New containers: A look at the growth of new formats in web journalism

The majority of news content we receive from mainstream news organisations comes in relatively standard containers supported by text, images and increasingly video content. The use of standard format by news organisations fits in with news organisation’s needs to deliver a constant stream of output and an attempt to keep consumers within their own ecosystem.

Typhoon Haiyan: UN launches $301m Philippines aid appeal, BBC News
Typhoon Haiyan: UN launches $301m Philippines aid appeal, BBC News

Recently we have seen a willingness on the part of a few news media organisations to experiment with different containers. The New York Times in particular is one of the pioneers with feature articles on a deadly avalanche, the neglected corners of Russia, race horse jockey Russell Baze, the fighting of wildfires and the geopolitics of the South China Sea. Other media outlets have engaged in similar efforts with leading examples including Rolling Stone on white hat hackers and the melting Greenland glaciers, the Guardian on the role of the NSA and a wildfire in Tasmania, Wired’s profile of Richard Branson, Grantland on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, ESPN’s profile of Dock Ellis, Seattle Times on ocean acidification, the NRC on the Kunsthal robbery and Pitchfork profiling Daft Punk.

Alaska Media Lab points to the use of larger images, parallax scrolling, full width pages, plentiful white space, video and scroll based events as being characteristic of these new forms.

But the new formats are as much about what has been left out. Content extraneous to the subject is typically removed including links to other content and in most cases advertising. This increases the impact of the story for readers and removes the temptation for viewers to browse to another story.

A Game of Shark and Minnow, New York Times
A Game of Shark and Minnow, New York Times

These stories though are not without their burdens. The pioneering nature of these formats mean that they typically require hosting outside media organisation’s traditional content management systems. The rich media content environment that makes many of these stories so compelling typically requires more resources from photographers, videographers, illustrators and web designers on top of the the usual diet of news reporters and editors.

The lack of links to unrelated content within the container raises the likelihood that consumers will navigate off site content when they have finished consuming the article. Finally the lack of advertising means that these containers don’t currently present a viable business model, particularly when weighed against the costs of their production.

Hopefully as these new containers become more commonplace, we will see media organisations find ways of making them pay without undoing the features that make them so attractive for the readers.

Peak Car and the Workplace: A look at potential changes in commuting and the office

David Levinson provides an interesting look at the concept of Peak Car, painting a picture of how society might look in 20 years time predicting people become less dependent on the automobile.

The blog post puts forward the view that we will be working significantly less hours in the office and spending less years in the workforce. Accommodating this change in office hours would be a further blurring of the boundaries between work and home, more flexible working practices and the adoption of technology to enable communication and collaboration outside the office (eg Yammer, Tibbr, Huddle etc).

This obviously has plenty of advantages for consumers, with long commutes associated with increased amounts of stress, divorce and other social ills.

Whether we see this come into play remains to be seen. Figures from the OECD point to a moderate decline in the average working hours in nearly all member countries including the United Kingdom — although this doesn’t amount to anywhere close to the days off work that Levinson suggests. We are also not seeing a drop in the age that people retirement among OECD countries and this is not likely to be something encouraged by governments faced with a drop in their work force dependency ratio.

We have seen the Department of Work and Pensions advocating for flexible working practices, pointing to the advantages of falls in absenteeism, increased retention rates and productivity, easier recruitment and greater employee loyalty. But this position is not necessarily unanimous given recent policy changes at Yahoo! and Hewlett Packard although discussions with Jacob Morgan suggest that these companies introduced these measures to address company specific problems.

As for the current picture,there is definitely evidence to suggest that we’ve seen a crest in traffic volumes with Transport for London showing that 1999 saw a peak in traffic flows. Whether this holds when United Kingdom returns to robust growth remains to be seen.

Traffic levels on major roads in Greater London 1993 — 2010, Transport for London, March 2012
Traffic levels on major roads in Greater London 1993 — 2010, Transport for London, March 2012

What’s happening to our newspapers…A look at the changing position of newspapers in our media landscape.

The newspaper sector is facing something of a cross roads with a general decline in readership and advertising revenues for print publications. The internet is providing a valuable alternative distribution channel to print, particularly as smartphones and tablets find themselves increasingly in the hands of UK consumers. Media Consumer Survey 2013: Love in a cold climate, Deloitte, 2013 The web though provides a mixed story on whether online advertising revenues will fill the hole. News outlets can no longer rely on their role as curator of users view on the world as consumers turn to social media and an array of services such as Flipboard and Zite to navigate around what might be important to them. This change has the potential to lead to a decrease in web traffic for the newspaper websites and also arguably increases the leverage of high profile journalists who have less need for the prestige of a newspaper byline (see the recent departure of Walter Mossberg and David Pogue as a litmus test of sorts). But all is far from lost for our traditional providers of news who aren’t simply standing still. The Daily Mail and The Guardian are both interesting examples of news organisations that are adapting to the digital age. Both organisations are embracing audiences beyond those reachable by their printing presses and have adapted their newsrooms to the always on news cycle. Results from Guardian News and Media (the Guardian and Observer’s publisher) point to an increase in online revenues that counterbalances the decline in print revenues, providing some vindication of the organisation’s digital-first strategy announced in 2011. Reassuring news, given the important role the Guardian and other newspapers have played in raising the profile of important societal to the society we live in.