News outlets need content and UX to be their chief promise to consumers

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Originally published on LinkedIn, April 3, 2017

When Google released Pixel, it promoted the smartphone's camera as its key differentiation. Even the product's name -- short for "picture element" -- ties in. The social hashtag campaign, #TeamPixel, brings owners into that story and provides ongoing content to support its picture-taking prowess. 

I admire the clarity of that go-to-market strategy, particularly when entering an ultra-competitive and maturing market like smartphone hardware. And it paid off. I bought one, too -- my first non-Apple device.

If only news media companies would get better at building and promoting their "best camera" differentiation in their digital products. What keeps most of them from fielding the best digital products, such as websites, mobile apps and emerging platforms like VR and AR?

Advertising.

Specifically, it's the panic from the steady and accelerating decline of advertising revenues in parent companies' traditional channels that drives poor digital product design and go-to-market strategies.

With the bump in news consumption fueled by the November election and the President's tweet storms about #FakeNews, the news industry has a great opportunity to capture paying customers who value professionally reported, edited, fact-checked content. 

Similar to Apple's "World's Thinnest Notebook" campaign in 2008, the "world's most trusted news reporting," or "looking out for the interests of our community" are on the right track for best-of-class promises to fulfill for consumers. 

What gets in the way of delivering on that promise is the poor experience of consuming that content on media's branded products. Compare the experience on a news aggregator like Flipboard to the outlet's own branded website or app. In the rush to replace traditional ad revenue, too many publishers present the content, what should be the best feature -- its Pixel smartphone camera -- in a way that it's interrupted by, slowed down by, overlaid by, drowned out by and, in the worst cases, discredited by the advertising. 

Here are screenshots from a single visit today to the Chicago Tribune's desktop website. I'm not picking on the Trib; this is similar to what you'll find on many well known news sites.

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I was interrupted by a push-down and wall-paper on the home page. When I clicked on a headline, a circular interstitial took at least half a minute to load.

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And there's the article, where only the headline was above the scroll-line for my browser window. Note also the call to action to support quality journalism by paying for a subscription.

Again, you can see this on a large percentage of traditional media outlets. Just for fun, load your favorite news website in BuiltWith.com and look at the Advertising list. For my local newspaper website, there were 27 ad technologies. Twenty-seven, each of which must communicate data about the user and site.

Why would you want to regularly consume the content with this kind of experience, let alone pay for it, when you can get it in a multitude of other places in an easier-to-consume format?

I know that colleagues of mine are objecting about the imperative of ad revenues to support the business. What are news companies to do to survive? Next I'll highlight a couple of emerging product strategies worth watching.