Money. Money is what follows audience engagement.
After a busy conference season in the European media world (five conferences in four countries in four weeks), one thing has become increasingly clear. News media are cooking up some healthy engagement and participation in their online communities.
Whether it's through crowdmapping dangerous cycling routes in London, crowdsourcing fly tipping photos in Norfolk, or using "applied game dynamics" to attract and retain a network of eyewitnesses, there are now many thought-provoking use cases for news media practicing "open journalism". (here's a great collection of use cases from Storyful's Claire Wardle, @cward1e)
What there is not, however, is a clear list of ideas for how to fund this kind of open journalism.
So, I've collected some here for those interested in pursuing audience participation, and finding a way to make it pay.
Andrew Miller, CEO of the Guardian (arguably the media house leading the push for open journalism), explained the business case for open journalism at the Digital Media Europe conference in London:
Open delivers progressives, forward-looking individuals who are curious about the world and embrace change and technology.
Progressives, Miller believes, are a particularly attractive demographic for advertisers, both locally in the UK and globally. However, as we know, the Guardian is in a pretty unique situation commercially, and thus can afford to wait more patiently than most for this strategy to start paying off. (You can download a summary of Miller's presentation for the cost of a tweet)
A more concrete opportunity for funding media's community efforts was shared by Anette Novak (@anettenovak) at the Newsroom Summit in Hamburg. In her presentation titled "7 new colleagues in the newsroom - that you didn't know you needed but should have hired yesterday", the former editor of Swedish regional newspaper Norran highlighted a number of positions related specifically to the community. One she mentioned has a very clear business case, Editorial Events Director. She explains:
Saying you want to do something good for the region gets sponsors excited and they often pay more. We doubled revenue from an advertiser over one year doing this.
The idea of hosting events is not new for news organisations, although perhaps it is underemployed as a revenue generator. And I suspect that of those news media that do organise events, many haven't taken a very collaborative approach to covering the event. There is a great deal to be gained by inviting the reader community to participate in an event, then encouraging readers to share their experiences (photos, videos, highlights, reviews). It can give the news organisation fresh content to drive traffic, and make readers feel their contributions are valued, thus leading them to become more loyal contributors. And if the event is pro-region, as Novak suggests, it can also attract new sponsors to spend more money. (Teaser: I'm putting together a list of ideas for community-oriented editorial events for an upcoming post)
Other titles from Novak's new newsroom colleagues list included Chief of Crowd Creativity and Community Journalism Educator. The thinking is, that by better directing crowd contributions, and educating them on how to contribute high quality content, the editorial operation can produce richer journalism in collaboration with its audience.
Richer journalism is perhaps not a business case in itself, but more involved, more loyal readers who consume and produce more news, can be tracked and potentially monetised. In fact, it's something Aron Pilhofer (@pilhofer), Editor of Interactive News told me The New York Times is actively tracking right now, they're quantifying just how much more valuable a collaborating reader is than one who simply reads. And they're finding that there's not one funnel of engagement, but multiple engagement trajectories.
The aim of iwitness24 is to not only capture reader content but to make our audience genuinely feel a part of our news-gathering process...This is all about developing a strong, loyal readership base that will stick with us into the future because it feels totally engaged with our newspapers.
At my last conference of the season here in Paris, I heard a first for monetising community journalism when Felix Bellinger of Axel Springer presented Hamburger Abendblatt's Mein Quartier project. For a full write up of the project, read Rachel McAthy's (@rmcathy) piece on Journalism.co.uk, but here's the gist: Abendblatt invited 25 students and volunteers to cover 7 local neighborhoods in the German city of Hamburg. For this first phase of the project, the content was made available for free outside Abendblatt.de's premium offer. In phase 2, editors will join the volunteers to report from all 104 districts of Hamburg.
And here's the kicker: Bellinger explained that this local content is a unique offer from Abenndblatt.de, and so will go behind the paywall. Yes, for the first time I'm aware of, user generated content will actually be packaged with professional journalism as a premium product. There are also plans to release a book at the end of the year with all the reports from Mein Quartier, which is yet another way to collect a little revenue back from community journalism.
Success by design
If audience engagement initiatives aren't conceptualised and executed in collaboration with the commercial department, tracking their commercial success becomes an afterthought. If a strong business case is to be made for open, community-oriented journalism and audience engagement, the key is simple: get a commercial person right in there with the community managers and social media editors. Encourage them to work together to monetise the content contributed, and connect sponsors with the community in ways that engage. (Watch us discuss this on a Columbia Journalism Review panel called The future of news: collaboration)
The challenge of using audience engagement to drive revenue is being met head on by some forward-thinking media. And just like the paywall dilemma, there is no one-solution-fits-all answer. Perhaps the best way to explore these new revenue opportunities is to follow the advice of the founder of Google News (as tweeted by BBC's Online Editor Steve Herrmann @BBCSteveH):