“Rediscovering the ‘content experience’ for news” - Grig Davidovitz at news:rewired

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 11 December 2012

At news:rewired, Grig Davidovitz argued that news organisations need to rediscover the art of designing the “content experience”

Grig Davidovitz of RGB Media said that Kindle had a very important lesson to teach the news industry. The Kindle wasn’t just a device, Amazon had put an app onto every platform. They realised they were about the experience of reading books, not the experience of using the Kindle.

He believes that news organisations similarly need to learn how to recreate the “content experience” that we have struggled to do online. Responsive web design alone isn’t enough — we need to find ways of showing news context and making the most of our story-telling abilities.

Grig argued that if you look at the news website today, and look at the first ever web page, we are still basically making lists of links. Sure, we’ve added photos and a splash of typography, but the essential structure remains. By contrast the first tablet magazine apps suddenly gave us the digital ability to do really precise designed layout in a familiar print style again. Grig sees the future as learning from the best of both of these approaches.

Progress is actually happening relatively fast on the web compared to print, he explained. He showed some pictures of newspaper front pages from the 19th, mid-20th and 21st century. They showed a gradual transition from the “throw every story onto the front page so they look like classifieds” approach, to singling out more important stories, to the heavily visual colour front pages we have today. Hierarchy had arrived.

The trouble, Grig, pointed out, is that hierarchy on the web homepage still often means one big hero image for the main story, a couple of thumbnail images for the next two, and then lists of links. Editors should be free in the CMS tools they use to both create drama, and to showcase the best aspects of the story.

He then showed some ways that the Guardian homepage doesn’t always show off content elements to their best advantage, using icons for videos rather than thumbnails etc, causing a little squirming in my seat given that he was pointing at some components that I’d had a hand in designing. Eeeek!

Grig Davidovitz then showcased some of the work his company RGB Media have done with The Times of Israel. They use a CMS product called Salamandra, which allows editors to concentrate on creating a “content experience” rather than some of the ways that a traditional CMS tends to work. For example, pulling a story up into the super-hero slot is a matter of drag-and-drop, and it then formats the output as a major splash for the web homepage, and a similarly prominent position on the mobile web. Likewise when filing a story, journalists and editors get to choose whether the images or the text or the video is the most powerful aspect, and the system displays trails to the content optimised around that aspect.

At first glance on Grig’s slides I was very impressed with the simplicity of the interface and the features in the system — an example, as ever, of what can be achieved if you aren’t also having to tie your CMS into legacy systems for print. The Times of Israel is still a very young news brand, but Grig showed some slides of promising usage figures from their first few months.

Next…

One of the other sessions I really enjoyed during news:rewired had a focus on live blogging. I’ll have my notes from that next.

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