A longer view on the pivot

“Users are looking for journalism to fit their busy lives instead of finding ways to fit its former rigid form into their own. We should embrace creating content in diverse formats not because the platforms demand it, but instead because users do.”

In 2018, let’s stop using the pivot to video as a punchline. It’s been terrific shorthand for the very specific practice of flooding feeds with short-form video to appease the algo-gods. But the phrase’s ubiquity and the derision with which we use it obscure an important reality.

The diversification of media is here to stay. As publishers, we need to meet this opportunity with quality in every format we choose to pursue.

Media formats have been diversifying for decades. Consider the long march from print to radio to television to digital. That diversification quickened in recent years to take advantage of all of the gifts of mobile and social. Our media consumption habits today include podcasts, Snap stories, text, short-form social video, documentaries, graphics, interactives, headlines in feeds, Alexa briefings and more. Users are looking for journalism to fit their busy lives instead of finding ways to fit its former rigid form into their own.

This is an important distinction, one too often overlooked in our lovable, cynical newsrooms. We should embrace creating content in diverse formats not because the platforms demand it, but instead because users do.

The much-derided sound-off, Facebook video clip began as a novel form of storytelling, one that took a user’s context into account. That it spawned a league of imitators — some good, some bad — speaks more to the unsettled nature of our business models than it does to the shift itself. This year, let’s not just follow the herd or the platforms toward the next big thing, but instead lean into the formats we can execute with the kind of quality that attracts fans and loyalists and is unique to each of the brands we represent.

The beginnings of this shift are all around us — and they don’t look like fodder the “pivot” cliche calls to mind. The story of the Charlottesville riots was brought viscerally to life through live video and images from journalists on the ground and in Vice’s impressive doc work.

Seth Meyers and John Oliver are showing us how to capture a user’s attention for much longer than a three-second video view by layering humor over aggregation to tell a full story. The Daily makes longform adapt to a user’s busy morning — either at home or en route.

We live in a world full of incredibly powerful screens. We could fill those screens with video repurposed from broadcast or text repurposed from print. Or we could create something new, native to platform, that tell stories in new ways. There is no doubt that the next generation of news lovers will expect this diversification. We owe them creativity, accuracy, style, voice, timeliness, convenience, and humility. This year, let’s put some muscle into it.

Julia Beizer is a vice president of product in the media division at Oath.

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Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

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