Read all about it? This year, the way you consume news is going to change
The news media, much like the world it reports on, is going through extraordinary turmoil. Traditional news outlets are abandoning their long-trusted models as they search for audiences no longer inclined to regard a daily paper as a habit, or evening bulletins as appointment to view.
This industry is in flux. The BBC’s Director of News James Harding has shocked his 7,000 staff by announcing he will shortly walk out on the most senior role in British journalism because he wishes to pursue ‘a new venture in news’, producing material that the BBC apparently ‘can’t, and probably shouldn’t, do’.
But the good news is all this uncertainty in news is generating unprecedented levels of innovation, to the benefit of consumers.
From subtitled mobile-friendly video to niche newsletters, e-mailed straight to your inbox, the distribution of journalism is being reimagined to meet audiences where they are. The formalities of traditional television news formats are being dispensed with. And publishers focused on millennials are ripping up the layout of the newsroom to include new desk specialisms on subjects previously at the margins of the media.
Jack Blanchard's London Playbook is a must-read inside the Westminster bubble
Jack Blanchard hasn’t slept much in the couple of months since Politico launched London Playbook, his comprehensive insider’s guide to Westminster life, published every morning as a free e-mailed newsletter, now with a subscriber base of 25,000.
Combining political insights with snippets of gossip, it is London’s version of Politico’s original Washington DC-based Playbook (a must-read for senators and members of Congress) and the Brussels Playbook, which made its author Ryan Heath a celebrity in the Belgian capital, where Eurocrats refer to the newsletter as ‘The Ryan’.
Blanchard, former Political Editor of the Daily Mirror, works night and day to produce what he hopes will become the daily briefing for Secretaries of State, MPs and civil servants – and those who wish to know what the Westminster elite is thinking. ‘We want people working in politics, in Downing Street, in Whitehall and in the Press Gallery to be reading it every morning as their first port of call,’ he says. ‘Playbook needs to be there at the parties and evening receptions and that eats into your night. I’m drinking a lot of coffee!’
London Playbook’s opposition is Red Box, a 40,000-subscriber political newsletter from The Times. Compiled by the whip-smart Matt Chorley, former political editor of Mail Online, the 2,000-word missive goes out at 8am (ahead of Downing Street’s 8.30am meeting) and mixes a detailed run-through of the day’s Westminster agenda with links to Times political articles and Chorley’s jocular observations on subjects from Brexit to MPs’ bathroom habits.
It has become a sub-brand for The Times, with readers offered Red Box drinking mugs and invited to Red Box events at political party conferences. ‘People feel that they are part of a club, getting the same take on stuff as cabinet ministers and spin doctors,’ explains Chorley.
The BBC's Christian Fraser, co-presenter of Beyond 100 Days
BBC presenters Christian Fraser, based in London, and Katty Kay, operating from Washington DC, didn’t meet for the first six months of their tenure fronting one of the most daring new formats in television news, one inspired by the extraordinary conditions generated by Donald Trump’s election to the White House.
Originally called 100 Days and intended to cover the initial period of the presidency, the show’s unique feature is a split screen simultaneously featuring Fraser and Kay, 7,000 miles apart. ‘What has been brilliant about this format is it has allowed us to develop an on-screen relationship as if we were sitting on the sofa,’ says Fraser.
The show, rebranded Beyond 100 Days, is now a fixture on BBC Four, BBC News Channel and BBC World. Kay believes its success is partly due to honesty and spontaneity in the presentation. ‘Younger audiences don’t want this hierarchical television news experience where the anchor sits in the chair and pretends everything is being done perfectly,’ she says.
Megan Lucero is revitalising local news with The Bureau Local
It’s not just global news. Megan Lucero, who leads The Bureau Local project at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, is shaking up the UK’s local news sector through a network of 400 reporters and bloggers from myriad local outlets. They collaborate in data journalism investigations, using technology tools to trawl the vast pool of digitised online information available on public services.
Stories are published simultaneously across dozens of local titles for national impact. ‘Communities need to be served, but issues need to be raised in places of power so it’s important to get a national story out of what we do,’ says Lucero. The Bureau Local has recently produced data-led scoops exposing racist profiling in Home Office immigration spot checks and revealing that more than 1,000 vulnerable women have been turned away from under-resourced women’s refuges.
The News Editor of BuzzFeed News UK, Elizabeth Pears, sits at the heart of a publisher that’s changing the nature of news simply through the journalists it employs. BuzzFeed’s London office was the first UK newsroom to employ a dedicated LGBT reporter, Patrick Strudwick. It has Aisha Gani covering Muslim affairs and Ikran Dahir breaking stories on the Somali diaspora.
Elizabeth Pears, News Editor of BuzzFeed news UK
‘Visibly this is so different to the other newsrooms I’ve worked in, in terms of ages, different cultural and racial backgrounds and the gender mix,’ says Pears. ‘We’re still adhering to the same principle of “a good story is a good story”, it just happens we’ve a much broader view of who society is.’
For generations, news has been presented didactically in bold headlines across newspaper front pages and in the solemn pronouncements of TV bulletin anchors. But with modern consumers no longer willing to be preached at, innovative publishers are changing the way they both produce and distribute their journalism, in order to meet the needs of their audiences. News is being redefined with the consumer in mind.
Ian Burrell is a media columnist and former Assistant Editor of The Independent