In digital journalism, the article is no longer an end in itself. Quite the contrary, it's an entry point to the depths and riches of the web, and a significant contributor to the revenue stream.
Last week in Paris, I met the representative of a major US tech firm in charge of content-based partnerships. This witty, fast-thinking young engineer toured European capitals for an upcoming web + mobile platform, meeting guys like me in charge of digital operations in large media companies. Our discussion quickly centered on the notion of article in the digital world. Like many of his peers (I can't name them otherwise you might triangulate with whom I spoke), he looked at the journalistic article in an old-fashioned way: a block of text, augmented with links here and there, period.
This no longer is how it works -- or how it should work.
There are many forms of digital journalistic contents. They range from the morning briefing you'll eat up on your smartphone while inhaling your breakfast, or during your commute to work, to the long-form piece aimed at lean-back reading, preferably on a tablet and with a glass of chilled chardonnay. In between, there is the immense output of large media outlets that create good original content, hundreds of pieces every day.
If we draw a quick matrix of contents vs time and devices, chances are it will look like this:
As the graph shows, in a ideal world, a news stream should be broken into multiple formats to fit different devices at different times of the day. Of course, the size of the bubbles depicting usage intensity varies by market.
Three notes: the smartphone appears as the clear winner with high usage, spread all over the day; tablets enjoy the largest scope of contents (plus the highest engagement). As for the PC, it has been evicted as a vector for mainstream, general news. Still, thanks to its unparalleled capabilities and penetration as a productivity tool, the PC retains the most of the business uses. Consequently, the news read on a PC, largely in the context of a professional use, carry a greater value -- as long as the article is linked to three different functions:
First as an audience concentrator from multiple sources, see here:
Second, by building a system in which the article becomes an entry point to the web's depths, i.e. to the trove of publicly and freely available databases. To get an idea of the open web's riches, see the image below and click this link to dive into it:
This two-year old graph was designed by University of Berlin computer scientists. All these datasets are up for grabs by editors and publishers willing to expand their contents. Every single piece of news can be greatly augmented by hundreds of datasets orbiting around the DNpedia Knowledge Base (part of the Wikipedia Project.) According to its official description, the English version of DPpedia describes 4 million objects, including:
- 832,000 persons
- 639,000 places (including 427,000 populated places)
- 372,000 creative works (including 116,000 music albums, 78,000 films and 18,500 video games)
- 209,000 organizations (including 49,000 companies and 45,000 educational institutions), 226,000 species
- 5,600 diseases.
- When extended to the 119 available languages, the number of objects rises to 25 million.
The third way to raise the value of editorial contents is to use the article as a promotional vehicle for a broad set of ancillary products that media organizations should develop:
(Needless to say, in this chart, Church and State must remain separated: the article is to be a journalistic product, aimed primarily at informing the public; the "promotional" aspect being only secondary.)
Until now, connecting to multiple datasets and up-selling extra products weren't priorities for most legacy media. The main reasons are well-known: insufficient technological culture and investments -- which left the field totally open to pure players that made a modern, productive use of both datasets and new commercial channels. Things are changing though. Slowly.