My five takeaways from the Journalism.co.uk news:rewired digital journalism conference

On Wednesday I joined scores of journalists from around the world for the news:rewired digital journalism conference organised by the good folks at Journalism.co.uk.

As always there were plenty of great speakers, representing organisations including The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Facebook and BuzzFeed, and lots to think about as the digital revolution continues to disrupt and challenge the business of news.

Each of the sessions that took place in London this week are covered in depth on the news:rewired website, but here are the five things I took away from the conference:

Handing a stranger your smartphone is kinda weird

The keynote speech was delivered by David Ho, editor for mobile, tablets and emerging technology at The Wall Street Journal, and it was a rallying cry for journalists and organisations to pursue ‘moonshots’ – bold experiments that will push the boundaries of what’s possible in digital storytelling. During his talk David asked everyone to unlock their smartphone and pass it to the person sat to their right. You could feel the nervous energy in the room as people handed over this portal to their life to, in many cases, a complete stranger. This was a great piece of audience participation, and it really rammed home the message that when we interact with an audience on mobile we are entering a truly personal space.

Don’t mistake ‘websites’ for ‘digital’

I haven’t seen any metrics, but I imagine the quote above from David’s keynote was probably one of the moments from the conference that really caught fire on Twitter. It’s a sentiment some may, without context, interpret as a prediction of the triumph of print, but David elaborated to make a really great point: websites as they exist now are not necessarily a long-term platform for delivering news. Of course digital is here to stay, but the web is evolving to become a channel for other platforms and experiences. Now is the time for news organisations to make those ‘moonshots’ and work out what comes next.

Think user context when creating for mobile

Stijn Lehaen from Belgian broadcaster VRT’s ‘start-up’ division gave an interesting talk about how his organisation is innovating in an attempt to reach a younger demographic he described as the ‘YouTube generation’. While talking about creating short video for consumption on platforms such as Instagram, Stijn made a great point about the need to think about how, where and when content will be consumed on mobile. His team ensures the videos they create can still be clearly understood even when the sound is muted because users are often consuming in places where playing with the volume up wouldn’t be appropriate. It was a great lesson in putting yourself in the shoes of the audience to ensure their experience is satisfying however – and wherever – they are consuming your content.

Be genuine – users will call you out online

It was great to learn more about how journalists are using Reddit to find and share stories as this isn’t a platform I’ve ever really explored. Reddit communications director Victoria Taylor gave some really impressive figures that point to a highly-engaged audience, with the average user spending 20 minutes on site each visit and coming to the site three times a day. There was also a warning for unwitting journalists venturing into the Reddit universe: be transparent because the community will find you out if you try to play tricks. Identify yourself from the outset and if you are sourcing content for stories be honest about how it will be used.

We’re all at different stages on the digital journey

Often at these conferences it is tempting to imagine everyone in the industry is innovating at the bleeding edge of digital news, so sometimes it is useful to be reminded that we are all progressing at different speeds. One delegate admitted that his news organisation is not really doing any work with analytics, which I imagine shocked many people who spend their days poring over the numbers trying to gain a better insight into their audience and how their content is performing. I thought it was a good illustration of the fact that we all have new skills to acquire and new tools to put to work, the important thing is to be open to experimentation and be willing to learn.

For more about the conference and future events follow news:rewired on Twitter and visit the news:rewired website.

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