Raju Narisetti and Digital Journalism Design, Part 1

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This is the first in a two-part series about digital journalism. Check back next week for the second half.

Last Tuesday Raju Narisetti, Senior Vice President and Deputy Head of Strategy for the new Newscorp, came to West Virginia University to spread his wisdom to the journalism school. Narisetti, or “@Raju,” has a long and prosperous history in journalism, especially digital journalism, as you can see from his Wikipedia page.

I had an opportunity to have dinner with Raju and some choice faculty from the journalism school, and he blew our minds. Immediately following, he gave a presentation that rendered speechless an entire conference room of students, professors and professionals. Plus, he’s verified on Twitter. Boom!

Raju’s presentation was one of the most important perspective-shifting moments I’ve had when thinking about digital journalism. He focused on nine ideas that all future-thinking journalists should understand.

But first! An introduction. We’re in kind of a weird spot in journalism – everyone is telling us print is dead, and people are making their careers in specific mediums. Fact is, our audiences are moving back and forth between digital mediums pretty easily. Plus, there’s more people consuming journalism than ever before, which creates an interesting problem: there’s more demand for our work, but less people paying for it and even fewer creating it.

Let it be known –

1. Print isn’t going away anytime soon, and for a pretty basic reason. In many markets, print is the best way for advertisers to reach their audiences – because of that, there will always be print products and print staff, at least in our lifetimes. Most of our revenue will come from print, and we’ll always have staff devoted to it. The money’s still in print, folks. Don’t count it out.

2. Digital advertising isn’t our savior. No matter how many clicks, views or visitors we accumulate, the revenues from digital advertising is constantly falling. Why is that?

The supply of websites is almost infinite. There are currently about 15 billion indexed web pages. If you’re an advertiser, the choices where you can run your ads have expanded dramatically. Because the supply of websites is exploding (because anybody can make one), the supply of potential ad space is huge. Because of that, it’s hard to justify hefty advertising fees.

The implications of this? If you’re going to create a new website or digital storytelling experience, you have to think about including revenue-building models into it.

Look at the New York Times’s Snowfall.  Their biggest, most expensive project and their most popular web post ever originally had no advertising built into it. As Raju said,

“It’s the most insane thing you can do in a newsroom: the thing that will get you 10 million views won’t make you a penny… Snowfall pageviews are empty calories.”

Ask yourself this question when you’re creating: How can I integrate advertising into this and make money while people are reading my journalism?

I know it’s hard, because to us, journalism is art. How could we tarnish that with an ad for consumer goods? The fact of the matter is this: We will always need advertisers, and we need to think about how we can use our digital storytelling skills and audience metadata to make money. That’s how it was with newspapers, and the story hasn’t changed now that we’ve moved to the web. Always be thinking: How can I get paid from this? It’s the only way to survive digitally.

3. Paywalls are here to stay (and struggle.) There are more than 600 papers in the U.S. with paywalls. Unfortunately, the ones who think those paywalls will solve their problems are wrong. Indeed, a paywall is a significant source of revenue, but if you see it as your final solution, you will fail. Think about paywalls in this way: can we convert flyby readers into subscribers? Are we giving them such an amazing experience that they’ll choose to pay for it?

If you can put together a mindblowing, compelling media package, people will notice it and be like “Hey, I like what they’re doing and I want more. I’ll pay for it.” It’s a journalism challenge and a media challenge.

That challenge pales in comparison to this one.

4. News has to go to the readers, they don’t have to come to us. Because of social media, people are less prone to go and explore news websites. We have to be where the people are – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr (god forbid.) Imagine the challenge in that now we have to go to the people AND make money off them. Whew.

The good news is that in 2013 the definition of a journalist must include “I will do everything that I can to bring as many people as I can to my journalism.” It’s part of your mission and job description. How can you bring people in? If you think of this promotional aspect as extra work, as stupid stuff above your excellent journalism, you will fail. If you consider promotion as part of your job, you’ll integrate it into your work and be more successful because of it. If you don’t know what it is, you should wise up and sell your soul to the SEO gods. 

Raju gave an anecdote about – who else – Miley Cyrus. As it turns out, Americans don’t know how to spell her name. Looking to capitalize on our ignorance, writers could use the misspelled versions of Miley’s name in their post’s metadata – it was totally invisible on the page, but it was picked up by search engines who directed the ignorant spellers to their stories.

Gaming the system, you say? Nay, I say – if we wrote a story, it’s our responsibility to help people find it. 

Chew on that for a while. Check back next week for the second half of Raju’s list.

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