The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

“If 2017 reached peak innovation strategizing, pivoting, and iterating, then 2018 may very well be the year of pause, pare back, and hyper-focus.”

My prediction is that 2018 will be the year of quiet adjustments.

Sound uninspiring…or, actually, manageable and focused? Worrisomely workaday…or maybe a strategy for planning ahead for a news ecosystem in which continual change is business as usual?

If 2016 was sobering — a double-digit drop in print ad revenues, peak anti-platform sentiment, the migration of the large majority of digital ad revenue to Google and Facebook, among other disruptions — then 2017 was arguably chastening. The pivot to video peaked and crashed. VC-fueled digital pure-players lost their luster, missing revenue targets, and following up with layoffs (BuzzFeed, Mashable). The year of Trump, Brexit, and growing populism all across Europe has — this is a reductive shortcut, but all those were driving external factors — forced a turning point on the platforms, which have started evolving, grudgingly, into institutions with social accountability, even as more people that ever before are consuming their news on platforms. The fake news phenomenon has transformed the very identity of news media and their role as trustworthy gatekeepers that had been taken for granted. Those are just a few of this past year’s disruptions.

But because of (or despite) all that, the past few years in the news media ecosystem have also been a flurry of often radical innovation in newsrooms. Powered by results-driven methodologies, full of experiments and outcomes and metrics, it has been transformative. But it has also been exhausting and, for some newsrooms, exhaustive. They may be reaching the natural end of an intense cycle of constant testing-and-learning, even as newsroom restructuring continues. The New York Times just announced its second reorganization in as many years of their audience team, The Washington Post this past summer announced a series of new digital strategy and editorial innovation roles, and here at the Financial Times, we are creating a new newsroom team, led by my colleague Robin Kwong, head of digital delivery, that is defining new digital strategy roles. If this is the start of a new cycle of innovation, what comes next?

It may be that 2018 will be…chill.

I’m kidding. But not entirely. If 2017 reached peak innovation strategizing, pivoting, and iterating, then 2018 may very well be the year of pause, pare back, and hyper-focus. It is a year that could look something like this in newsrooms:

Let’s get really good at the engagement strategies that we now know work.

Let’s try to talk about innovation (always? Only ever?) coupled with sustainability: This thing that we wan to try — what is the lasting change it could bring about? For whom? And what is its value to that audience?

Let’s reassure audiences and not wow them or blow them away — or let’s make the former the priority and the latter the really-nice-to-have. It’s not the end of delight, but let’s focus on sustainable satisfaction.

Let’s prove our value to audiences in everything we do. In other words, let’s make everything we do something worth paying for.

Let’s give away less journalism for free (fewer clicks on Google, less free stuff on social), but let’s offer more ways to pay for it — not just onsite, but offsite — and with a greater variety of products. Maybe not all audiences should be paying the same amount for the same product, or be offered the same products. Let’s anticipate their willingness to pay and offer personalized pricing to go with personalized content.

Let’s change the subject from fake news and trust, and let’s start talking instead about strategies to anticipate our audience’s needs, using AI to understand their habits and preferences even better than they themselves consciously do. Let’s help them understand what they find most useful in what we offer and develop more efficient ways to help them find it.

Let’s ask audiences to tell us what they think, and let’s remember to let them know that we actually listened.

All of which quietly builds trust and loyalty, without asking for it. Quiet revolutions are sometimes the most radical.

Renée Kaplan is head of audience engagement at the Financial Times.

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Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

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Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

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Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

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Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

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Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

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Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

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Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

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Dan Newman   A return to trust

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

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

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

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Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

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Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

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Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

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Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

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Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

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Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

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Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

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

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

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Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

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

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

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

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Jake Levine   The return to now

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

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

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

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Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

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

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

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

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

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

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Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

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Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

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

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

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

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

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Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

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