Journalism, centuries old, looks to startups in the digital age

The executive director of the American Press Institute suggests that journalism businesses should think like a start-up as they strive to find ways to thrive in the digital age.

Tom Rosenstiel’s workshop, titled “Take a Closer Look at Your Audience,” began the Pennsylvania Press Conference Friday at 10 a.m.

“We [journalists] are in a declining industry and emerging industry at the same time,” Rosenstiel said.

Tom Rosenstiel, executive director
Tom Rosenstiel, executive director

He suggested that journalists continue to try new ideas for distributing news and begin with the “minimum viable product,” where the idea is reduced to only the components that are necessary to make it work.

He offered the example of a newspaper seeking to add a parenting section. They might start by creating a blog and evaluating the audience’s response.

“What matters is what you learn, not what you earn,” he said.

However, the diversity of technology adds an extra challenge. Finding the right medium for distributing a story requires a sufficient understanding of what the audience uses digital media for. Rosenstiel suggests that journalists look at the topic instead of the demographics to determine what media to use.

“Global technology is leading to an increase in the demand for news … The people who are going to thrive in news are the people who understand their audience best,” Rosenstiel said.

“Everyone has their own news cycle; meaning they learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it.”

Shane Fitzgerald, executive editor of the Beaver County Times, agrees with Rosenstiel. “Pick the topics that are important to your community,” Fitzgerald said.

Rosenstiel implored the journalists to focus on their audience instead of the process of writing the story.

Liz Rogers, editor of the Observer-Reporter,  said readers should drive how the industry responds to the news. “We can’t give them what we think they should get, but give them what they actually want,” she said.

“Think knowledge not stories,” Rosenstiel said, later adding, “Knowledge encourages initiative stories. Stories that you dream up rather than react to.”

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