Recap: New News Order
recap: the new news order
By Jackson miles Evans
Discussing the future of Journalism with Aaron Edwards, Mobile Editor at BuzzFeed, Raquel Reichard, Politics and Culture Editor at Latina Magazine, and Joel Pavelski, Director of Programming at Mic.
On Monday, March 7th, students and professionals gathered at the NYU Steinhardt Center for Media, Culture and Communication to attend the The New News Order, a panel featuring three reporters on the frontier of digital journalism.
Aaron Edwards, Mobile Editor at BuzzFeed, Raquel Reichard, Politics and Culture Editor at Latina Magazine, and Joel Pavelski, Director of Programming at Mic, each described how the field of journalism has changed rapidly over the past five years, landing each of them in production roles that hadn’t previously existed, and highlighted the ever-changing relationship between journalism’s audience, the evolving platforms through which that audience accesses news, and the media companies who deliver the content.
The conversation opened with a video: a short explanation for how the Iowa Caucus works using narration, text, and Legos to describe the process in accessible terms aimed at a younger audience. As Mr. Pavelski described, Mic doesn’t care if these methods seem juvenile, “[we’re] trying to do anything and everything we can on just about every platform.”
Mic’s prerogative is not to emulate traditional forms of journalism, but to instead take a closer look at how target audiences, engage with media, and push itself to more deeply explore. As Mr. Pavelski put it, “how we can tweak our process to understand what’s working and what’s not.”
Aaron Edwards, Mobile Editor at BuzzFeed, described this tactic as the distributive model; a media strategy that emphasizes integration with as many platforms as possible in order to advertise and attract an audience. Companies like BuzzFeed and Mic, however, recognize that most traditional news outlets approach the distributive model in the same way: stick your traditionally successful form of journalistic storytelling on every platform you can and hope it continues to work.
What distinguishes BuzzFeed, however, is that folks like Mr. Edwards instead focus on adapting how a story is told to match the wide variety of digital platforms that exist and continue to change. According to Mr. Edwards, “for 2016 we’re looking for different ways to optimize those platforms as they come along instead of saying, ‘we’re just going to throw things everywhere and hope for the best.’”
Raquel Reichard started working with Latina Magazine less than a year ago as the publication sought to strengthen its online presence, and has found that when it comes to covering national news like the presidential campaign, “what works is focusing on the issues.”
Mr. Pavelski elaborated, “media started understanding that issues (things that are deeply felt by people and impact their daily lives) are almost like a cheat code for identifying and speaking to an audience. If you can authentically report on stories that matter to them and find ways to speak to that particular identity…there’s a built-in audience who’s hungry for the things you’re going to be producing.”
The three speakers made it clear that Mic, BuzzFeed, and Latina Magazine aren’t necessarily looking to promote a new era of journalism, but instead are taking their audiences very seriously, hoping to produce journalism that truly speaks to and for those audiences. That means meeting them on the most accessible screens and in the most convenient formats.
As Mr. Edwards described, “people like to understand where these stories are coming from. You can tell when somebody’s telling a story that’s not being told through a lens that understands you.”
He referenced situations in traditional newsrooms where, because a publication lacked diversity, the few minorities on staff were expected to “be the ambassador for an entire race of people.” Uncomfortable relationships at the foundations of traditional publications meant that diverse audiences found mainstream news untrustworthy, and as these audiences in the US continued to diversify, and as old news titans lost their monopoly on popular media outlets, these traditional publications started to struggle to connect with younger and wider audiences.
This phenomenon has grown into a common misconception: that younger people don’t care about news anymore. BuzzFeed and Mic both have challenged this trend by attracting large younger audiences with short videos optimized for social, often on mobile platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In response, these new forms of news have been criticized for being oversimplified or dumbed down. Mr. Edwards made it clear,
“I don’t believe young people are not interested in news. I think they’re frustrated by the fact that they can’t get it in the places they want to get it. I don’t think that audience wants to be talked down to. I don’t think they want things to be boiled down, dumbed down in a certain way—I think they want it to be explained, and I think they want it to be contextualized, but I think they want the whole story as well.”
Ms. Reichard agrees, and can’t stand it when folks believe content is dumbed down for certain audiences, “My audience, very much like myself, is working class people of color, and we talk differently. That doesn’t mean we talk less intelligently. And speaking to that audience in an authentic way means understanding that language.”
Mic also hopes to galvanize young and diverse readership not by forcing the same old stuff into new contexts, but by really understanding how a relationship between audiences and media outlets might form, and identifying what special ingredients are involved when the relationship seems to work well. In Mr. Pavelski’s words,
“we believe, number one, that millennials read differently—because they understand platforms and are smart and technologically savvy, so we want to meet them on those platforms and sometimes get there before they do—and then two that they think about the world differently, see issues differently. In some cases, things like gay marriage aren’t really a debate to be had anymore.”
Bottom line: the new news order isn’t a shift in journalistic style being imposed from the top down, it marks the first time in the history of journalism where success directly reflects how intimately a publication can know and understand its audience. Now that media is enjoyed from a variety of screens, some of which even make it into bed with an audience after a long hard day at work, a publication needs to learn how to navigate that intimate space in a way that is welcome and accessible.
This opens the playing field up to new publications and new forms of storytelling that can be promoted by anyone, even folks without a traditional background in news publication. “There were once these huge gatekeepers that existed,” Mr. Pavelski recalled, “the Wall Street Journal and CNN, that would say whether or not your story got in front of people because they owned audiences. They don’t own those audiences anymore, they belong to you. They belong to anybody who wants to jump on the internet and attract audiences with great shit.” And his advice for anyone looking to make a name on this new news frontier? “Don’t be precious, don’t be afraid, get out there, make some mistakes, and learn from them.”
A big thank you to our hosting partner, NYU Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, which allowed for great questions and one-on-one time with the speakers after the panel ended. If you missed the discussion, fear not. Check out video clips and the full video for more tips. Follow us at @cencom and join the conversation on Twitter, #c4c_NewNews.