Just a quick post to riff off a piece at Poynter today about the potential value embedded in news organizations’ archives – and how little of it is being tapped.
And more importantly (at least for me), a chance to reiterate that we can and should go far beyond just surfacing our timeless prose to rethinking how and what we write in the first place.
The Poynter piece, which draws on a post by media data analytics company Parse.ly, notes that for most publishers surveyed, less than 10 percent of traffic came from stories more than three days old. That’s not surprising, given how little is done to promote older content, but as the Parse.ly post notes:
Integrating evergreen posts into your distribution strategies can attract and grow readership without having to increase editorial costs.
And it’s certainly true that one of the goals of structured journalism is to extend the shelf-life of journalists’ work, in effect amortizing the costs of all that effort over time and page views. But that should involve more than simply writing evergreen posts that will continue to be relevant for weeks; and it’s certainly also more than working up ways to flag old content to new audiences.
Sam Kirkland, who wrote the Poynter piece, focuses on the issues around pushing old stories, noting that:
My instincts say it’s weird to dig up old content without a specific reason, but it’s worth asking if our hyper-sensitivity to timeliness can get in the way of serving readers who might not care as much about news hooks or newness as we do.
Which really points the finger at where the issue is: Our hyper-sensitivity to, well, what we do, and less to what our readers might want. Sure, we care hugely about news – and it is the name of the business we’re in, although perhaps it shouldn’t be – but there are many more reader needs than are captured by a focus on what-happened-this-minute. More importantly, by focusing on what we do (write stories) than on what readers/users want (information, context, insight – and news), we’re missing an opportunity to create stories and information the first time around that have extended shelf lives, whether as individual stories or as elements of information that can be recombined into new stories.
That’s how Politifact, Homicide Watch and Connected China were built, and it’s a structure that allows them to keep building new content on top of older content, often creating it in response to a query by a reader rather than as a one-size-fits-many story. And that, in turn, means they can lower the long-term cost of creating while letting users find more useful information when they want it.
That’s the real potential value embedded in older content for news organizations, and we need to find more ways to free it.