The top 4 comebacks in journalism

by Henrik Stahl
Oct 30, 2018 in Digital Journalism

Trends. They come and they go, right? Well, most of the time they come, they go — and they come back. It’s true for horror movies, it’s true for fashion, and it’s definitely true for cellphones. It’s also true for journalism.

One of the most obvious examples is article length. For a long time, from the earliest days up until the 1980s or 90s, newspapers consisted of huge amounts of text and very few images.

Then came the tabloids and the popular magazines, which focused more on visual presentation, shortening texts in favor of images and design. A trend that carried on into the digital age of journalism, and that was accentuated in mobile’s sudden takeover of desktop. On small screens, people want less text, we figured.

And then, out of nowhere, longreads made a sudden return, quickly becoming the most-read format on many platforms (for instance, on Medium the ideal reading length of a post is seven minutes — they capture the most attention).

Aside from this obvious example, there are other contemporary trends that are actually old trends experiencing a renaissance.

1) Customized content management systems

In the early days of the digital age, external content management systems, which nowadays are crucial components of every digital newsroom, were hard to come by. In fact, they were practically non-existent. Newsprint CMS’s rarely had web integration and manually editing the HTML pages was inefficient. Therefore, many newspapers who early adopted the WWW created some sort of publishing software on their own.

Soon, these custom and not-so-easy-to-maintain systems were outrun by new solutions offered by dedicated software companies.

Now that news companies have finally come round to digital transformation, we’re back at square one, with a breed of content management systems such as Arc and Scoop and Chorus and Media OS and SMP as a result.

2) Email newsletters

Emails experienced a dramatic decline during the 21st century. And many publishers who by the 2010s still operated email newsletters considered them more of a necessary evil than an enriching, potentially profitable customer service. Eventually, Slack and others came along, propelling the importance of chat communication tools.

But no one has really been able to make the good ol’ email obsolete. And thus, email newsletters are now more popular than they have been for a while.

How did that happen? What propelled the email newsletter from a tool considered half-dead to a proposed savior of online audience development?

It’s quite simple: people do more reading on mobile (both on particular websites and emails) than they did 10 years ago. Websites are getting a lot faster than they were 10 years ago. And the in-app web views are significantly faster than they were ten years ago. All these factors work in favor of the email newsletter. Reading articles on mobile in the same app where you read your email is a lot smoother than it used to be. And that’s why we like email newsletter so much better than we used to.

3) User engagement features

During the 2000s, many publishers maintained forums for user-discussions, and in the latter half of the decade, a lot of custom-built comments features were developed. Right up until the implementation of the article comments section — where all hell broke lose.

Comments sections and forums were soon shut down again, and media companies distanced themselves once again from the users — leaving a vacuum that was soon to be filled by hungry social media platforms such as Facebook (some publishers now use the Facebook comments box plugin, or other external solutions). Even the polls slowly faded away.

Now that Facebook and Google are on the verge of taking control of the entire media sector (yes, I’m exaggerating — but only a little bit), user engagement features are making a fast-paced and powerful comeback among publishers. To some extent, we have Slack to thank for that.

4) Bots

You might have never even noticed them — but automated tasks (the precursor of the bot) have always been a part of digital journalism. These “robots” have populated content management systems for a long time, quietly performing simple yet crucial tasks, such as page version cleanups, synchronizing other types of media (such as video) from external sources, updating charts and tables, and so on and so forth.

Messaging bots (and Twitter bots!) have also been in use for a long time. In its early days though, the messaging bot was mostly known for providing generic, not-always-that-helpful answers on company websites. Ever tried asking a silly question to an e-commerce chat bot? Then you know what I mean.

This abridged article originally appeared on Thoughts On Journalism. Henrik Ståhl is a journalist with more than 15 years of experience, recently turned Product Owner at Bonnier News.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via WCN 24/7.