With Newspapers Continually Turning Tabloid, National News Agencies Must Re-Think Their Text Products
By Philip M. Stone
The Times has followed the Independent in the UK and gone tabloid. In Sweden, many broadsheets have either already moved to tabloid or have announced they will switch. Free tabloids given to commuters in many EU countries have garnered very large circulations. In Germany new tabloids are being produced aimed at the young reader. And similar swings are prevalent across the EU. All of this has a profound effect and requires change by national news agencies on the text products they provide to their main customers.
are several aspects of their news production national news agencies must
re-examine, but the top five are:
Style of writing
Length of story
Information Aimed at the
International news sources
New revenue streams
With newspapers going tabloid one main result will be that the stories
they run will be much shorter than they were in the their broadsheets. How
to produce for the broadsheet and tabloid market with the same story?
Adhere strictly to the “inverted pyramid” principle of news writing.
inverted pyramid, a story is written with the most important information
at the top of the story and as the story progresses the information
becomes less important. So when an editor decides the needed length it’s
an easy matter to count the lines/words from the top and know that
wherever the story is cut the most important information has been
the best examples I ever saw to prove this point was a European news
agency’s story out of Moscow that for the first few paragraphs extolled
the virtues of Josef Stalin.
Finally, in the sixth or seventh paragraph, the story then gave a source,
saying basically, “all of this according to a new book published in
type of writing by a newspaper’s own foreign correspondent may be fine
when he knows the paper will run your entire story, (although one was
always taught to source the first paragraph of any story within that
paragraph) but with a news agency delivering that story to a tabloid what
good is that type of writing?
pyramid may be a bit boring, but it gets the job done. “MOSCOW – A
book published today extolled the virtues of Josef Stalin …”
Then there is the matter of story length. News agency editors have forever
lost a battle with their journalists about excess verbiage. An ideal news
agency story is 250 words. If it’s a very special story then perhaps 350
words. Just try to get a news agency journalist who has been covering a
story all day and has so much information to write it in under 750 words!
diarrhea of words pours into the news agency newsroom where editors if
they have time will trim the stories or just let them go and let the
receiving client do the job. In the tabloid world that excess verbiage
just doesn’t work. Tabloids want tightly written stories. As Sgt. Joe
Friday used to say to a witness on the original Dragnet TV show, “Just
the facts, Madam, just the facts.”
Length of product now becomes even more important in the tabloid
Newspapers have known for many years they are losing young readers. They
do not identify with the existing product and thus look elsewhere for
their information. Free tabloids like Metro and 20 minutes have seized
upon this. Their success is not due just to the fact they are free (which
the young like) but because the young can identify with the news content,
desperately want to be able to keep their young readers, and increase that
reader base. Some have decided they cannot do it with their existing
product and are launching new tabloids, at a low newsstand cost, to
penetrate the market.
all requires a rethink in the news agency newsroom. If their customers are
after the young reader, then what product is the news agency producing to
help the customer get/keep that reader?
News agencies are under severe pressure to increase revenues and decrease
costs. One possible way is to examine their costs for international news,
whether from international news agencies and also from their own
correspondents. Most national news agencies now subscribe to two
international news agencies for their foreign news. Is that necessary
today or are their better, less expensive ways of meeting the foreign news
demand? Are foreign
correspondents sending in stories the international agencies have already
covered, or are they filing stories of particular interest to the country
that the international agency hasn’t covered?
The national agencies should also closely examine what the international
news agencies are up to. Reuters has announced it is going heavily into
the direct consumer market, and it is building its Reuters.com site to be
a major profit maker. It has dropped some of its wholesale web business to
keep its news more exclusive for its own site.
European national agencies this is not so easy, depending on their
ownership, that usually is their country’s newspapers. Anything that the
news agency wants to do that competes with what the newspaper owner is
doing on the newspaper’s own site creates great friction.
But these issues need to be resolved. News agencies need to create
higher revenues, and since their owners don’t really want to pay more
for their services, then the income must come from elsewhere.
European national news agency which has moved in this direction very
successfully is Italy’s ANSA. So
prevalent is the ANSA name in Italy that a leading dictionary a couple of
years ago included the word ANSA defining it as “breaking news”.
Their web site http://www.ansa.it is the defacto web news source in Italy, it has banner
advertising, audio and video, and
its only problem is that when a major event occurs the site sometimes
crashes because the normal page view increases six-fold from
love to use their mobile phones for sms messaging and for receiving
information, and ANSA is therefore very active in the mobile phone
information business. ANSA’s ownership is made up of the country’s
newspapers, but management has been blessed by an enlightened board of
directors that has allowed such projects to bloom.
news agencies need urgently to take a new look at what they do, how they
do it, and study whether their end product is really the product their
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