Something remarkable happened this year. Something I’ve been waiting for for a long time.
News reports on the web finally started to look more and more like… well, web-native articles.
Not print articles online, not broadcast journalism online, but online journalism, online. I’m talking about journalism which isn’t just text: whether that means linking and embedding or mixing text with images, video or audio.
So what changed in 2014? Here are three factors I’ve noticed growing in influence over the last 12 months.
Twitter, Facebook and mobile: algorithms and audiences
Starting with perhaps the biggest influence of all: Twitter and Facebook love multimedia.
In the case of Facebook, having an image or video with your update can be the difference between thousands of shares, and not being seen at all: it’s built into their algorithm.
Twitter is slightly different: having an image is not (yet) a factor in their algorithm, but it is the single biggest factor in whether a tweet gets retweeted or not.
But Twitter and Facebook are just the most visible aspects of the broader move towards mobile consumption of news – and with that, the rise of visual social networks.
Most UK news organisations in 2014 have seen the majority of traffic coming from mobile (that’s phones and tablets), while research this year revealed a fifth of readers only use mobile.
In this context, having visual cues – not just once, but regularly – is key to reporting a story online. The Mail Online have been setting the style for some time now, peppering their reports with images and embedded video, creating long pages which contribute to metrics on dwell time and engagement.
Other outlets are now starting to adopt similar approaches.The Mirror, for example not only adds images and video, but entire galleries too:
Even The Independent, with fewer resources than its competitors, has been able to mix text with images and video – which takes us on to the next factor.
Skilling up: curation
Recognising that journalists should ‘do what they do best and link to the rest‘, adding curation to the job description has normalised the idea that journalism online can include material produced by people outside of your news organisation.
Content management systems increasingly reflect this, too, with embedding of tweets, video and audio getting easier – for some at least.
Which takes us on to…
Availability: from YouTube to Vine
There are not enough multimedia journalists to produce multimedia journalism. But there is, now, enough material online for journalists to incorporate into their work.
Many public organisations now maintain Flickr and Instagram accounts which act as public photo libraries. Video is distributed and archived on institutions’ YouTube channels. And it’s all sent out on Twitter and Facebook. The press release, as one Fire Service press officer told me recently, is “90% dead”. Instead, the focus is on releasing its constituent parts.
And of course the spread of mobile phones and social media platforms hasn’t just had an impact on consumption: if Instagram does now have more users than Twitter it’s not because people are sharing text updates. Vine has lowered the bar to sharing video and shaped the reporting of the Ferguson protests along the way. And SnapChat added to the mix a year ago with its ‘stories’.
It has been over a decade since commentators began talking about online journalism’s linked, multimedia promise: its ability to go beyond text, and beyond the single article. But when we talked about that we perhaps always expected it would be the journalists making all the media.
So far, that’s the exception rather than the rule.