Why How You Do What You Do Matters
Journalism is a public service and a reader service.
When I first heard that BuzzFeed was building a news app, I knew it was something I had to do.
But maybe not for the reasons you think.
It wasn't because I'm a super techy person (tbh, I'm an early adopter by training and not inclination). It wasn't because I just wanted to work for BuzzFeed and saw an opening or because I saw it as a pathway to the job I ~really~ wanted.
It’s because I love journalism.
And I fell in love with it in the nerdiest possible way — that whole Fourth Estate thing. Even though I'm not a wide-eyed journalism student anymore, I'm still inspired by the power and impact of the profession. I believe in it wholeheartedly and want to see it flourish.
Of course this passion could take many forms. But I was drawn to mobile because I think the platform presents a whole new opportunity for journalism to thrive — both through what we build and how we approach what we build.
I’ve written before about the shifting dynamics in the news industry — sorry, newspaper editors, you’re not king anymore. Your audience is.
But years of monarchy have led to what I see as one of the fundamental problems with journalism today: The notion that the goal is to just get it out there.
Journalism is a hard job, and there are a lot of boxes to check for every journalist every day. But, for the most part, the industry is stopping a couple boxes short. The last box being checked widely is pretty much: "Did I get the news out there as quickly as possible without any factual errors?" Those are both laudable and necessary tasks. But we shouldn't stop there.
We need to say to ourselves: “Does the reader truly understand what is going on?”
This is certainly being done, but largely in a format that is making less and less sense on the internet. The context for the news is not easily at your fingertips — it's buried in an article that your readers need to tap on from an app that's been modeled off a format not native to mobile.
Mobile is personal and useful. News is personal and useful.
But turning a homepage into an app doesn't capitalize on this. Neither does sending unnecessary and/or confusing push alerts that further your goals but not the reader's.
The BuzzFeed News app has all the ~serious~ and ~important~ news you need to know, but we don't make it feel like work.
We think of our audiences first — and audiences are busy, don't care what's important to a news organization, and might not be able to easily wade through your jargon or immediately understand why they should care about a certain story.
So #teamnewsapp has gone the extra mile — in both our push alerts and in the app — to give context, to make sure you understand, to write the news in a way you might tell it to a friend. And to make sure you appreciate the whole experience of receiving it.
This is an important accomplishment in today’s media climate — one that, as a journalist, I’m proud to have been a part of.
When they're approached the right way, products can fulfill a core principle of journalism.
And just like you shouldn't leave that understanding box unchecked, don't leave that distribution box unchecked either. And I don't just mean you need to pursue a ~distributed~ social publishing strategy, though I advocate for that as well.
Think about the wealth of information your news organization has. How can you work harder every day to deliver it in a more useful way to your audience?
Maybe it's creating a new app. Maybe it's offering new channels within your main app to deliver different types of push alerts to audiences that care about that topic. (Much like you have various Twitter accounts.) Maybe it's a newsletter with the purpose of helping readers a) know what's going on in the world, and b) gain a better understanding of it (instead of just try to get them to click through to your site).
Journalism isn’t just a public service. It’s also a reader service.
And if we as journalists don't treat it as such — if we don't send push alerts that increase reader knowledge and understanding, if we don't use the technology at our disposal to tell stories in new and different ways and find paths to get it to readers in a meaningful way — then we're not fulfilling our potential or our mission.