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Publishing myths: 10 misconceptions to be cautious of

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We’re at a point in publishing where so much has happened, and so much is happening that we’re in danger of being both in a blur and completely glued to the spot.

Publishers need to pay attention to even the slightest movements in the industry to retain their competitive edge, while also keeping a weather eye out for the latest shiny thing that might turn out not be that shiny after all.

When mass layoffs are announced, or takeovers signed off, panic can spread like wildfire, so it’s easy to empathize with the latest ‘pivot’ to whatever’s looking promising. The problem is that in this panic we often don’t have enough time to stop and question the underlying premises of the things on offer. Often there’s more truth in a golden fleece.

So here we have it: ten myths worth busting. 

Myth #1: Pageviews and other single metrics can measure reader engagement


Chasing pageviews has long been in the focus of many publishers that rely on ad revenue. However, the number of pageviews does not equal the number of people who read your content. The number of pageviews indicates how many times has a certain page been loaded in a browser, regardless of whether or not there was a person behind the screen consuming the content.

Similarly, Time on Page does not show the time a person has spent on page, but the time a page was left open within a browser. Single metrics do not paint the whole picture, nor are they sufficient for describing readers’ engagement. Only complex, behavioral metrics can do that.

To learn more about this myth and the fallacy of trusting single metrics when measuring content performance, read more here and here.

Myth #2: Writers and editors need to become data analysts in order to use content analytics

There is a widespread belief that those who use content analytics need to undergo virtually a complete career change in order to understand data and insights. This, of course, is not true. Building data literacy in your media organization is no easy task, but it is doable with training and learning. 

One of the biggest issues in the industry lies not in the availability of data, but the lack of knowledge about how to understand data and act on it. Luckily, content analytics are becoming increasingly user-friendly which helps a lot in terms of encouraging writers, editors, and other content professionals to explore and befriend the data.

We built Content Insights with true editors in our ranks and continuously improve it by listening to your feedback, so you can truly get data-informed, not data-blinded.

To find more about how editorial analytics evolved to support data literacy, read here and here.

Myth #3: Only objective journalism can be good


There have been many debates about whether or not there can be such a thing as fully objective journalism. The main argument is that humans are by nature  biased and that opinion can never be fully extracted from reporting. We won’t deepen this premise too much for now, but we will discuss the idea that only objective journalism (as much as it can be objective) – can be good.

There are many parameters which we can consider for assessing the quality of a certain journalistic piece. The days when newsrooms’ sole purpose was to keep the public informed about  current affairs are gone.

Now, there’s an acceptance that news needs to come in multiple forms, via multiple channels. As newsrooms understand that genuine engagement is the holy grail, more and more are investing time and energy into connecting with their audiences. This is not journalism distributed from a pedestal, but rather one sourced and shared via the masses. Does this mean that sometimes the resultant journalism looks subjective? Probably. Is this a problem? Not necessarily. 

Many advocate for a balance in tone, with accuracy and utter respect for the facts as uncompromising priorities. As Jeff Jarvis, Director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism in New York and a prominent journalist himself cleverly noted – “a reimagined journalism would not act as gatekeeper but as bridge”.

Myth #4: People just don’t read anymore

We’ve heard it a million times: people don’t read and they won’t read lengthy articles for sure. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

What a horrible logical fallacy and a generalization this is.

It is one of those statements that oversimplifies human behavior and makes final conclusions about a ‘drastic’ or ‘irreversible’ change that’s already happening. It’s similar to those forecasts about how paper books will vanish from the place of the Earth.

Our own experience (both as content professionals and as readers), as well as our clients’ success show that people still read. You just have to give them something worthy of their attention and find a topic that genuinely interests them. 

Did you know? Content Insights can help you discover how the content you produce resonates with your audience. Metrics such as Read Depth show how deeply have people gone reading your articles, while Article Reads indicate the number of times a certain content piece has been read. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Myth #5: Format matters more than a story


This myth complements the previous one. What many publishers do when they hit the wall or fail to engage their audience is to follow the many tips and tricks online, or to completely change their strategy in an attempt to stay relevant. Staying agile and stepping out of the comfort zone is great, but not when you favor format over story.

