I often refer to the current state of the Information Age as a great wasteland of white noise. Millions of people are screaming at the top of their lungs. Very few are saying anything worthwhile.
Yet if the trends we’re seeing now continue, the white noise era may begin to wane.
The Internet makes it possible for any of us to communicate with the entire world in a single second. The upside of social media is our ability to reach so many people. The downside is most of us have very little constructive to say.
In our business, what we say and how we say it are equally important. The vetting process that turns random information into a well-researched news story hasn’t changed. What has seemingly changed is the public’s appetite for credible news from established sources.
Last month Waco hosted the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors convention, a gathering of most of the editors from Texas’ daily newspapers. Among the presentations was a session by the American Press Institute on the changing habits of online readers. The Trib’s online audience continues to grow, even as our print circulation has stabilized in recent years. Online story consumption here is up 32 percent this year, so the API presentation was of high interest.
Among the promising takeaways API shared was the accelerating trend of younger readers turning to traditional sites — like newspapers — as the principal source of news. Our numbers have reflected a sharp, sustained increase in traffic to our website, so to see research that backs up that trend is gratifying.
It also underscores what we’ve been preaching for a long time: social media and news are different animals but not mutually exclusive. We use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to online audiences with news stories and information written by our staff. Younger audiences get their news from social media, so when we send out a notice and the story piques their interest, they click the link and check it out.
Daily e-mail blasts essentially contain the entire content of the newspaper, sent to your desktop for consumption at your convenience.
What these all have in common is they “click” you back to wacotrib.com, our website. It is our digital newspaper and it is fed virtually 24 hours a day.
The old model of preparing a selection of news stories, printing it in the paper and delivering it to your doorstep has changed. Our print newspaper serves our traditional audience, our website a younger, more tech-savvy crowd.
The API research also pointed to a return to long-form journalism. According to surveys, readers engage more with longer stories online, especially when we include different elements like video with them. That’s good to see. Our newsroom is blessed with some very good storytellers, and the digital world presents them with a new, exciting playing field.
Our credibility is our most valuable asset. And while no one is immune to mistakes, news outlets who have persevered in the Buzzfeed era and maintained a strict and objective vetting process for news are beginning to be rewarded by consumers young and old alike.
The white noise era of dubious journalism is far from over, but I sense a tipping point is upon us. There is simply too much information and too little time to wade through the noise looking for fact-based news.
Newspapers had to reinvent themselves in order to compete in the digital landscape. Most are doing a good job of it, too, and are seeing results similar to ours in terms of audience growth. The key: sober, balanced journalism by professionals, served up daily.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. Email email@example.com