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

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Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

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Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

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Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

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

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Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

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Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

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Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

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

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

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Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

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Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

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Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

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

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

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

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

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

Dan Newman   A return to trust

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Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

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Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

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Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

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Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Paul Ford   Go global

Jake Levine   The return to now

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

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

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Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

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Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

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Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify