What's Next for News?
Will Mumford of The Newspaper Works in Australia interviewed company president Joe Zeff in advance of Joe's presentation at the Future Forum Aug. 20-21 in Sydney. Highlights:
What makes a good news app, both in terms of engaging consumers and allowing a platform for advertisers?
We consume news much like we consume food. We sit down to meals, and we snack between meals to satisfy cravings or pass the time. Yahoo News Digest is my favorite snack at the moment — flavorful, bite-sized portions of timely content. CNN delivers more nourishing meals, but primarily meals on the go. The New York Times delivers meals on the go, too, plus culinary experiences that go a bit further. These special dishes offer heightened engagement, not only for delivering content but advertising as well. I see tremendous opportunity for publishers to deliver more white tablecloth experiences — ambitious storytelling apps that hold onto consumers’ attention for extended periods, unlike apps built around short bursts of content.
How do you balance the artistic and creative side with the usability and functionality element when creating apps? Can it become easy to focus too hard on one or the other?
A beautiful app is one in which the designer is barely seen. The story should always be the star. Going forward, the designer will become even more invisible, ceding control to the consumer. Personalization is the next frontier. The consumer will decide how they want their content to be presented. It may be organized by time, proximity or interest. It may be delivered through text, photographs or infographics. It may be piped through glasses, watches, phones or tablets. The role of the designer will shift from making beautiful content to making beautiful user experiences. Design and UX must become one.
When it comes to legacy media brands like the big newsprint publications, how do you think they should approach attempts to transition from print behemoths into successful and diverse digital news brands?
It’s all about brand extension, and leveraging the ubiquity of digital devices to become an ever-present part of everyday lives. There is the opportunity to accompany consumers as they work, play, travel, shop, dine and entertain, and connect their personal interests and imperatives to the world around them. Digital brands know no boundaries. They can live in retail environments, inside transportation hubs, on restaurant menus and even bathroom mirrors. They can thrive through partnerships with other brands that touch consumers' lives. It’s a delicate balance, to be certain. Publishers must be careful not to squander or abuse the trust and authority they have cultivated with their audiences. Meanwhile, they can fortify those relationships by showing up in the right place at the right time with the right content throughout the consumer’s busy day.
Do you believe that quality news media apps can pay for the journalism they publish, or do you think their best role is as an extension of either web-based or print-based news brands? What kind of models are out there for this?
I believe that news thrives on cross-promoted platforms that work as complements. Mobile and wearable content stir awareness, driving traffic to the web for deeper context. Print delivers a more curated experience with more prominent graphic design elements. The ultimate storytelling takes place on the tablet, with experiential content optimized for large screens and lean-back experiences. All cross-promote one another, working as an orchestrated team. In nearly all cases, monetization comes from advertisers and partners, not from consumers.
Tablet and smart phone app development is obviously the digital space that many big brands are trying to perfect right now. In what ways can you see these platforms being used more effectively to publish news? Do you think these platforms will be overtaken by new publishing and news consumption technologies in the near future? When might that be?
It was once the case that news organizations published content that contained product advertising. Today, news organizations publish content that contains sponsored articles from advertisers, in many cases developed by journalists. Next, consumer brands will enter the news business, leveraging the trust relationships that they have cultivated with their audiences, and deliver content directly to consumers without bothering to go through publishers. Why pay a news organization to host content when they can do it themselves, delivering it through the same mobile devices and platforms? In some cases that content will be original; in others it will be collected from other news sources.
Publishers need to rethink their digital business models accordingly, tearing the covers off their newspapers and magazines to make content modular. Modular content that fits into a consumer-designed experience. Modular content that fits into a brand-cultivated experience. It’s no longer the publishers who determine what’s on the front page, it’s the consumer. It makes sense for publishers to create opportunities for consumers and brands to organize and distribute their content in new ways through new platforms. They can wait for others to build these platforms, or they can drive innovation from within that reshapes expectations about how news is delivered and consumed. Again, partnerships are key. Publishers need to align with consumer brands that touch peoples’ lives, and find acceptable ways to address audiences together.
To learn more about the Future Forum conference in Sydney, Australia, click here.