News sites attract millions of readers and online audiences are on the rise, boosted by the explosion of mobile use. Big media organisations, who still dictate the rhythm of news, have invested and made apps and responsive sites.
So, isn't the digital transition old news? Why change a model that works?
I think now is a good time to ask ourselves some questions and to act. What do we want to do with online journalism? What legacy do we want to leave? It's our identity as journalists that is at stake.
Here's where I think we might be going wrong.
10. Staking everything on video – without having the resources
Video is a great example of what's wrong with the web. It's cheaper and easier to make than ever before, so people say: let's go for it, even if the quality isn't great.
Have we forgotten that there are professional broadcasters out there – and they exist for a reason?
9. Relying entirely on algorithms to spot trends – and on technology
A detailed knowledge of your audience and their behaviour is a necessity to improve their experience, but it's certainly not a reason to constantly change your editorial decisions. And predicting the future of technology will not solve the crisis facing the press.
What newsrooms are suffering from is a lack of resources, a lack of thought, and above all a lack of editorial ambition when it comes to their digital content.
We must stop fooling ourselves and over-estimating the role of new technologies in newsrooms.
We're still starting out on this discovery and the end goal remains a distant dream. The priority is to make strong editorial decisions, not scatter-gun investments in prophetic new technologies.
8. Considering the US press to be the absolute reference and unsurpassableBe careful if you want to strictly follow in the steps of our American counterpartsNicolas Becquet, L'Echo
The nature and the structure of the American audience differs greatly from Europe. Even within Europe, there are big differences between, for example, German and French media.
Be careful if you want to strictly follow in the steps of our American counterparts.
7. Outsourcing web projects and innovation – and making a religion out of data journalism
Traditional media have an annoying tendency to outsource their big digital jobs to outside agencies, often at a significant cost. Externalising innovation makes it impossible to get the wider editorial team involved in what should be a creative and stimulating process.
Looking closer at data journalism, it's clear that this practice is still very small, propped up by a handful of people who are passionate about data.
Even in big news groups, this type of work is confined to small sections or blogs. Why? Because the skills and resources needed are considerable.
It's tempting to say to managers: "You know, data journalism is worse than investigative journalism. It costs a lot, takes time and the results aren't guaranteed". But they know that already.
6. Rearranging the newsroom floor yet again to foster better print-web synergies
Bringing journalists and teams closer together, or separating them. Creating jobs like 'co-ordinator' or 'web ambassador'. All of these operational gymnastics have taken place for about a decade, with no visible impact.
How can you hope to grow new plants in a drought? How can you encourage the emergence of new ways of creating things in the middle of a pressurised workplace culture?
Thinking about the web isn't a plug-in – some sort of extension that can be activated on-demand. The failure of print-web convergence comes from the absence of a strong editorial plan, clearly identified and shared by all, in addition to a lack of resources or resistance from journalists.
5. Being in search of the single, perfect formatThe web isn't about youth, but about intelligent collaborationNicolas Becquet, L'Echo
The success of content – short, long, graphic or interactive – depends above all on the context in which it's being consumed and on its quality. Clarity and the ability to surprise are key.
One thing is for sure: we've never had so many tools at our disposal to respond to the explosion in new ways of consuming information.
4. Turning a blind eye on dysfunctional newsrooms – and staking everything on the young
During a redundancy plan, news groups shed their most experienced journalists because they're costly. But at a time when context and analysis are dominant, the experience of the most senior staff should be valued.
The web isn't about youth, but about intelligent collaboration.
Do news organisations still have what it takes to hold on to their boldest, most daring staff? Can they still attract young talent who are increasingly lured by dynamic start-ups and cross-platform projects?
Although the web has opened up vast freedom, the press has barely started loosening its corset and letting some of the best-connected people express themselves. It's a cautious opening-up of the newsroom which is not up to speed with the rest of the business world's enthusiasm and the hordes of web-ready journalists.
3. Seeing journalism as a problem cost – and paywalls as THE solutionThe best ambassadors for content are the journalists themselvesNicolas Becquet, L'Echo
It is easy for news organisations to announce record growth in digital subscribers – usually with the help of big ad campaigns and bundled offers with a free tablet thrown in. But editorial staff find there is no extra money to fund all the ambitious digital content that readers were sold.
You are not so much asking readers to pay for editorial quality, but for accessibility on all devices. You're billing them for a technical service, for simplicity, for fewer ads: "We're available on mobile – and you need to pay for that".
Otherwise, what are you planning to offer them in terms of news? Exclusive content that won't be in the print edition of the paper? Really?
2. Refusing to think like a brand
Acting like a brand means standing up and constantly proving your value, your uniqueness and the service you offer the reader, fighting to publish and sell your news.
The best ambassadors for content are the journalists themselves. It's an opportunity – and a calling.
1. Leaving the door open – and chasing after demand
It only took a few years for entrepreneurs to build what are now market-leading sites for property and other classified ads.
In every battleground that the media neglects or lets slide, there are ambitious start-ups ready to fuel the economy of tomorrow. The inertia of the press has contributed to its old-fashioned image.
Web journalists shouldn't spend their time on a hamster wheel, responding to whatever the latest online trend is. Daring to be different, calling into question the world around us, seems to me to be a more ambitious ideal than spotting the next buzz that will rack up the social media stats.
We need to find economic models that reward quality, added value and editorial decisions that swim against the tide. Our future is in what we offer, our content, our uniqueness.
Let's hope the digital transition will allow us some room to develop editorial projects and offer web-users quality content.
The founders of Journalism++ say in their manifesto: "We believe that journalism escaped newsrooms." I share their view.
Only the survival instinct in the most passionate among us will bring back editorial ambition and bring about a diversification of journalism roles.
And what, a few years ago, was an unanswered question is today a certainty: the online operations of the biggest news organisations are not currently the best places to do journalism.
Nicolas Becquet is a mobile reporting expert and a journalist on Belgian newspaper L'Echo. His website is mediatype.be. He recently shared his favourite mobile reporting tools at the International Newsroom Summit 2014, which you can find here.
Free daily newsletter
- Advice from 18 news organisations to help you tailor your story pitches
- Tip: Check out this resource for creating engaging online videos
- Tip: Bookmark this advice to get started with data journalism
- Tip: Remember this advice for understanding the origin of data used in your reporting
- Norwegian weekly newspaper Kommunal Rapport uses data journalism to build its digital presence