As a somewhat accidental member of the industry, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about media.
It’s for this reason I was so happy to come upon a two-part series from Tristan Ferne of the BBC’s research and development group.
Part 1 of the “Beyond 800 words” series, published back in September 2017, opens with the following:
The 800-word article is still the dominant form of online news from most publishers. This largely seems to be a legacy from printed newspapers and to a lesser extent this is true for online news video online too, with much of it still produced in traditional made-for-TV formats albeit shorter.
And in Part 1 Ferne identifies and briefly discusses a number of new formats like listicles, live blogs, and structured news.
Part 2, published last week, covers recent research work at the BBC around how Gen Z (18-26 year olds) wants to consume the news. The article discusses some of their methodology and research findings, and it presents examples of prototype news formats and interaction models that appealed to Gen Z audiences.
The thing about those formats – which include scrollable video, swipe to view reactions/polls, a section-by-section “choose your own format” model, and others – is that they are really nice, but also incredibly resource-intensive to produce at scale. For that modular format one, imagine having to:
- Write a long version of the article
- Write a short version of the article
- Break each version into modular sections
- Produce video for each section
- Edit, view, and test the multiple formats to ensure they form a cohesive narrative
- Ship the damned thing
That’s difficult for a small or medium-sized newsroom to do more than once a month. A dedicated team – bare minimum: a researcher, a writer, a video and sound editor, and an editor/production lead – could probably push something out once a week.
It’s all to say that if there’s a format race, it’s likely to be between bigger, well-resourced newsrooms. There’s definitely room for small newsrooms which are built around a novel format. Ferne references Circa as an example. But that’s a high stakes bet, because you’re wagering on both your ability to find and report on important and interesting stories and, moreover, that the fancy new format stays relevant among a fickle and increasingly fast-moving audience.
That’s going to be a tall order.
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