Changes ahead
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From opportunities to engage communities more directly in the creation of content, to gathering and using audience data to make better editorial decisions, there are many ways journalists can maximise digital platforms to deliver content more effectively.

These considerations were just some of the subjects discussed by a panel at City University London on Tuesday (28 January) night.

The discussion, called 'new ways of doing journalism', involved a panel featuring Luke Lewis, editor of BuzzFeed UK, Andrew Jaspan, founder and chief executive of The Conversation, Anette Novak, chief executive of the Interactive Institute in Stockholm and Sarah Hartley, managing director of Talk About Local.

The focus of many of the points centred on the community, whether that was how they can be involved in the creation or sharing of a story, through to what newsrooms can learn from their digital footprints through a news site.

Here are five key takeaways from the discussion:

Engage the community around content

Earlier this month the Guardian Media Group announced the launch of a new platform called Contributoria, – which we looked at late last year – which is being managed by Talk About Local's Sarah Hartley, alongside Matt McAlister from the Guardian and Rev Dan Catt, a freelance developer.

The platform aims to make it possible for journalists to share ideas for stories, and then hopefully raise the funds to support their pursuit. It then continues to act as a collaborative editing platform. Less than a month since it launched in beta, Contributoria has "attracted hundreds of members" Hartley said at last night's event.

And she questioned why journalists "rely on big news organisations to carry out that role for us".

"That's why Contributoria was launched", she explained. She also highlighted other digital projects the Guardian has been involved in which engage the community in content creation, such as the user-generated content app Guardian Witness and noticeboard platform n0tice.

Encourage greater transparency

A common theme among many of the panellists was the need for more transparency on the part of journalists and publishers, more and more at the demand of the online community.

Anette Novak questioned whether any journalists would "change the way you work" were they to work in a theoretical glass building where anyone on the outside could see in.

"We do a lot of shortcuts and this is no longer possible when you work there", she said, adding that the audience "no longer buy our shortcuts".

Andrew Jaspan, founder of The Conversation, which publishes comment by academics and recently launched in the UK having already established itself in Australia, said that its platform requires all writers to share a 'disclaimer' which runs alongside any content they have published.

This should highlight "whether they've got any conflicts whatsoever which may influence the way they may write the article", he said. The contributors to The Conversation are not "directly" paid for their articles, he explained, but "95 per cent of everything we raise goes into editors", who manage the output.

He also stressed the importance of trust between outlet and audience, adding that there is "a thirst out there for trusted information", while Hartley added that audiences are "quite rightfully asking for more transparency".

Make more of audience data

Many news outlets are using third-party tools as well as their own platforms to measure, monitor and take meaning from audience data, both in terms of how readers interact with content on their own site, as well as how they discover and interact with it on external platforms such as social media.

On BuzzFeed different data points are available, so journalists can see how content is performing. One key metric is 'social uplift', which Luke Lewis explained as "the proportion of traffic that's come from social sharing, compared with the traffic coming from the homepage".

He added that journalists should "use data wherever you can, don't be scared of it".

Novak also stressed the value of audience data to online publishers, a value she said is currently not being maximised by many.

"At the moment media companies are selling it out to companies that sell it out to us, rather than using the data to take intelligence out of it."

Instead, she added, they should be taking insights from it to "understand what the audience want", and deliver "more relevant content" as a result.

One area of audience data to bear in mind is where audiences are finding and consuming your content.

For BuzzFeed, mobile makes up more than 60 per cent of its traffic, Luke Lewis told the audience at last night's event, "so that's really key".

This means each piece of content needs to configure nicely on a mobile, and so consider how embedded content might look when viewed on a smaller screen, he advised.

Think about shareability

With BuzzFeed in the room, the subject of shareable content soon emerged into the discussion, with Luke Lewis highlighting the power of visuals in particular as often a key component in the shareable success of a story.

"Famously, BuzzFeed articles tend to be built on the images," he explained. This strategy is not only successful for what may be the more well-known of BuzzFeed's output, its humourous lists, but "works well in news too". We have also previously reported about BuzzFeed's findings on shareability in the fields of long-form journalism and breaking news.

Of course headlines also play a big role in the shareability of a story, in whether it makes you and your social network want to click on it and pass it on.

And "it's not a sin to care about headlines," Lewis added, as long as the headline is not making promises it cannot keep.

Otherwise, there is "nothing to be ashamed of in optimising headlines in that way".

Question the unlikely

Another big issue for digital journalists today is whether to believe content being passed around on social media. Earlier today we published excerpts from the Verification Handbook, which includes an extensive list of tools journalists can use to verify content.

Lewis told journalists to "be alert to hoaxes", adding that the situation has "got worse since image previews" appeared in the Twitter timeline.

"People retweet without thinking," he said, adding that "retweets turn into news stories...and these news stories spread".

But for those with a keen eye for a hoax, "debunking a viral picture in itself can be viral", he said.

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