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The Digital-First Newsroom: Evolving for the audience, not for digital

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The Digital-First Newsroom: Evolving for the audience, not for digital


Such transformation may manifest as operational restructuring, fresh storytelling methods or the harnessing of data to inform coverage.

Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not the same as being “digital-first.”

“It has almost become archaic talking about digital-first,” said Jaime Ho, chief editor of CNA Digital. “It’s about putting the audience first, that’s how we see it.”

Ho was speaking at Publish Asia 2019 alongside The Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez and Star Media Group’s chief content officer Esther Ng.

Indeed, being audience-centric, rather than digital for the sake of being digital, is key to a newsroom’s relevance, regardless of the news medium.

For Ho, being audience-first means “putting your money where your mouth is.”

Noting that people spend a lot of time on social media, he pointed to his company investing in products like CNA Insider, which guns specifically for an online audience.

Meanwhile, tools like augmented reality and interactive graphics bolster these efforts, immersing the audience in news stories and rendering the content more dynamic.

A self-declared “platform agnostic”, Fernandez stressed the importance of bringing news to the audience wherever they are, be it on their phones or at their doorsteps.

Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, likened news content to water, which shape shifts when poured into different containers.

Similarly, a single body of content can be repackaged for various platforms, he explained. A column written for the print publication, for instance, can be recorded as a short audio snippet for radio.

Shaking things up from the core

Sometimes evolving means shaking things up operationally, even if these transformations are uncomfortable or unpopular.

Malaysia’s Star Media Group went through several iterations of “convergence” (merging its print and online processes), redeployed its editors and even went as far as to rebrand them as “content officers.”

Although these changes have encountered resistance, Ng said they were “necessary to change the print-centric mindset to a digital one.”

The Straits Times is also no stranger to operational overhauls.

From a spanking new video studio and Facebook live streams to headline testing and displaying statistics so reporters can track how their stories are performing, the Singaporean daily has matured from being just a hard copy paper on the dining table.

“Today we are in the privileged position where we have multiple points of contact with the audience,” said Fernandez, referring to the number of times a day a reader interacts with a news outlet.

“We are in touch with the audience far more than our predecessors have ever been.”

A never-ending challenge

When asked who his main competitor is, Fernandez singled out not his media rivals, but time.

“We are all time-starved. It is the only non-renewable resource on this planet,” he opined.

“People just don’t have enough time and they can go anywhere they want for content. I have to find a way to keep them interested and coming back for more.”

And there is no end in sight to this endeavour.

“Evolving is the keyword - it’s a work in progress,” Fernandez said.

“Every time I think we've got it done, we have to try new things.” 

Ho said that while competing for likes and clicks, news organisations should never lose sight of their journalistic mission.

Agreeing, Ng added that even with newfangled developments, quality content is still king.

“It is as much having the right people as it is having the technology,” she reasoned.

“The digital environment is ever evolving but if the fundamentals are in place, we’ll have the necessary flexibility to adapt and harness the benefits that digital opportunities bring.”


About the author: Yeo Sam Jo is a correspondent and video producer/presenter with The Straits Times



Kimberly Lim's picture

Kimberly Lim


2019-05-14 12:01

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