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Quality over quantity

For too long, the quantity of a journalist’s output has been seen by many as being as important as its quality. As Steven Wilson-Beales, chair of the AOP Journalism Advisory Board (JAB), says, the pendulum is swinging back towards ‘quality’.

By Steven Wilson-Beales

Quality over quantity

Q: What is the main item on the JAB's agenda at the moment and why is it important?

A: The core focus of our group is to look at the main issues facing journalism and journalists today, and work together as an industry, with the AOP’s support, to try and address those issues. We’re a relatively new group but already we’ve discussed Diversity and Inclusion in our newsrooms, the impact that poor display advertising can have on the public’s perception of your editorial standards, and ‘churnalism’.

Q: How does the JAB think the industry should address churnalism?

A: Although the definition of ‘churnalism’ has evolved since Nick Davies first coined it back in 2008, the nature of the problem still exists: newsrooms are still publishing articles at a lightening rate where all the necessary verification checks may not be in place all the time. This has been compounded by an over-reliance on social media platforms, which encourages a target-driven ‘reach for reaches sake’ approach that may drive audiences in the short-term, but what happens if that algorithm changes?

Thankfully, the industry was already addressing this before the pandemic in the flurry of subscription models, but since then, many more non-paywalled publishers are asking themselves: ‘How can we make our website a true destination, rather than a casual click from a social media newsfeed?’. It’s been interesting to hear the different uses of Audience Needs models that can help with this challenge at the Journalism Advisory Board meetings.

Q: What are the main challenges & hurdles journalists and publishers face in trying to address churnalism?

A: I don’t want to sound like I’m demonising the algorithms here, they enable us to connect with a much wider audience – and they can also remind us that, at the end of the day, users want to engage with good quality editorial.

If we look at the three Google Product Review updates that have occurred over the last year, these have taken place to counter the proliferation of affiliate websites, where it’s questionable if the ‘experts’ writing their ‘Best Parasols of 2022’ copy (which exists on very credible news sites, as well as content farms) actually have a deep understanding of that product. Google now wants these reviews to ‘go deeper’, sometimes with photographic evidence that the product is being reviewed by the writer. You could argue Google is pointing us in the right direction here, but you could also argue, why is an algorithm addressing what should be a basic principle of good journalism: Don’t write about what you don’t know about.

Q: What projects / challenges do you expect to come to the fore in future meetings of your steering group?

A: Each of the topics we have discussed are ongoing and we always try to work with the AOP to reach some form of practical deliverable that could help other journalists – rather than drift into philosophical realms of ethical journalism. We have a big focus on training and career development, as we want to ensure journalism remains a sought-after profession and there are clear paths to funding, development, and mentoring.

Q: Looking more widely at editorial teams, what can publishers do to increase the quality and quantity of their output?

A: I think publishers are going to move away from this notion of quantity. I’ve just come back from an SEO conference where I learned that 90% of your content gets no search traffic whatsoever. That’s jaw-dropping and means, right now, it’s all about discoverability. And I can’t think of anything that’s potentially more viral / shareable / likeable than a brilliant piece of original journalism that enables users to learn something new about the world and themselves.

About us

Formed in 2002, the Association of Online Publishers [AOP] is a UK industry body representing digital publishing companies. We champion the interests of media owners from diverse backgrounds including newspaper and magazine publishing, TV and radio broadcasting, and pure online media.

Our steering groups are the life blood of the AOP and help build networking ties across the industry. Member organisations can input into the agenda, drive discussion, share learnings, and send key staff members to represent them in the meetings. Our current steering groups include: Commercial, Ad Ops, Research, Product Development, B2B, Audience Development, HR and JAB [Journalism Advisory Board].



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