Thursday, December 11, 2008

The need to move from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance

I recently interviewed and Personal Democracy Forum co-founder Andrew Rasiej for a story on how new media turbo charged coverage of the 2008 presidential election. He made an important observation in that conversations: Many newspapers operate online with a scarcity mindset, when they really should have one of abundance.

For example, on Nov. 5, the day after the historic presidential election, the NY Times posted only a handful of photographs from the previous day—when they very well could have posted a slew.
I remember noticing that as well. I’d been in Oakland on election night. The next day I went looking for photographs of celebrations around the country. I wanted to see if they had been as wild as Oakland’s. (In fact, as I soon learned, many were much more wild.) I remember subconsciously being surprised at how few pictures the NY Times had up on its site. If ever there were a day to just throw out pictures galore, this was it.

This is the scarcity mindset. When you only have a certain number of physical newspaper pages, there are only a certain amount of photographs you can publish. So you get in the habit of choosing only the best and running with those.
But on the Web, bandwidth is limitless. So not only can you post a gazillion photos, should you choose to do so, but—and this is important—your readers actually expect you to—just as I expected the NY Times to.

Moving into the abundance mindset, and posting as much content as possible,* will help ensure the future of news organizations for two reasons.

-- It generates revenue. Think about how many more ad impressions the NY Times would have gotten from me—and people like me, hungry for images from that transformational day—had they posted a slew of photographs.

-- It allows you to meet your readers' expectations. Not making more content available, on the other hand, violates expectations, and that’s a very bad thing to do. It irritates people, decreases their loyalty, and reduces the chance they’ll keep coming back.

* A quick note on what I mean by “more” content. I don’t mean more stories necessarily. That’s unsustainable in these days of slashed staffs. “More” content doesn’t have to be about creating a lot of new work. Rather, it’s about using as much as possible of what you already have—photographs, interview transcripts, even interview audio turned into podcasts, plus all those little observations, behind-the-scenes happenings, and little nuggets that would never make it into a formal “story”, much less merit a story of their own, but that nevertheless could conceivably be of interest to someone, and therefore is worth throwing up on the Web as a standalone item.

Photo courtesy of Somerslea. Creative Commons license.

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