Publishing less to give readers more

“When something happens, we write a story. When something else happens, we write a new story. News event? New story! New developments? New story! New responses? New story!”

As journalists, we make an implicit promise to inform our readers as best we can.

When we started out a few centuries ago, the way to do that was to print daily news articles on paper.

Not much has changed since. Sure, today we work online and use more pictures and video, but we’re still doing what we’ve always done: informing the public by publishing fresh articles every day. When something happens, we write a story. When something else happens, we write a new story.

News event? New story!

New developments? New story!

New responses? New story!

Until recently, one revenue model perfectly suited this cycle:

Fresh articles → More eyeballs → More ad dollars

But the ad-based earnings model is in trouble.

Instead, journalism is increasingly looking to reader revenue. The new model works as follows:

Informative publication → Reader satisfaction → Reader revenue

So it’s time to ask a rhetorical question.

Does the age-old practice of informing readers through a flood of successive news reports still make sense?

The answer, of course, is: No, not really.

Nowadays, when readers want to find specific information or learn about a topic in depth, they have to plow through loads of old articles and videos.

Then they have to take the latest story as the last word.

Why? Because:

  • We publish stories one after the other, rarely connecting the dots.
  • We don’t tailor content to individual readers’ needs.
  • We do almost nothing to help people sift relevant information from archives. (Here, have an auto-generated tag page!)

Basically, we peddle today’s news while failing to put at readers’ disposal everything else that’s ever happened and been reported on. That means we aren’t informing the public as effectively as we could. So readers lose the thread of what’s happening, or grow cynical about a world that’s presented as a succession of unrelated incidents.

Either way, people stop paying, since we’re not delivering the promised service.

Early attempts to inform readers in smarter ways — Vox Cards, the old Circa app — often failed because they relied on ads and traffic.

But there have been successes. The queen of paywall revenue, The New York Times, has over 2 million digital-only subscribers. The Gray Lady employs its Beta team to find the best ways of using new storytelling forms to inform readers so they’ll stay happy subscribers. And it’s working.

So far, most thriving Beta projects focus on service content. For instance, the NYT Cooking app lets users browse, search and save the paper’s thousands of recipes. And its Wirecutter site shares consumer testing results in a highly usable, efficient format.

But the approach can work for hard news stories too. And in 2018, we’ll start to see how. Journalists will be doing more updating, personalizing, and improving of access to content — and we’ll be publishing less.

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Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

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Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

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Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

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Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

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Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

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Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

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Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

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Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

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Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

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Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

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Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

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Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

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Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

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Jake Levine   The return to now

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

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Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

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Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

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Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

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Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

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Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

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Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

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Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

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Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Paul Ford   Go global

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Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

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