My Key Takeaway from ONA NYC Journalism & Tech Trends for 2013


Last Thursday I attended a great Online News Association (ONA) NYC Meetup on Journalism and Tech Trends for 2013 at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. The conversation was led by the always-insightful Amy Webb and Columbia’s own Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan. A lot of hot topics were covered, but Amy’s point on capitalizing on the shift in the consumption of the Atomic Unit of News was a major highlight.

With the rise of news aggregators and apps like, readers now have the option of bypassing an article and consuming the story through atomic units. Atomic units are snippets of important information that make up the story like facts, quotes, images, or statistics.

Amy proposes that a media site could strategically manipulate these bite-sized units of information to reduce a reader’s need to leave the article page for more content about that story’s topic. Using an algorithm based on the reader’s browser history and a quick analysis of a reader’s familiarity with a particular subject, publishers could essentially offer a bespoke version of a news story for each reader – a personalized collection of atomic units.

Since the folks at Chartbeat spend a lot of time with our client-partners thinking about tactical approaches to increase engagement and drive readers deeper into their site, I wanted to take a closer look at how real-time data can work with atomic unit-based content strategies.

Strategize against the bounce

A couple of factors pose a challenge to keeping readers engaged with your article and staying on your page:

  • Emerging outlets like Google News and Wikipedia have forced online publishers to restructure stories and how they provide context to a story.
  • Social media has changed a reader’s typical path to a story – readers often arrive at a single article page and only digest that individual piece of content – this being especially true for breaking news stories.

Knowing these challenges, you need to provide plenty of context around the article if you’re going to keep readers on your site. This is where atomic units get really important­ – supplying critical nuggets of information for your readers so they don’t look elsewhere.

These nuggets could be in the form of updates to the actual article, supplemental links regarding the same topic, or even updating your audience via Twitter or Facebook.

If you fail to provide readers with the most up-to-date information or enough context to understand a story, they’re going to leave the article to get details from Google Search or Wikipedia. If your reader isn’t engaging in the content- it’s essentially a lost audience-building opportunity.

 Tailor your supplemental content

So if you’re going to provide supplemental information to your site visitors, it’s not in your best interest to arbitrarily layer additional content on an article. While you might not yet have the data in place to custom tailor an article to each reader, you can determine exactly what additional content your readers need to access in order to actively engage with your article. Luckily, there’s a great way to track the performance of your supplemental links on your Chartbeat dashboard– I’ll walk you through it:

Let’s say a 2013 Oscars story features links to biographical pieces so readers can learn more about specific Oscar nominees. A visit to your Chartbeat Publishing dashboard can tell you if readers are actually clicking on these follow up links i.e. making use of the original article’s atomic units. By clicking on the Traffic Sources tab, and drilling down into the Oscars article’s “Since reading, visitors are now on” list, you’ll see what your readers are clicking on from that initial story. This data lets you know if readers are accessing these supplemental stories or if the links you provided aren’t driving your readers deeper into your site.

Chartbeat Publishing -

The discussion around the shift in the atomic unit adds a new and promising thread to the audience development conversation. It’s incredibly important to think strategically about what your readers need to know in order for them to remain engaged with your story. This is fundamental to gaining loyalty and a growing audience – a goal every publisher is focused on these days.

Do you have some thoughts on the trends covered at the ONA event? Share your opinions in the comments below. Many thanks to the ONA NYC for a fun and thought-provoking event!

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