Nieman Lab's predictions for 2020: our top picks

23 December 2019
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Every year Nieman Lab asks leading media innovators what they think is coming in the new year. We’ve read through all these predictions and highlighted a few key predictions that publishers will need to keep in mind in 2020. Find the full list of predictions here.

Reader UX standards set by tech giants

This should come as no surprise to longtime readers of our blog: publishers need to invest in their product experiences, as readers expect the same UX experience on tech giants as with their news products. It’s something we’ve written about before, so we’re happy to see Greg Emerson, mobile product specialist, identify this as his prediction for news in 2020. Read his full prediction here.

Your app is where your most loyal users are, and they deserve a level of UX that matches what they see elsewhere on their phones.

Greg Emerson, mobile product specialist

Nico Gendron, program manager for the Instagram Local News Fellowship, also believes publishers need to invest in their product experiences. If they don’t, then there is very little hope they will be able to attract a new Gen Z audience. One key thing publishers need to do is allow their readers to engage: Gen Z has been raised on social media, so they expect to be able to “like” articles, just as they would “heart” an Instagram post or up-vote a comment on Reddit. Read her full prediction here.

 News is a product! News products need to mirror the appeal of social media products to satisfy Gen Z. And currently, news apps aren’t cutting it.

Nico Gendron, program manager for the Instagram Local News Fellowship

Reader revenues will only grow

In his prediction, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, cites a number of publishers across Europe that have been successful with reader revenue models. Instead of longing to go back to the days when print reigned supreme, these publishers have adapted their business models to digital. By offering distinct, valuable journalism publishers have been able to develop what Le Monde CEO Louis Dreyfus calls a “virtuous cycle” where the margin on each new additional digital subscriber is considerable and over time allows for new investments. Read the full prediction here.

Thus my hope for 2020 is that more and more publishers from around the world will look at the growing number of proofs of the concept that digital journalism can be based on a sustainable digital business model.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

A good idea is not the same as a great opportunity

However, to truly innovate in our industry, technology consultant Tanya Cordey predicts publishers will need to say no to more good ideas. She states that she has yet to meet a news team that suffers from a shortage of good ideas, but the key to successful innovation will be understanding how to get the best return on the time investment of each idea. Read her full prediction here.

Organizations are not considering the opportunity costs of their work: Just because an initiative may improve a metric or the experience of a user doesn’t automatically mean it should be done. A good idea is not the same as a great opportunity.

Tanya Cordey, technology and product consultant

Experiment with emerging news formats

Earlier this year we reported on the emerging news formats that publishers need to take seriously: Stories, the “tap-through, mobile-first immersive story form”. Going into 2020, Cory Haik, CDO of Vice Media Group, believes this will become the key format for engaging a younger audience. At Vice, they’ve set their 2020 strategy to reflect Stories as a legitimate story form, for more than just entertainment content. Read her full prediction here.

So what does all of this mean to an industry who just underwent a dramatic shift from legacy to digital and is just getting their heads around the fact that the desktop web is not the final destination? It means the disruption will continue. It means monetization needs rapid innovation. It means to win in this new format, we have to invest and produce.

Cory Haik, CDO of Vice Media Group

New platforms call for tailored strategies

TikTok is also likely to become a new format that publishers will need to experiment with. The Washington Post has so far led the charge, but Francesco Zaffarano, senior social media editor at The Telegraph, warns that publishers cannot simply copy their strategy and expect to succeed. The Washington Post’s strategy for TikTok is to build a loyal audience on a platform that has a billion monthly active users, while waiting for new features that are more friendly to journalism (including the ability to link to an article). Publishers interested in succeeding on TikTok will have to create their own strategies, and better understand what the TikTok audience is interested in. Read his full prediction here.

Don’t go on a platform if you have nothing to say on it. News organizations’ success on TikTok will depend on our effort to understand the audience populating that platform.

Francesco Zaffarano, senior social media editor at The Telegraph

This article was written by Mary-Katharine Phillips, Media Innovation Analyst at Twipe from 2017 – 2021.

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