Insights on Audience-Centric Digital Journalism from Newsrewired


On May 22, 2024, members of our communications team, Jen and Ceren, attended the Newsrewired conference in London. They enjoyed deep discussions, panels, and workshops about the latest innovations in the news industry. Here are some of Jen's takeaways.

52919556285_716455f8cd_cMousetrap Media/Mark Hakansson

Engage, Differentiate or Fade into “Beige“

Newsrewired’s 33rd conference covered a veritable selection box of topics relevant to today’s digital media industry. But whether the conversation centered around AI in journalism or Gen Z’s media requirements, one thing stood out to me: 

“Audience engagement is essential in digital.” 

So said Lindsay McIntosh, Head of News at The Sunday Times - but she was not the only one to single this out as the central tenet of digital media. As someone who has spent the last few months learning the ins and outs of liveblogging with Tickaroo, and how the format can really support an ‘audience first’ approach driven by deep listening and direct interaction, this really resonated with me. 
Dmitry Shishkin, the new CEO of Ringier Media International, reinforced the point as he discussed the importance of meeting user needs, making the connection with the all-important element of financial return. Everyone knows why they pay for Spotify or Netflix, but not why they might need to pay for a news service, so he stressed the need for news to play a critical role in an audience’s lives. But for that to happen, brands must strengthen their audience connections by identifying original niches, meeting these niche needs, and striving for originality above all else. Content relevance leads to loyalty, which leads to revenue. So journalism must satisfy user needs above all else. 


AI’s Role in Digital Journalism

Shishkin’s message was that AI will have a huge role to play in satisfying these user needs. While Helen Philpot, Managing Editor at The Sun, expressed concern that AI in journalism would deliver a “Tsunami of beige” content, and that it was down to editorial teams to differentiate, Shishkin argued that it was AI itself that could help newsrooms strive against ‘sameness’, identifying user need patterns in content to help inform story planning, for example. 
This chimed with one of the new platforms showcased in the practical use of AI in the newsroom session, in which co-founder Daniel Flatt discussed how Flare Data’s insight tool identifies data-driven trends and anomalies for journalists to build stories around. And so continues the rolling discussion of human-AI interplay - or “human in the loop” as Jody Doherty-Cove from Newsquest’s Editorial AI team described it. But, as you might expect, consensus was that AI could never entirely replace humans in content creation and that journalists would always need to be involved to ensure originality, creativity and value.


Disinformation and Deepfakes

Staying with the topic of AI, I was slightly surprised to hear from Bellingcat’s Charlotte Maher that it is still not yet a major player in disinformation - currently used more to amplify a fake message through the use of bots rather than to create new content, with recycled and repurposed content still representing the most common and easiest way to mislead people. 
But despite AI not yet being a creative deepfake force to be reckoned with, Charlotte’s panel alongside Reuters’ UK fact-checking editor Rachael Kennedy, and King's College lecturer Jon Roozenbeek was sobering in terms of just how easy it is to access and use deepfake technology. The challenges of identifying misinformation in the newsroom are manifold, and only half the battle. We must also educate consumers in media literacy and the need to pause and check before sharing unverified content. Charlotte explained how important education at a secondary school level was in order to inform media consumers at the very start of their journey, highlighting their Media Literacy Champion campaign partnership with The Student View and the PHSE Association to do just that.

Planning for Future Generations with Trust, Diversity and Positivity

Speaking of younger generations, the importance of relevance and trust for Gen Z was highlighted by 5 News’ Debbie Ramsay in a panel on what this cohort really wants from news brands. Solutions-enhanced news that takes a more positive slant was also highlighted as key for younger news avoiders, especially focusing on ‘people like me’. This was something that was picked up by one of the students writing the live blogs for the event using the Tickaroo platform, commenting that she often feels patronised by content that is clearly ‘trying’ to engage with her, and created by editorial teams who, perhaps, can’t relate to her issues and needs. 
As a result it was widely agreed that socio-demographic diversity, as well as neurodiversity in the newsroom, will be essential for engagement with Gen Z, Gen Alpha and future generations to come. I know that this is something that is close to Tickaroo’s heart, and definitely on the agenda for the next event in November. Bringing a variety of perspectives, experiences and skills to the table will make content stronger, while ensuring that generational representatives have a voice avoids condescending messages. 


This was aptly illustrated by Jon Birchall from LADbible, a media community for the ‘social’ generation, as he described the makeup of his team and the way in which they approach content development. With a heavy emphasis on humanised, relatable coverage of social and political issues that meets their audiences at eye-level, packaged in formats that fit with daily life, and delivered on platforms that suit their usage patterns, the ethos very much struck a chord with that of liveblogging. 


Investing in Journalism

I have probably only scratched the surface here when it comes to the key messages coming out of Newsrewired, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what the Autumn event brings. However, as I left the News UK headquarters at the end of the event digesting what I had seen and heard, it was Lindsay McIntosh’s call for investment in journalism to ensure trusted, high quality and insightful stories that stuck with me. In an age in which we’re inundated with options from news providers and content creators of all sorts, it will be this investment in quality and accuracy which differentiates digital journalism and keeps audiences coming back to more. As long, of course, as they keep a constant eye on what that audience wants and needs.  
This blog post, was composed by one of our communication team members: Jen Hibberd, Director at Liberty Communications. Thanks so much for sharing your insights!  


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