miércoles, 5 de junio de 2013

A proposal: What do people want to know?

The big dilemma today for digital news publishing platforms is how to balance what people “want” to know with what people “need” to know. Most algorithms learn readers’ news consuming habits but have no ability to predict people’s interest when the next tsunami strikes. Likewise, publishers around the planet are learning that their assumptions of how, when and where people want their news are, in the most part, wrong. Tablets have given a second life to long form reading, thought to be dead because of the move towards shorter stories online. In my research at Oxford University, I plan to look into the right formula for news publishers – both platforms and news media companies – to define what they push to readers: what readers want, what they need and what they don’t know they don’t know – a serendipitous approach. This is part of the missions as news organizations: servicing our readers by both satisfying their needs and desires while also providing a public service. You can listen to a panel I organized in this topic at SXSW in Austin, Texas here: http://schedule.sxsw.com/2012/events/event_IAP12550 I will try to define these wants, needs and desires based on audiences’ consuming patters, or touch points: when, where and how they want to get their news and how to create the right mix of news offerings to satisfy a reader that’s has more choices – and more control over those choices – than ever. Among the questions I will try to answer are: How to appeal to people who do not currently consume news? How do people actually consume it? How to define and find out what people want and need? How to offer an interesting “news discovery” experience? How do we go beyond journalistic arrogance of serving people what the “need”? What do they need? What is a “necessary” news publication? What does that mean? When and where do people get their news? How to map out touch points during the day? Where do people get their news beyond digital, in their daily lives? Can we create a social-news-graph? One fundamental field of study would be interest-based journalism. How to satisfy people’s interests while providing a service? Is this what people want the only thing that should drive a digital newsroom? I will look into current analytics tools, measurements, benchmarks and decision-making processes. I am particularly interested in how to incorporate the right “audience-centric” formula into newsroom without compromising the news brand. Influence, prestige and quality should be the drivers when serving readers, but news organizations have to come back to putting their readers first and include them in the decision-making process. While language and demographics are the obvious starting points, are I am interested in understanding what types of news do people read, at what time, in which platform and in which frequency. Digital allows us to measure all of these, but today’s measuring sticks are not providing real guidance to editors and reporters on a daily basis. Clicks, unique users, page views, and others units of measurement do not tell the whole story. I want to understand the role that influence, engagement, needs, and quality play in news consumption. Why do people really read what they read? One aspect that has been thoroughly analyzed and that adds to the misconception is social sharing. Do people only want to read what their friends and family are reading? Oddly, the answer seems to be “no.” What kind of a role these relationships play in news consumption and how do traditional “experts” in the newsroom influence these reading habits. Do journalists still have a role to play or should we just hook up the newsroom to computers and let the algorithms served only the news that people have declared they want?

jueves, 17 de mayo de 2012

What I do and what I am about

Since 2004 I have been involved in half a dozen newspaper launches around the world, both planning and executing the birth (or rebirth) of these publications. I have also visited a couple of dozen more newsrooms in several countries, being able to dig deep into how they go about doing their work. In the past few years, much of my work has been focused on figuring it how can so-called legacy companies navigate the new digital waters. From ‘integrations’ to ‘digital strategies’, I’ve invested a lot of time in finding the best way for traditional companies to make a transition to the new platforms. I still believe in numbers. I think news coverage requires resources. There’s definitely a business model problem for news organizations, which is mostly global. But my main concern is the lack of ability of new and old news organizations to confront the constant challenges the new digital ecosystem brings, the answer to the question: “What is our role in this new environment”. Part of that is a lack of clarity in their editorial missions. What are we? What will we cover? What won’t be cover? In this new reality – with income in short supply and a 24/7 news cycle that can devour any amount of content – it is not about being everything to everyone but about making tough choices based in what your core audience and competencies are. Sounds simple, but is it? My time at Stanford began searching for a specific, viable project. I wanted to launch “something”, a product or tool. But my prior experience had been that with a lack of tech expertise, being bogged down in a programming feat for 9 months – without me actually developing or programming – would be a waste of my time. The approach was to talk to whoever was willing to give me 5 minutes of their time. But Silicon Valley is a technology hub, not a media or news hub. So my effort was aimed at learning what I could from the energy, creativity and innovation in the area and try to apply it to established or new media companies. At the end of the fellowship I had a fairly broad framework of what a thought a “publication” of today should be like, defining publication in its broadest terms: an editorial voice distributed through multiple content platforms, in multiple formats. The conceptual image I used to develop this framework was that of “fluid news:” information that should take the shape and size the consumer is asking for, based on information consuming patterns. This is not an SEO-driven content approach; is working with the reader to inform them based on their needs and wants, times and consumer patterns, and, also and more importantly, on what they don’t know they don’t know that might enrich their daily life or their understanding of the world. On the ground, having a multiplatform, multimedia operation has specific requirements. Among them is a comprehensive content management system (CMS) that allows for seamless distribution and publication of a news organization’s content in all its platforms, in a two way-street that allows print to also publish what has been uploaded to the web or mobile first. It also requires new work flows, processes, positions, spaces, and equipment. Multidisciplinary work is not only necessary but obligatory. But most importantly, media companies have to adapt to new realities faster, adopting a new early-adoption, quick prototyping mentality that allows failure and lots of trial and error. With so many free digital platforms out there, there is no reason not to. The presentation on this website includes the different elements of the framework, a broad explanation of the concept behind it (fluid news) and a list of the qualities I consider that any publication (in its broader definition) in 2010 and going forward should have. Beyond the list of ideas and concepts, I have funded an innovation and digital journalism agency to help media companies around the world incorporate these ideas and attitudes into their daily work. Rest of the World Media aims to breach the gap between tech and news by assisting journalists in that difficult transition from tradition to the new digital realities of today.

