Newspaper as platform

You don't write a novel on Twitter. At least, I hope you don't. That's going to make for some mighty Hemingway-esque sentences — and frankly, you're no Hemingway. It seems somewhat self-evident to point out that most people are not using Twitter for longform content.

There are some people, of course, but these are largely either artistic experiments (slash publicity stunts) or indicative of a vastly different culture. I mean,obviously you're not going to be writing longform on Twitter — it's not what the platform does best.

It's not, quite simply, the point. If you grok that, I simply must ask ... What are you doing with your newspaper? You know, the thing that's printed out on dead trees and hand-delivered to peoples' houses? The one that doesn't get to your customers until at least 5 a.m., and yet doesn't contain anything that happened before 12 a.m. that day (and, in the vast majority of cases, is almost entirely composed of things that occurred between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. the previous day, sports excepting).

The most "advanced" newspapers claim a digital-first mandate: That is, the news is published online as soon as it happens, then it is "repurposed" for the print.

Sometimes that repurposing involves a rewrite — largely for dates and to "clean up" Twitter posts and short updates into a full story. Sometimes it doesn't even get that, it's just that company's CMS equivalent of copy-paste. And that's ... fine, as things go. It's certainly better than the way most newspapers simply dumped their print content to their website when they finished paginating at night as it was in the bad old days.

But in the same way that you're probably not posting your novel (or even your entire news story) to Twitter, give a decent think to whether you should just be repurposing the exact same content (or content with slight tweaks) for the paper. Different platforms require different content. Proper social media management dictates that you really shouldn't even be cross-posting directly between Twitter and Facebook, simply because they're different audiences that respond to different stimuli. Why on earth would you assume that the same story your web customers read at 7 p.m. on Thursday is the best thing to be serving your print customers at 6 a.m. on Friday?

I know staffing is an issue. Writing the same story a different way for every single platform is not only resource-intensive, it's self-limiting as well. After all, if one person can write one story for three platforms, can't that same person write three stories if we repurpose the same one?

No, and you know you're being disingenuous with that question. Producing three completely different pieces would be an exhaustive reduplication of work, and pointless to boot. Of course most of the information is going to stay the same from platform to platform.

But taking the time to properly structure and edit the content for each platform should (if your audience is actually consuming your content) give you a boost on all of your platforms. Below is a small thought experiment. Your organization may not find these definitions/goals to be exactly representative of your audience, but they're a good start based on how people currently use these platforms as well as where they appear to going, at least in general terms.

It's a difficult concept for most journalists, since many still see A1 as the prime real estate. They "win" when their story goes on the front page. And while that's true in the paper, it doesn't mean that the best story that plays top on the website is going to get the best placement for print. And if it does, it may not even be the same story.

As ever, it's time to move beyond print-focused thinking. Of course, it's possible to do whatever you want on a given platform, provided you're willing to do it in a haphazard fashion. There for some reason exists a thing called TwitLonger, for the express purpose of ignoring the 140-character limit. Of course, the proper response to this is, if you had more than 140 characters to say, why are you putting it on Twitter?

Sure, you can "break" the rules, but it's going to be received poorly because the point of Twitter is the brevity. In the same way you're not putting a video in the newspaper, so too should you shy away from treating all your content as interchangeable between platforms.

Optimizing for each may require more time and effort, but it'll get you better performance on all. It's never as easy as just judging quantity vs. quality — ultimately, what matters in the end is whether your audience will actually read your work on whatever platform it's appearing. Which approach do you think they'd prefer?