Before the internet, publications took a "platform-first" approach, with content specifically made for a legacy platform like broadsheet news, tabloid news, television, or radio.
With internet saturation, the new normal is digital-first. Digital first journalism starts with a platform-free mindset, where digital content is created, and then distributed to various digital platforms. It is critical to understand that digital-first is not the same thing as "web only." Digital first journalism considers all forms of content, including audio, video, text, photos, graphics, and interactive features like maps. Here are 5 tips for ensuring your digital-first strategy fuels your publication's success.
1. Interactive Should Be the Default Mode
Digital-first journalism is inherently more interactive than platform-first journalism. This involves some amount of experimentation and risk taking. It also means trying new tools and new techniques. Digital-first journalism engages in conversation surrounding the content and considers the community of content consumers as providers of crucial information in some situations. The phrase "because we've always done it that way" is detrimental to success in a digital-first world.
2. Early Adoption of Tech Tools Is Important
While nobody expects digital journalism organizations to adopt every single new device that comes on the market, digital journalism has to stay on top of where technology is headed in order to be ready when new platforms emerge. When, for example, a new social media site or tool emerges, the digital-first journalist starts learning how to use it and imagining ways the tool could be used for better journalism.
3. Research Skills Must Keep Up With the Times
Research skills are critical to the digital-first journalism organization. Getting a "scoop" in the digital-first world doesn't have the same meaning that it did when print was king. If a journalist is lucky, he may scoop the competition by a couple of minutes on a breaking story. What sets the go-to digital journalists apart is their ability to research aspects of a story to bring value to it. A great digital journalist must have superior search engine skills.
4. Think Smartphone-Upward, not Desktop-Downward
"Upsizing" smartphone content works better than shrinking desktop content, and digital-first journalism must accommodate mobile platforms due to the rapidly increasing portion of content that is primarily accessed via smartphone and tablet. Early studies of mobile media habits are showing that a tablet user tends to prefer content that's similar to what she sees on her phone, despite the bigger screen size. Shrunken down desktop content is considered second best on a tablet.
5. "Stopping the Presses" in the Digital World
The importance of digital-first journalism is demonstrated by the fact that today, when a mobile app malfunctions at 2 a.m. on a holiday, it isn't left to wait until regular business hours; someone is called in to fix it right away. The news cycle is faster, and getting behind the competition by even half a day means losing out on page views and revenue. Fortunately, mistakes can be identified and fixed faster, but the media-consuming public won't wait around for their favorite news site to get its act together because information can always be found elsewhere.
Digital-first journalism is exciting and much more flexible than platform-first journalism. It also requires new skills and new attitudes among publishers. The world won't bother with pinching and zooming shrunken desktop content while your organization works on developing a mobile app as a sideline. The demands of digital-first journalism are great, but the potential rewards, including a better informed media consumer, make the effort well worthwhile.
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