Publishers’ perspective: In defense of the ‘Update me’ news story

What's New in Publishing 20 Jul 2021 06:21

We’re currently in the midst of a project exploring the user needs approach to content strategy and creation.

It’s compelling stuff. Not only has it been shown to work – and at the BBC, no less – but it’s also a useful framework to start discussing and auditing established practice at newsrooms – whatever they look like.

One of the most quotable stats we’ve come across thus far is this:

70% of content produced at one BBC World Service hub fell into the ‘update me’ category, yet drove only 7% of traffic. (The ‘update me’ user need does exactly what it says: it’s a regular news story that tells you what happened.)

It’s striking. This could be an argument that newsrooms should reduce this kind of content, but nuance is our friend, and here’s why that’s not quite the conclusion you should draw.

‘Update me’ news is breaking news. And, breaking news is kind of the point of news, isn’t it?

Updating readers is what news is commonly about. Before the world got mobile-centric, these updates happened via hourly bulletins on the radio, or during the evening news on tv, or on the front page of the newspaper. ‘Update’ wasn’t synonymous with ‘instant’. Timeframes were longer.

Since the start of January 2019 our own data shows that traffic has been slumping. It’s something that is evident on desktop and mobile, but the broad trend is that engagement metrics (read depth, page depth, attention time) are significantly lower on mobile.

This isn’t surprising. ‘Snackable’ content fits well into this kind of pattern of consumption, and while we’re all happily munching on headlines and breaking news, it pays to think about how to tempt readers to sit down to consume something more substantial – or at least something different.

The onus is on editorial teams and journalists to watch what’s happening here.

If it doesn’t fall into these two categories, perhaps the way the story is told would fit better into another of the User Needs types.

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