Much has been said about the economics of publishing newspapers in the digital age. Less has been said about the effect of the digital age on the economics of covering the news.
The new priority centers on stories that are clickable. Reporters have an incentive to write stories that create online clicks as much or more than front-page bylines. Some stories and their associated video and links may attract substantial viewership online and yet never appear in print.
Some cynics will say that news departments have always looked for ways to sensationalize the news to "sell newspapers." In truth, reporters and editors are more motivated by presenting news that people will read, whether they subscribe or pick up the newspaper on a park bench.
Today's environment is subtly, but significantly different. Reporters and editors are looking for news that people will read – and talk about. The conversation can occur online through "shares" and retweets, as well as around the family kitchen table and whatever has replaced the workplace water cooler. That's really what clickable news is all about. It is news you want to share.
As a consequence, government process stories have been replaced by harder hitting pieces about questionable government activities or policies. The measurement of newsworthiness has shifted from "news of record" to news that can cascade.
Cascading news can be as benign as the viral spread of the Ice Bucket Challenge to the continuing investigative coverage of the influence-peddling scandal engulfing former Governor John Kitzhaber and his fiancé Cylvia Hayes. These are stories that just keep rolling.
Once a story starts to cascade, it will attract more attention – and more reporters. A story at flood stage will have reporters digging to find new story angles to add to the swell.
The clickable news environment makes news-gathering techniques such as the ambush interview and siege stakeouts more mainstream. It also makes it harder to stop a story once it begins to cascade. It raises the stakes on crisis response.
Online connectivity is the floodplain for cascading stories. Online connectivity means you can share a story or your thoughts about a story with an entire community, not just with a few buddies over coffee.
Clickable news is here to stay, at least until the next big thing unfolds. You don't have to like all its implications, but it pays to learn how to cope with and conquer them. Media training provides a great opportunity to prepare and prep for the current reporting environment.