viernes, 16 de marzo de 2012

Mis impresiones de SXSW Interactive 2012

Por primera vez pongo a votación una entrada de este blog y, afortunadamente , he recibido la luz verde de ustedes para hacerlo. El interés tiene pies, dicen. Y me interesa mucho contar cosas.
Es la cuarta vez que asisto a South by Southwest (SXSW, o South By). Como pocas conferencias, asistir da un sentido de pertenencia especial. En innumerables ocasiones escuché la pregunta: ¿Es tu primer SXSW? Ser especial entre 25,000 personas es, digamos, poco especial.
El enfoque en medios interactivos (hay otros dos: música y cine), es ya, con mucho, el imán más grande – aunque música sigue siendo el más tradicional y prestigioso. En 2008 la sección digital ocupaba únicamente el centro de convenciones de la ciudad. La semana pasada estuvo desperdigada por más de 10 locaciones. Bajo la intensa lluvia.
Mi primera experiencia en la conferencia estuvo llena de asombro. Muchos de los términos, tecnologías y empresas me eran desconocidos. Ahí escuche por primera vez hablar de Ruby on Rails, Drupal, Joomla, APIs y de una incipiente plataforma llamada Twitter. Aquí mis impresiones sobre un panel de tecnología "inalámbrica".Ese año, en una gigantesca sala a tope, escuché hablar a Mark Zuckerberg, sesión famosa porque la mitad de la audiencia se salió antes de terminar. La entrevistadora, amiga o confidente del CEO de Facebook, hartó a los asistentes con sus preguntas inocuas. El CEO de Facebook tenía 23 años. Aquí comento algunas observaciones, incluyendo el afán de las plataformas de confundir aculturación e internacionalización con traducción.
Y aquí mi resumen de SXSW 2009.
En 2012 hubiese sido inconcebible que una charla de Zuck – como le dicen sus fans – se vaciara. Mi percepción es que los asistentes de ahora persiguen a las marcas registradas, a lo conocido y famosa. Se abalanzan por los regalos – camisetas, plumas, libretas – y persiguen las fiestas, mucho más prominentes que hace unos años.
Esto no sería importante si no fuera por el hecho de que determinar los paneles y conferencia como un concurso de popularidad le da todo el foco a las marcas famosas, en detrimento de las nuevas tecnologías, ideas y empresas. Mi mayor queja este año no es el tamaño de la conferencia ni las multitudes, sino que no me enseñó nada, mucho menos me sorprendió.
Por un lado, la falta de sorpresa confirma que estoy informado y actualizado. Pero más bien indica que SXSW ya no es un lugar de descubrimiento indie, sino un destino main stream.
Este año, tuve el honor y placer, por segundo año consecutivo, de participar en un panel. Hablé, junto con otro cuatro panelistas, sobre la importancia de entender y atender a las necesidades de la audiencia: a lo que quiere y necesita saber. Tecnológicamente, es un reto complicado y emocionante, porque combina el análisis de comportamientos, de intereses y de elementos desconocidos como las noticias del minuto. Hablamos de recomendaciones sociales, algoritmos y la flexibilidad para estar preparados para cambios futuros en los gustos y comportamientos de nuestra audiencia.
Irónicamente, la conferencia que más me gustó fue la de Billy Corgan, cantante de los Smashing Pumpkins. Habló de la importancia de que los fans se responsabilicen de su admiración y que apoyen con acciones concretas – comprar música – a los artistas que admiran. Un concepto que me pareció muy transferible al periodismo: es momento ya de que los lectores, la audiencia, se comprometa con los medios y se olvide de que podrán sobrevivir si siguen dando gratis sus contenidos. Soy promotor de la red abierta porque creo que la información debe estar disponible para todos, pero también creo que la gente – desde el lector hasta el anunciante – debe asumir parte de la responsabilidad de la supervivencia de los medios de información. Gracias a un músico indie, de los 90.