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Four trends for the future of digital news
Digital strategist Amy Webb shared her vision of the how news organisation should go about their work in the future at the Global Editors Network Summit in Barcelona
From computer-assisted reporting to wearable technology, Webb, who is the founder and CEO of Webmedia Group, talked about the specific trends she believes editors should be focussing on for the remainder of the year.
Introducing a presentation that concentrated largely on trends in technology rather than editorial, she called for news outlets to stop referring to themselves as "digital-first organisations"
Instead, she said, outlets should start calling themselves "tech-organisations".
"The reason is because the most successful media organisations, the ones with whom you are competing, don't actually produce any news," she added.
"So I want you to think about how news content is distributed."
Here are Webb's four trends for the future of digital news.
In newsrooms where resources may be becoming increasingly stretched, computer-assisted reporting can enable journalists to concentrate on the more analytical aspects of a story, said Webb.
She used the example of a story about an earthquake which hit Los Angeles earlier this year, which was written by a bot and made the homepage of the LA Times website.
The story "gave out just enough information that people needed to know", said Webb, and was later updated and re-written by LA Times journalists more than 70 times.
"It became a wonderful tool to help the journalists do the more complicated work," she said.
"The bot essentially did what, in the old days of news organisations, the assistant reporter would do, when they would go out to collect all of the information, put it together and give it to the senior reporter within the newsroom."
"A lot of newspaper companies no longer have that additional staff and it's the advanced journalists who have to do all of these jobs together, so having this bot do that pre-reporting really made the newsroom much more efficient."
2. Customer-centric design
News outlets were currently pre-occupied with how their content worked across platforms, said Webb, an approach which "puts the device ahead of consumer".
Instead, she explained, they place more focus on reader habits for consuming content, especially in the context of time and place.
"Is she commuting? Is she at the gym? Is she eating dinner?" Webb said of the questions news outlets should be asking of their readers.
"What are her content tastes and preferences? Studying her behaviour, what can we learn about her? And what kinds of content can we deliver to her at this moment in time?"
"News can go anywhere, news is extremely portable but it's not just portable because of the devices."
New outlets should aim to develop news content for the "moment in time" that readers are interacting with it said Webb, as well as developing content to meet users intellectual and emotional needs.
A good example of customer-centric design is the Nuzzel app, said Webb, which aggregates content based on who a user interacts with on Twitter.
By highlighting content based on a user's interests and relationships on Twitter, the app not only appeals to EQ but also IQ, by showing the most popular news content.
Webb highlighted Google Now as a good example of how the cards format can be used to feature snackable, swipeable pieces of content.
"Google has really mastered the art of using the right format to tell the story using your content," she said.
"What Google did was that they were responding to smaller and smaller screen sizes, but rather than trying to take that story the way it's always been told, they came up with a different way to display information in a way that made much more sense to the consumer."
Other examples of where cardification has been used by news outlets include Facebook Paper and the new Guardian app.
While Webb believes cards were a “terrible design” for longer news stories, she said they were a good design template for explainer journalism sites such as Vox.com
She added that cards allow you to get “very smart, very fast, and get you the information that you need”.
4. Cognitive computing
If you search for something on Google, as you type the search engine will suggest results to try to predict what you are searching for, noted Webb.
This anticipatory function could also be adapted by news outlets to help users find the content they are searching for, she said.
"Search is one of the key problems for just about every news news website", she said.
"Because the search engines were not built by you, they were built by other people and sort of tacked on at the last minute.
If people want to learn more about a story, but cannot easily access it on your site, they are likely to go somewhere else, she explained.
"You could use a lot of this technology going forward with your news for a news app, for example, if you're searching on ISIS but can't remember what that is, or who the conflict groups are, suddenly [users] would start getting that information without having to search for it."
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