Traditional news outlets have struggled with new technologies — and how quickly they should adopt them — for decades. However, they have slowly begun to realize that technology can offer a huge opportunity to increase their value and expand their reach, especially among younger people.
“When we introduce paywalls to that situation that became unsustainable, I’m not gonna pay US$20 to The New York Times, US$20 to The Washington Post and US$20 to the paper in my native home in Germany,” Best explained at the 12th Congress of Investigative Journalism in São Paulo. “When the consumption patterns change, when that happens, it is when a different model is really needed.”
Blendle, which calls itself the “iTunes of journalism,” has been working to convince publishers that they are not foes, but friends — and to convince audiences that journalism has value and to keep that way, we have to pay for it. Blendle already has big players on its directory, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME and The New Yorker.
“Spotify is an example — I can get all this music for free on YouTube, but for me, Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature [makes it worth paying for]. It’s the only thing I need to find new music,” Best said. “So, when you move forward about the payment, especially in a market like the U.S. or Brazil where so much content is free, then you start to see a culture switch. I already pay for music and pay for TV and it is awesome, so maybe I will also pay for news.”
Best explained that Blendle’s success — only 7 percent of articles purchased through the platform are refunded — happened because European audiences were already used to paying for news. That is not the reality in Brazil yet. Some of its biggest newspapers are trying to change that culture — but they know that to make online news profitable, they have to produce great journalism.
“We organized a central desk where an integration editor looks at all the brands we have here, and three executive content editors who work in shifts,” he explained. “In a digital production, [the production flow] has to be 24/7.”
“I’m very interested in micro-modular formats,” Zarracina said. “In this digital economy, people have very short time, so it’s very important for us, as storytellers, to synthesize the news, because you only have a second to seduce the reader and bring them to your story.”
One example of Vox.com’s micro-modular format is its “The Week Explained” section on Instagram.
“They are finding the stories on social media, and then they go to the website to find more information,” Zarracina explained. “We create the engagement here.”
When it comes to video, Vox.com has more than 2.5 million YouTube subscribers, while The New York Times has about 900,000 — a difference that highlights Vox.com’s fundamentally different approach to digital video, Zarracina said.
“I think we have different target audience and different mission,” Zarracina said. “I admire the journalism that traditional media is doing, but I think they have to follow the new circle. … There is this idea that you can do video for cable TV or the web, but I think they are distinct productions. So you have to adapt your process to the story that you want to tell.”
And technology can help tell these stories in a seductive way. Erica Anderson, head of immersive storytelling at Google News Lab, said she is optimistic about the changes in journalism in a digital world.
“It is a tremendous opportunity for journalists, editors, producers and news executives to take advantage of,” Anderson said. “At Google News Lab, we are focused on driving innovation in journalism; the idea is to bring journalism and technology together.”
Virtual reality (VR) journalism gives the audience autonomy to create their own story. During the congress, Google News Lab launched a VR study which interviewed 27 early-adopter consumers and nine creators and they change their perspective about storytelling to “storyliving.”
“Journalism is not defined by technology, or by techniques, it is defined by the function of informing people. So, how can technology and virtual reality help us with that function? I think this [study] will help journalists to understand the public and the content is going to be better and better.”
Images taken by Alice Vergueiro for Abraji.