Hustle & Workflow: How to Succeed in Digital Media

Jul 22015

In Latin America, there is a real opportunity to create profitable businesses around content and there are valuable lessons to be learned from those digital outlets that found a way to be successful online.

ICFJ Knight Fellow Mariano Blejman led a Google Hangout sponsored by the Dow Jones Foundation on best practices for digital media and the keys to success behind publications like BuzzFeed, Mic, Vox, Upworthy and Quartz. Blejman is also the creator of the Media Factory, the first media accelerator in Latin America.

Since the disruption of digital and the collapse of the traditional business model of Latin American media based on classified ads and other forms of advertising, the value of digital media today lies in the publication’s reputation and how it manages to capture the audience’s attention.

To achieve these goals, digital outlets need to innovate in areas such as internal workflow, content production, distribution channels and audience generation.

Blejman gave a few tips on how to do it:

Improving content production requires improving internal workflows

"There’s a strong tradition in Latin American media to disassociate content production from impact and traffic analysis," Blejman said.

For that reason, it is important that publications make an exhaustive analysis of metrics per story and what action was triggered after each article: was it shared on social media? Did users return to the site? What was the reading time?

"This hasn’t been part of the daily workflow in news publications [in Latin America]," he said. "Usually journalists would write the story, the editor edits it, it gets published on the website or printed in the newspaper and then they all go home."

Innovation in content production means to also incorporate data journalism, getting reporters, programmers and designers who previously worked in silos to work together on projects.

An example of this type of collaborative work is “La Ruta Electoral,” a project by La Nación Data and a team of programmers and political scientists. Based on public data, the project geo-referenced campaign contributions from individual, private donors for the 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 national elections in Argentina.

Some of these publications are also incorporating user experience design into their internal workflow and content generation. When a reporter writes a story, it is often published in a classic, rigid structure, said Blejman. But digital publications should take into account how people are going to read that story, whether on a tablet or a mobile phone, at night or during the day.

"Incorporating user experience while thinking how the content is going to be consumed by the user is fundamental to add value," he said.

The importance of audience generation

Audience generation has become a key element of successful digital-native media.

Blejman pointed to the video series “Flip the Script,” created by Mic and hosted by journalist Elizabeth Plank. The series deals with cultural and gender issues in 3 to 7 minute videos intended to be watched on Facebook. In just two months, the series received 33 million views on the platform.

“This is not a crazy idea some editor came up with out of the blue,” Blejman said. “It’s the result of data and audience analysis that showed potential in an idea like this."

Another technique used by digital media is the concept of A/B testing, which involves creating a website with multiple landing pages to test the performance of each one. The idea is to see what works best for the site’s audience, which headlines are more engaging and how does the user interact with the content.

Changes in distribution: Where is the newsstand?

In today's digital world, the new channels of distribution are Facebook, Twitter and Google. "The newsstand is in the user’s hand. We go about our lives with the distribution channels attached to our hands, staring down at our smartphones," he said.

Another old distribution channel that’s making a comeback: email. With the saturation of social media and the rise of newsletters, email becomes an important channel of distribution. "The inbox is becoming the new frontpage of news," Blejman said.

Among the lessons learned from profitable U.S. digital media, Blejman stressed that successful publications invest more in technology and in distribution, and care about creating an audience of loyal readers.

You can watch the whole Google Hangout below, in Spanish.

Media Factory is a media accelerator program that gives funding and mentoring to new digital media companies in Latin America. It is accepting applications from teams of journalists working in digital media. Applications are open until August 2.

Blejman is also organizing "Media Factory bootcamps" on media innovation in several Latin American countries: on July 9 in Buenos Aires, Argentina; July 11 in Santiago, Chile; July 18 in Lima, Peru; July 25 in São Paulo, Brazil; August 1 in Mexico, D.F., and August 8 in Bogota, Colombia.

This story was originally written in Spanish and translated into English by Maite Fernandez. It is also published on IJNet, which is produced by ICFJ.

Main image CC-licensed via Flickr by Bala Sivakumar.