The Audience-Publishing Gap

The presentation of news has adapted to digital disruption through new video and online formats, but the “when” of digital content distribution has been slow to adapt, potentially limiting audience size, journalistic influence and resource optimization.

Using RSS feeds, I determined the publication schedules of a number of media companies, both new media and old. Just over 8% of articles from Quartz are published at 7am, with an additional 8% published at 11am. NYT World has a publishing peak at 5am with 10% of articles published then. The Guardian’s publishing is spread out between 2am and 2pm. Distributed content on third-party platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and more, adds complexity.

Together, this data suggests that there is an industry wide gap between when audiences read the news and when media companies publish the news to be read. It seems that many media companies continue to publish according to traditional print schedules that are irrelevant to online readers.

This could be limiting value to audiences and the media. Giving readers the right content at the right time could help publishers create more value for readers, while simultaneously increasing page views, loyalty and awareness of available content.

In the long run, media organizations must think critically about their audiences’ behaviors. Understanding audience trends and applying them to specific organizational structures — like publishing schedules — will result in more resilient and long-lasting organizations.

In journalism, there is an inherent tension between editorial independence and corporate profitability that can prevent newsrooms from taking a holistic, company-wide approach to problem solving. It is important to consider how we got to this point and what led to this mismatch when considering how to change it. It is not enough to simply identify the optimum digital publishing schedule. It is necessary to change newsroom culture to encourage and enable ongoing adaptation.

Going glocal

Growing audiences is hard and it is competitive. Adaptation to local markets can be difficult. A number of companies are looking to grow by targeting specific regions and languages, rather than assuming their existing properties will work for everyone. There are three ways this is happening: 

  1. Acquisitions, like Univision’s purchase of Fusion and Gawker Media Group (though closing the Gawker site) to move into English language news

  2. Translation, like the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and a coalition of European Publishers translating are doing

  3. Business development like the NYT’s new department (NYT Global) is doing through its LatAm news products and recent push towards Australia, and Canada


Audience first thinking is a methodology, not a goal

Too often we conflate our own objectives with that of an organisation. Recently, I've noticed this happening with audience engagement and audience first-thinking. While extremely important, it is still a means to an end, a methodology that we must try to embody. It isn't an end point. So, I made a flow chart type of thing to illustrate the point. 


Does this happen in your newsroom too?


Video does what?

Facebook wants Live Video to be the future, paying close to $50mn to celebrities and publishers to create live video and prioritizing it in their newsfeed algorithm. While Facebook may be making the most headlines right now, it’s not the only company putting the spotlight  on live video. In the last year Meerkat (now pivoted), Periscope (now owned by Twitter), YouNow and most recently YouTube and tumblr launched live streaming.

So, why is Facebook prioritizing streaming video? Because it “is looking to compete for television advertising... [and] is anxious about the future. People are sharing less about themselves, which slows Facebook’s growth and cuts at the heart of its most profitable product, the News Feed…[this] is one attempt to solve that problem.” 

Live streaming may very well be a Facebook driven play for revenue and relevance, and not necessarily a question of demand. For instance, this recent Reuters study reports that over 3/4ths of people rely on text for their news, finding it faster and more convenient than video. What’s more, these findings apply to video at large -- not just live video; a majority of people prefer text to any type of video when getting their news.

Here, we look at different video formats:

All the reports.

I have now read all the reports (well, four of the recent and biggish ones), including:

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends (aka What the audience is doing plus larger trends)

Pew: State of the News Media (aka What the industry is doing)

Reuters Institute: Digital News Report (aka What the audience says they are doing)

Tow Center: Digital News In a Distributed Environment (aka What platforms and publishers are doing with their content for the audience)

And have summarized:


Mobile use is increasing, but how people use mobile technology is changing. These changes primarily include more messaging apps, more image/photo centric systems, and more audio. For users, this leads to an increase in time-on-mobile, but a decrease in time-on-mobile spent with media companies. In turn, this has led to adoption of new mobile apps and interfaces by the news media. 

While there is an understanding that behaviors of consumers are changing, there is confusion by media on where or what to publish. Essentially, on how to adapt to these technological changes. This is particularly prominent in terms of messaging services and the use of video.

On messaging

According to Pew, very little people are getting their news through messaging services (only 1% for Line and Snapchat). At the same time that 1% of people getting news through Line is actually a third of the users on Line.

While Mary Meeker reveals strong growth of messaging apps in APAC specifically, Tow reveals that not that many publishers have moved meaningfully into publishing on APAC based messaging apps. There seems to be a disconnect between where consumption growth lies, and where Western media are focusing efforts.

On video

Users are certainly using video. Meeker notes that there are 10 billion videos viewed on Snapchat a day. But, how this relates to new consumption -- and monetization --  is less certain. A quote from the Reuters report that summarizes this: “we find evidence that most consumers are still resistant. Three-quarters of respondents (78%) say they still mostly rely on text. When pressed, the main reasons people give for not using more video are that they find reading news quicker and more convenient (41%) and the annoyance of pre-roll advertisements (35%)”