News Next 2020: Digital-first is about not only content but also methodology: Panel

At e4m News Next 2020 conference, BBC’s Milind Khandekar, India Today’s Prerna Kaul Mishra and co-founder & CEO of Fundacion Comparlante Loreno Julio discuss why it matters to be digital-first

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Feb 24, 2020 9:08 AM
News Next 2020

There is nothing that goes more viral in the news space than digital news. Thanks to affordable internet access, digital news promises not only a huge reach but also instant feedback and engagement.

At the 2020 edition of News Next conference, digital editors talked at length about how media houses run their digital newsroom and the principles they operate on. Moderated by exchange4media's Ruhail Amin, the panel saw Milind Khandekar, Digital Editor of BBC India; Prerna Kaul Mishra, Managing Editor- Social Media and Content Services of India Today Group; Loreno Julio, Co-founder & Ceo of Fundacion Comparlante elaborating on the topic Why Digital First matters?              

Amin initiated the discussion by posing a question to the panellists: "How is India’s digital-first approach different from the rest of the world?" To which Khandekar responded, “We are unique because, in India, we have a separate newspaper for digital in every newspaper, TV or radio.” He added: "People are consuming all the content digitally. When we talk about digital-first- we need to put the content first on digital instead of television, newspaper, radio. Digital-first is a thing of the past, now it’s more about being where the audience is."

“It's time that journalists start learning #digital skills, the fact is, users are changing and we need to change,” he observed.

While in today’s digital scenario, speed plays a critical factor. So, is speed the only factor needed for being digital-first? Mishra explained: “I think a filter is needed for credibility. Speed is one of the factors, and it's a necessity. Consumer preference has changed with time. They want portability, or the ability to carry the content wherever they go. They cannot be fed information that is stale or delayed. Speed is a factor because the GenZ and millennials don’t have the patience to wait for hours to deliver content.”

She also stated that verification plays a key role. “At India Today, we have news verification desk and a data intelligence unit. Speed + verification are important in the digital scenario. Digital First is not just the content. It’s the complete mindset change; it’s a culture”

Amin asked the panellists if digital is because of Television. “Television thinks that social media is a setup screen, but it’s difficult to state who is driving who. Measurement of success for Television anchors has become how much their tweets or live stream has gone viral or got retweeted. Maybe the content is not changing but people are watching that content on social media. When it comes to #news, TV is feeding into social media, Twitter is feeding into mainstream media.”

The discussion also veered towards the bane of fake news in the digital era. Khandekar commented: “Digital is being blamed for #fakenews, but according to me fake news was always there in the society. WhatsApp is just the platform.”

There's also the role of fake news in disseminating fake news, according to Mishra, who pointed out the challenges: “I think the biggest challenge probably, which we saw coming our way in this decade, was the advent of social media as a distribution platform for news. I think that has become one of the biggest pain points even for the social media platforms now because while they thought they were democratizing news and putting news on their platforms, they did not realize that it comes with a lot of responsibility. And if you don't have a credible name, or a credible being working behind that news dissemination, it actually led to all this fake news nonsense. Using social media as a news consumption practice or lifestyle is what has led us into this mess right now.”

She added:  “We do have to hold on sometimes to the news before releasing it because there is  immense challenge. And just putting out everything that is coming your way on to the air especially for broadcasting. I think it's a big, big challenge.”

Julio, on the other hand, spoke about how digital-first has helped them: “I always like to think about possibilities. Currently, I'm in India, because I joined as a speaking person from Latin America, a global peace campaign. And we make these as a global campaign just because of media, just because of the possibility that this platform provides us. This campaign is walking from India to deliver in the framework of Mahatma Gandhi by use of peace and justice. But now we are using these tools to  spread the information all around and to make a global campaign.”

Mishra said that the term "digital-first" is really abused and misused in India. "Because for us journalists, I think the most sensible part of digital-first is that we put every content in the form of visual medium, digital medium, audio medium. But what I really feel digital is not just the content; it is a methodology. It is a culture in an organization and your content has to talk back to your marketing, your sales, your leaders within the organization. It's a mindset change,” she said.

For Julio, digital-first brings in huge opportunities to improve as a society. “I feel that we should start thinking in accessible digital-first. This means that if I talk to you to Spanish, you are not going to understand. In India, there are 25 million deaf people. But in media, there are no subtitles to make the information accessible for them. If I speak to you in Spanish, but I include a subtitle you can access the information. It is as easy as that small actions can have a huge impact regarding accessibility. The size of the font, the colour, the contrast, we all use social media, we need to include alternative text. A small act has a great impact.”

“The golden rule remains the same. If you have a good story to tell, then you will get engagement. If you don't, then nobody's going to click on it or watch it," Khandekar concluded.

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