the transition to digital journalism
Websites and Engagement
For news media organizations, the focus on Web 2.0 tools and strategies that gathered momentum in the mid-2000s has mainly been about using the Internet to distribute stories to and participate in a larger network. Blogs, widgets, social networks, mobile devices, etc. are being used to reach people wherever they are engaged on the Internet.
Also important is the need to create news websites that are engaging and draw people to them. This is reminiscent of discussions that occurred back in the 1990s over "push versus pull" strategies for online news sites, which then meant pushing out content via email story feeds or, in the case of the Pointcast service, delivering news stories to a desktop application, versus pulling people to more in-depth stories and content on news websites.
Pulling people to news websites serve two important functions:
- More in-depth stories and richer content can be published on a website than in the relatively short snippets of information distributed to people via mobile devices, on YouTube and Flickr, or through blogs and micro-blog postings. Providing deeper content fulfills the public service function of journalism and can help form online communities at news websites where people can gather to discuss issues of importance to their communities, both geographic and topical.
- Attracting a loyal audience of repeat users to a news website offers a way to monetize journalistic content by selling that dedicated audience to advertisers. Creating a viable business model for online content has been a particular challenge for news organizations, with web site advertising rates, as measured by CPM's or costs per thousand views/impressions, usually a fraction of what can be charged for a print or broadcast product.
The problem of generating revenue from news content is exemplified in the struggles of newspapers. Most newspapers boasted big increases in unique visitors to their websites from 2004 - 2009, due in part to their distributing links to their stories via blogs, social networks and other Web 2.0 techniques.
But most of those new visitors dive in, glance at a single story and then leave (behavior referred to as a website's "bounce rate"), spending little time on the newspaper's website and developing no sense of loyalty to it.
Time Spent Online and Engagement
Thus while the total number of unique visitors and pageviews at the newspaper websites has been increasing from 2004 - 2009, the average time spent by each person on a site declined.
Check Editor & Publisher for their monthly reports on time spent at top newspaper sites and reports by the Newspaper Association of America on newspaper website audiences, especially the average time spent per month on newspaper websites.
Time spent online at a newspaper website is also only a fraction of the time people spend reading a print newspaper.
A visitor spends an average of a little over 1 minute per day on a newspaper website. Compare that with the 27 minutes per day that newspaper readers say they spent perusing the print product on a weekday, and 57 minutes on Sundays, according to a 2008 survey by Northwestern University's Research Institute.
At the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism where we operate three local news sites in Bay Area communities we've seen the same pattern - increasing traffic inevitably results in a decline in the average time spent online.
Here's the data on monthly pageviews and vistors' average time on site at our three sites in Spring 2010:
203,000 page views
The more successful a site is as measured by pageviews, the less successful it is in engaging people for longer periods of time on a site.
Part of the problem with engagement is due to when people tend to access online news sites. Traffic data from many sites, including the ones we run at the UC Berkeley Journalism School, shows that most people are going to the sites while at work. Thus traffic increases steadily starting in the early morning, peaks around noon or a little afterward, and then steadily declines through the rest of the afternoon and evening.
On Saturdays and Sundays, most sites report a huge drop-off in traffic compared with weekdays.
So a lot of news content is being consumed by people in between tasks at work, rather than during leisure time.
Increasing leisure time spent at news sites and developing engaged and loyal audiences requires creating more focused and in-depth topical content and making use of multimedia and digital tools like databases, games and online communities and social media to engage people.
Resources and Readings
- Times Extra Aims to Reclaim the Digital Page One - Ken Doctor, Content Bridges, 1/29/2009
- Staking out newspaper survival in Web analytics - Online Journalism Review, 7/21/2009 - measuring online engagement to attract advertisers
- NAA/Nielsen stats show newspapers own less than 1 percent of U.S. online audience page views, time spent - Nieman Journalism Lab, 8/5/2009
- NYT’s Nisenholtz’s Speech: The Importance Of Engagement - paidContent, 4/30/2010
- NAA finds a more favorable website stats vendor — but misses the readership shift to mobile news - Nieman Journalism Lab, 10/19/2010. Includes an analysis of time spent online at newspaper websites.
- News Journal online readers drawn to crime, controversy - Mansfield News Journal, 12/30/2010.
- Infographic: How Print Vs. Online News Consumption Compares - PaidContent, 4/28/2011
- Navigating News Online: Where People Go, How They Get There And What Lures Them Away - Pew Research Centers Project for Excellence in Journalism, 5/9/2011
- Few news orgs cross the ‘Continental Content Divide’ between social and immersive journalism - Poynter Online, 8/9/2011. Story about Edelman Digital report on two different digital strategies by news organizations: embracing social networks vs. in-depth immersive storytelling
- New research finds 92 percent of time spent on news consumption is still on legacy platforms - Rick Edmonds, Biz Blog, Poynter, 5/13/2013