Make it mobile to win over the millennials

by Vincenzo Marino – translated by Roberta Aiello

«Make it mobile»

In the last 10 years, with the growth of broadband connections, the circulation of newspapers has fallen by 47%, and revenue from advertising by 55%. In a decade, the market has more than halved, in the face of an innovation as disruptive in its way as it is revolutionary for communication and journalism. This is the data from which the media critic Alan D. Mutter starts an analysis on his blog this week, in an article that indicates the mobile industry as the last – and inevitable – frontier in the search for economic sustainability and importance for the public. Sales of smartphones and tablets continue to grow, new “smart” tools appear on the market, the demand for news is diversified, requiring new challenges and new roads listed by Mutter. According to the writer, it is necessary to constantly provide different and frequently updated news for the users, who are accustomed to compulsively consulting their devices (ie ensure something more for each article). It is also crucial that the news is concise and multi-medial (with as little text as possible), potentially viral and useful. It should be more similar to the “mobile” concept itself: “Make it mobile or you may not make it at all.”

This week, two of the most important newspapers in the world have been at the center of the news about journalism for their future innovations. The Washington Post will be part of a project that – as many had predicted when Jeff Bezos bought the newspaper – will assimilate it into the Amazon ecosystem. In the past few months, as reported by Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek, the group has worked on an app which is likely to be preinstalled on the new Kindle Fire tablet (expected to be launched before Christmas), and that should “rewrite” the newspaper in a digital magazine format. Last week, the ownership was subjected to some criticism (previously discussed here), because of an alleged lack of initiative that David Carr of the New York Times claims this week to not notice (”The Washington Post Regains Its Place at the Table“). In Britain, the Telegraph has decided to embrace a fairly radical approach to “digital first” that will lead to an editorial revolution. The newsroom will work mainly for the online version, producing articles that – once selected – will be published on the paper, which will become a derivation, while maintaining comments and some exclusives.

The ascent of outlets for millennials

The continued growth in the mobile sector (discussed several times in the last few months) widely attracts the young audience – the so-called millennials, who at present represent 30% of the American Internet public. This is the reason why news websites that pay attention to them, or propose the news in a more familiar format, are getting their momentum, which is analyzed this week by Ken Doctor of NiemanLab. There are Vox‘s cards, the omnivorous entertainment of BuzzFeed, the obsessive search for the Vice target and the new-entry Fusion (which has just secured the services of Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic). They are all websites that look at that market with different results but with the same spirit: to provide multimedia, recognizable, mobile reporting, investing in native advertising, social network and video advertising. It is a growth that has been consolidated in recent months and that has brought some of these websites, such as BuzzFeed and Vice (which recently announced a deal with Skype) to dominate the 14-34 age segment in terms of visits. Their “millennials” unique visits are more than 50% of the total, 10% more than the Guardian and Time, and much more than the “legacy” old guard, such as the New York Times, CNN and the Wall Street Journal (around 30%).

This video/social/mobile movement reflects the “new hyper-connected consumer”, explains David Brown, content marketing expert, and tries to capitalize on a content similar to a generation “detached from institutions” (in this regard, it is interesting to read an analysis conducted by the Pew Center), but not totally indifferent to the surrounding reality (this tendency is confirmed by the data of local newspapers, for the same age segment). It is a new kind of reader, immersed in a new world with new tools, for whom it is not enough to talk the language of the Millennials, but it is also necessary to re-invent the whole process. It is something that Le Soir, in Belgium, believes to have understood. This week, Didier Hamann, editor in chief of the main Belgian newspaper, explains Le Soir‘s “generational” revolution on the World Editors Forum website. Faced with the inexorable growth in the average age of newspaper readers, Hamann has sought to modernize the readership starting from internal “labour”, hiring young people to try to reverse what he calls the age pyramid. “To understand what topics are interesting for youth and write [in a manner that appeals to] youth, it is important to involve them with the other side, our side, so they can speak to the other young people better,” Hamann said.

Enough of the “future of journalism”

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Many of these new outlets often start with the intention to “revolutionize” the journalistic context, moving critics towards the dominant scenario (on this and other issues, it is interesting to read “Cash and Anxiety on the Internet New Weird” by John Hermann of The Awl). The trend had been noted at the end of September by Nikki Usher of the Columbia Journalism Review, in an article titled “Startup site manifestos are press criticism.” All the new outlets start working with a manifesto critical of the journalistic landscape. It happened for FirstLook (the group of Pierre Omidyar of Ebay which currently publishes The Intecept of Glenn Greenwald) with its video presentation; for Upshot, the “visual”column of the New York Times, and its promises; for Vox, with a video in which Ezra Klein presented it as “vegetable journalism” against news overproduction (previously discussed here); with the ‘fox‘ of Nate Silver. An evident, almost inevitable, trend Usher says, as did the New York Times in an 1851 article entitled “A word about ourselves,” with the aim of ensuring a “decidedly superior” journalism rather than the existing one.

This week David Cohn, former chief content officer of Circa, returned to the topic, defining these manifestos as a kind of psychoanalytic catharsis, as if to try to convince themselves to want to do better than their fathers. “Enough with the manifestos about the future of news” – Cohn writes – “let your product do the talking.” Less talk and more action, in essence, waiting for Vox’s stacks, FiveThirtyEight’s numbers and FirstLook’s detective work which should represent the practical example of how we must learn to do journalism today. A similar message has been expressed in a post by David Higgerson of Trinity Mirror. Some journalists – Higgerson explains – spend hours wondering how to exploit the algorithms of Facebook for the best, or if going along with its priority system on the walls is good or bad journalism. “Forget these questions and let’s just deal with reality”, the writer suggests. According to Higgerson, the answer is to be found in the content. The more the content is relevant to the community, the more importance it will have for users, who will be willing to read, comment, share and then – as a consequence – to amplify the product complying with the algorithms of the platform. “After all, we’d all be up in arms if Facebook started telling us what we should be reading.”