understanding your audience. Quantitatively and qualitatively. Talk to them, show them new ideas, run diary studies, listen listen listen and then implement and listen some more.
  2. Bring novel ideas to the table. Every news website is a variation on a theme, a headline, a picture and some body copy. The internet + smartphones is an unlimited canvas. Let’s be inventors.  
  3. Play the infinite game. Think long term. Be something very important to a distinct audience, rather than something of marginal value to everyone. 
  4. Consider everything on the table, what you cover, how you cover it. Workflow, formats, volume. All of it needs to be examined. 
  5. Design an experience. From that very first moment someone discovers your brand to the moment they decide they need to cancel or pause their relationship make it considered, easy, thoughtful, respectful. 

What would you do differently?

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Troy Young has an brilliant thought experiment on how CNN might look if it leans into an AI centred transformation