I recently hosted a focus group designed to explore the experiences of people who read their news online and those who read theirs in print.
Print readers valued how their local newspaper helped reinforce their identity. They described the “warm” feeling it gave them; a sense of belonging to a community.
They also enjoyed the serendipity associated with reading a newspaper; the experience of accidentally coming across something that captured their interest.
Online readers were far more pragmatic. They placed great value on having news and information available when and where they wanted it.
But what really got them talking in my focus group when they described the thrill of witnessing online a breaking news story, following it through the day as it developed, and sharing their own thoughts about the story with others.
Most frontline journalists have been slow to capitalise on their readers’ passion for fast-moving digital reportage.
They file reports for the web, or even Twitter, in much the same way as they would have telephoned copy over to the office in the old days: a couple of takes followed by a wrap-up quote before heading back to the office.
But they are missing out much of the material readers want: descriptions of what’s going on, including minutiae such as “another fire engine has just arrived”, “it’s starting to rain now as the police set up a cordon”, “the mood in the watching crowd is tense”.
It need only be a sentence of two filed every five or 10 minutes, but to people reading on their computers or mobiles at home, in the office or on the move it forms an addictive narrative.
Online is different. Journalists must live in the moment when reporting for the web and get to understand how empowering it can be if they exploit its unique strengths.