Brand & content key to digital publishing success

Brand & content key to digital publishing success

In continuing our series on digital literacy and the impact it’s having on Canada’s economy, this week we focus on the “State of the Digital Publishing Industry”. This was the topic of a panel discussion hosted by Digital Alberta (@DigitalAlberta) on Monday. On the panel were Guy Huntingford (@guyhuntingford), publisher of the Calgary Herald, and Doug Lacombe (@dblacombe) of Communicatto.

Digital Alberta’s Michelle Sklar (@michelle_sklar) opened the discussion by noting that digital media has caused a paradigm shift in many industries, publishing in particular. She likened technology to a fast moving train and posed the question: how can publishers stay ahead of it?

Huntingford has been publisher for the Calgary Herald for the past 18 months and says that print readership has remained steady for the past five years. But he notes that there is no denying the opportunities that the digital space offers. As proof, between October 2011 and now, page views in the digital space for the Calgary Herald (tablets and mobile) have risen by 300 percent. That’s a figure that definitely cannot be ignored.


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So what should publishers do?

As Lacombe and Huntingford point out, it’s not as simple as just diving right in. With the rise of self-publishing and citizen journalists, the waters are a bit muddied. The panelists agreed that there’s room for the public to participate in the news through blogging, tweeting and submitting videos and photos to newspapers, but checks and balances must be in place. Content is key – that fact remains unchanged. With the majority of people armed at every waking moment with a camera phone, newspapers have access to news and stories they wouldn’t otherwise cover.

At the recent opening of Calgary’s Peace Bridge, Huntingford says the Herald received thousands of tweets about the event. The key was to narrow this all down to the most relevant content, edit it and check it for accuracy – this important process may be missing in the self-publishing model.

Huntingford raised the issue that journalists for The Huffington Post Canada are unpaid. There are definite risks involved in minimizing the importance of professionally trained journalists. When “journalists” are not paid, can it be reliably stated that their work is being properly fact checked and vetted? On this point, the panel touched on the topic of bloggers – while journalists are paid to be unbiased and columnists are paid to be opinionated, bloggers may be both opinionated and biased. Readers beware.

With the proliferation of public created content and the widespread availability of digital media, are we living in the dying days of print?

Not so, says Lacombe, pointing out that print has already stood the test of time. There’s room for all media types – radio was supposed to kill print and TV was supposed to kill radio. Case in point, Huntingford offered up this interesting statistic: last year, dailies in Canada had three billion in revenue – of which, only ¼ billion came from the digital space. But things are changing rapidly and these numbers are sure to rise. So what will be key to finding success in this new space? The answer seems to be sticking with the high standards that newspapers currently employ to produce exceptional content, while making certain changes to this content to make it Web friendly. Lacombe points to traditional news headlines as a big area for improvement. The old way just won’t work with today’s fast-paced, time-starved style of communication.

The final key to success will be the ability to successfully monetize in the digital space. Huntingford says that for the Calgary Herald, satisfying this requirement and staying relevant in new media can be accomplished through a common strategy: staying true to the brand and continuing to produce strong, relevant and accurate content.

“It would be a mistake to ignore the digital space, so we need to have a plan. For the Calgary Herald, our audience comes first – we’ve been around for 138 years and have a very strong brand. As we look ahead to growing and adapting in the digital space, protecting this brand is our number one focus. Our readers and advertisers respect us and trust that we will give them the best content possible. This is what differentiates us from others out there. As long as we maintain this commitment to our readers and advertisers in print and carry it through to the digital and web spaces, we will be able to monetize and succeed.”

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