The year 2014 is going to be all about you. And me. And him and her. It’s going to be all about all of us — and what we are doing on all our devices. The job in news is to be exactly there for people, no matter what they’re doing or where they’re doing it, to take advantage of their platforms and deliver the best journalism we can for that device — what I call adaptive journalism.
Adaptive journalism accounts for everything — your device and its potential (accelerometer, anyone?), your live environment (Sunday night couch with a tablet? smartphone at the airport?), where you clicked or tapped from (social? washingtonpost.com?), or even where you’re going next (want to switch devices? or couches? airports?)
This won’t be easy, but there’s payoff for everyone: users, publishers, manufacturers, advertisers. It’s a return to storytelling with a device-first sensibility. One of crafting news and news experiences that put the user first. The most exciting part is that it gives room for experimentation — demands it, in fact. Show me the digital journalists who don’t want that as part of their mission and I’ll tell them they’re in the wrong business. Next year is going to be the greatest year yet to work in digital news and it’s going to be because of a rush to adaptive journalism.
By paying attention to personal data and preferences that users self-select, news organizations will have a wealth to offer. The moment is now to re-up your newsroom geotagging and metadata efforts. Not because we expect that a reader will drill down to a subsection for “hyperlocal” news — rather because passive data sharing is allowing us to literally anticipate a user’s next move. Jane just landed in Washington, D.C. at 6 p.m. on a Thursday. Her calendar, which she shares with us, says so. She’s staying in Georgetown. Here are the restaurants from the 2013 Fall Dining Guide that she won’t want to miss. They’re tailored to her because Jane has read and shared food content before. But first, tell the cabbie not to take Key Bridge — it’s closed for the next three hours. Jane’s in New York the next day — there’s a meeting on her calendar at 10 a.m. in midtown. We’ll put the story about the dreaded nor’easter at the top of her reading stack. Also the piece about the FTC hearing on native advertising, because Jane’s meeting is with an advertising agency.
The desktop Internet gave news organizations potential for unprecedented scale, for exciting new user participation, for live delivery of news around the clock — and on and on. But the small screen — the devices in your hand, on your wrists — does all of that and more. The forward-thinking digital newsroom must be considering the specific capabilities of these devices and create stories with those capabilities. For example, during last year’s inauguration, The Washington Post produced a panoramic photo of the event specifically for smartphones. The navigation of the photo relied on the device’s gyroscope. This is taking advantage of the “gifts of the device.” The Post just ran a big package around “Super Zips” — the clusters in America with the wealthiest Zip codes. If you came to us on mobile, and opted into sharing your location, we gave you the Super Zips around you first.
Wearable tech: It’s still early, and it’s still not as fashionable as some of us would like — but it’s real. Someone is going to build the Snapchat for news on a watch next year. It’s the perfect platform for delivering the moment, the now. Cards are all the rage. Just look at how we’ve built projects over the last year: Twitter, news orgs, apps — they’re all broken into consumable cards with aesthetically pleasing visuals and atomic pieces of information. These work well for watches and your new small screens to come.
We’ve all spent evenings with friends and family in parallel play — where folks are sitting in close quarters, in a shared space, but each person is on his or her personal device. The television sits idly in the center of the room. Voices pop up occasionally: “Have you seen…” Then three folks gather around a tablet or phone for a collective moment. Things like Apple’s AirPlay, Google’s Chromecast, or a good ol’ HDMI connection allow for viewing on the big screen — the television. This will become your next desktop. The family desktop. News organizations need to think about how they can tap into creating experiences there — how to gather folks around. On-demand video is one way, but that’s simply the beginning. Put a team on this, stat.
We all live in some version of Fear Of Missing Out. News organizations’ role has always been to help you with this. It’s just gotten a lot harder; the cycle can be insidious. And social media has created an entirely new hypercycle that rings around the news constantly. In 2014, you will see more of that ringing baked into the actual products of new organizations. Especially, and here is the adaptive journalism piece, if you are coming from social. This is something the publisher can easily detect; social referral traffic is up across the board. Users come to news links because they want to verify breaking information — they want to learn more about what they are seeing in the stream. This also works the other way: Users, on what I would call primary sites such as The Washington Post, are reading the story first, but then they want to learn more about the social conversation. These are the social stories that are spun off. Publishers are going to be offering this in more than a Twitter feed or aggregation: This will and should be a platform play.
It’s not just the content a publisher or brand puts in an allotted “sponsored news” hole that makes it valuable — it’s also the where and how. The medium is the message. Converse launched a campaign recently on Complex, a beautiful parallax scroller built with inline media. It’s using the same tools, platform, and storytelling techniques as editorial — more native product than native advertising. The Post did this with Land Rover with the launch of our experimental editorial product, Topicly. The custom platform that editorial content flowed into — that was built as an out-there cutting-edge product — those same design and presentation tools to create were given over to the brand. Clearly labeled, same rules of content, and all that good stuff. We’re going to see more of this. In an era of adaptive journalism, this is the adaptive advertising piece and it’s more about platform than it is about content.
Many of the things I’ve mentioned are in the works or have a proof-of-concept floating around. They are combinations of editorial enterprise, user behavior, technology, design, and yes, the world of advertising. Now is the time to push the boundaries and use the best of those worlds in the service of storytelling. Here’s to breaking innovative ground in 2014 at the same time we’re breaking news — adaptively.
Cory Haik is executive producer and senior editor for digital news at The Washington Post.