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.

G-Dragon is a badass – just like Complex Mag

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Okay stop – before you continue, click the link to read this story about G-Dragon, the Korean pop superstar slash up-and-coming fashion icon, written and produced for Complex magazine. Make sure you read it all. Protip: use the arrow keys to scroll down, and release when the scrolling temporarily stops.

Tell me: are you not entertained?

It seems that Complex Mag, the brainchild of fashion entrepreneur Marc Ecko, is trying it’s hand at some dynamic, immersive digital publishing. Internally, they’re calling this project “Future,” according to Digidaily. This intensely visual publishing platform is allegedly set up to handle at least one unique story a week, and they’re using this story of G-Dragon as their prototype.

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I’ll tell you the truth: I’m madly in love with this story. The visuals, the text, the photos, the interactive elements, the GIFs, the color palette, everything. Funny thing about love, though – only fools rush in. 

Therefore, I’m going to break down why I believe Complex has stepped out as a potential digital magazine leader with “Future” – if not in subscription numbers, in content production.

1. The interface

Complex is not the first to implement this “while-you-scroll” interactive layout design. Arguably the most publicized is the New York Times “Snow Fall” feature, and Pitchfork ‘s sporadic Cover Features are similarly coded. However, Complex is building on the weaknesses of it’s predecessors: Snow Fall took 6 months and (allegedly) than $1 million to make, and Pitchfork’s productions are all uniquely coded, meaning they’re usually released months apart.

Plus, it gets worse: Snow Fall, a huge 11-person project, was reproduced in less than an hour by a single tech developer, much to the NYT’s chagrin. And Pitchfork is full of hipsters – ew.

Here’s why Complex is doing it right: it’s simple.

The interface isn’t a unique design, nor is it a pile of unintelligible code. Although the images, text and video may have taken lots of work, the animation is simple while immersive. The source code is relatively short, the GIFs easy to make, and the animations straightforward. The transitions in this work are a little less… flamboyant than some of the Pitchfork pieces. 

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Speaking of flamboyant. G-Dragon in Vogue, 2009

“Future” is designed as a platform, a template that promotes creativity but allows for fast turnaround. The framework was designed over a period of three months and is easily customizable, according to Complex CEO Rich Antoniello.

Hmm, it sounds like this platform was designed for…

2. The rapid ability to produce stories

The best part about this initiative? It’s not a gimmick. Antoniello boasted that Complex will be publishing “1-2” of these features a week, which craps all over NYT’s and Pitchforks special editions. Complex is making this a consistent form of publishing, which is a step towards raising the bar on digital print media. No longer can you just regurgitate print stories on a webpage and let it fly – if this initiative takes off for Complex, you’ll see everyone rushing to keep up. And finally…

3. Future’s shortcomings are superficial

Sure, the design doesn’t include music (which would have been instrumental in G-Dragon’s story) and it doesn’t have videos, but Antoniello assured these features are incoming. This only leaves one big problem: the website isn’t adapted for mobile. Could you imagine seeing this on an iPad? There’s no way this hasn’t been discussed in the Complex developer office.

Still, my hopes are high for Complex. I’m genuinely impressed by this step forward from a relatively average-circulation magazine, and I think we’ll be seeing big things from them in the future.

In the meantime, I’ll spend my time trying to comprehend G-Dragon’s fashion sense.

Vogue, 2009

Vogue, 2009