This is best seen in the ‘video will conquer text’ narrative that’s all over the industry. Expert forecasts estimate people will always choose a format that requires the least cognitive strain, but this is obviously not true. People have their preferences in terms of the way they like consuming content, whether it’s through an image or text, and these preferences are individual

The point is, video as a format will not be a savior of the media organization, especially if the supporting structure (i.e. the story that’s supposed to be the core of the content) is not coherent or well thought through. In addition, video might be a more pleasant format for some demographic groups, but this is not to say you should invest all your efforts into production.

Myth #6: “More articles” is a valid strategy to tell your writers

This is something that can be seen very often in the publishing world and it’s directly connected to the ad revenue model. When the numbers don’t look so good, editors experience commercial pressure and shift their focus from quality to quantity.

However, this is a vicious circle that leads to no sustainable results. If articles aren’t really succeeding at engaging the readers, it’s not very logical to suggest producing more of them and hope for the best. The “spray or pray” method is not something to hold onto for too long.

Instead of resorting to clickbait which may bring fresh traffic to your website (albeit only for a while you should focus on understanding the expectations of your audience in order to serve them best. In addition, too much content might overwhelm your readers and cause reading fatigue. Quality is always a good choice instead, even if it means publishing fewer pieces.

Myth #7: Robotic journalism will lead to the end of newsrooms

As robotic journalism continues to evolve, many are shushed saying creativity is something machines could never learn. Although it’s tempting to overdramatize and fuel fear by saying robots will take over the jobs of journalists, that is not likely to happen.

Artificial intelligence is advancing remarkably and currently computer programs and software are capable of producing stories in record time, and even conducting interviews. However, they cannot ask follow-up questions and their output relies on the information humans insert. 

The development of AI should not be perceived as a threat. Technology can be our ally: for instance, robots can take up more mundane tasks while reporters focus on investigating and writing more complex stories.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, here’s a good article right here.

Myth #8: Content strategy and business strategy have no touch points

We heard this one a lot: content people should stick with what they do best and business developers should focus on adjusting and executing the set strategy. The truth is, these two departments need to work together in order to achieve shared business goals. 

Take the example of native advertising. Brands that want to pay for advertorials want content experts who know that publication’s audience to write native content for them. Native advertising might even be a revenue model for a certain publisher, which means content strategy and business strategy overlap.

Editors know how to preserve editorial control and create stories that will satisfy both the brands that hired them and their audience, while business strategists know how to lock in deals and establish long-term partnerships. Both parties need to work unanimously for best results and are two sides of the same coin.

Myth #9: Digital is completely different / the same as print


It’s no secret that legacy media experienced difficulties while transitioning to digital. Perhaps understandably, these publishers wanted to explore and define this new territory in order to know what they were dealing with, and they did so by comparing it to what it is familiar to them: print publishing.

However, if we conclude that digital is completely different as print (or exactly the same as print) we’re missing out on important nuances and places where the two worlds overlap.

The economy is definitely different and much more challenging in the digital world, the way people consume content and how it fits into their daily routine also varies, not to mention the reasons why they subscribe and how they devote their attention and time to reading.

Although it might not seem that way because of all the challenges, operating in digital has definitive advantages for publishers as they can actually track how their content resonates with their audiences. When it comes to print, they can only monitor the financial numbers and play the guessing game why the sudden surge or drop in sales happened; there is no way to know how they actually read the articles.

It’s important to underline that the two environments (i.e. digital vs. offline) are quite alike in the fundamental things: in any case, publishers have to take care of their readers, whether they rely on their editorial gut, the data available in content analytics, or both.

Myth #10: Cost cutting by staff headcount reductions in the newsroom might be a sustainable path to profitability

We all witnessed huge job layoffs in a media landslide with 3,200 people losing their jobs due to cost cutting or buyouts. This is a serious issue on so many levels.

Firstly, it shows that media is still struggling to survive in the market and becoming/staying profitable. Secondly, the layoffs cause terrible damage – and not just for those who’ve been fired. This manifests through a toxic working atmosphere and leaves “survivors” with a 20% decline in job performance.

Cost cutting by staff headcount reductions is simply putting out fires when we should all focus on preventing them. It does solve the economic problem immediately, but it doesn’t represent a sustainable path to profitability. It does level out the numbers, but it doesn’t increase one organization’s revenue. 

What do you think about the myths we listed? Which ones would you add? Let’s start a conversation about this.

by Mia Čomić

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.

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