The Times forges ahead with publishing model combining edition-based and continuous content

The Times recently announced that it is developing a new edition-based publishing model, which aims to roll out between three or four “editions” per day – as opposed to the sort of rolling updates we’re familiar with.

The project, headed by The Times Head of Digital, Alan Hunter, reflects a novel, balanced approach – namely the difficulty of finding a happy medium between traditional “edition-based” content and “continuous” publishing, which is updated whenever new stories break.

Illustrative of how difficult it can be to strike this balance is the widely reported divisiveness in the The Times newsroom following the announcement of these changes.

So why exactly are The Times pursuing these changes?

Firstly, let’s think about the consumer. There’s only so much time one can spend reading column inches. The Times digital strategy incorporates this understanding of the finiteness of our leisure time, which is why it doesn’t see continuously updating reports as a way of delivering significantly more impressions.

More importantly, it’s a matter of audience segmentation. The Times clearly don’t see the sort of consumer of news, who clicks on a site merely to be updated about a given event, as a particularly engaged consumer.

If they’re just there for the report about a fire at Holborn, they’re not likely to click through to lengthy op-ed pieces, so why design a digital strategy with that type of consumer in mind? Undoubtedly, The Times will still deal with breaking news, just with a time-buffer deadline that (theoretically) allows them to treat such breaking news with a greater degree of thoroughness and editorial oversight, than the 24-hour news services we’ve grown accustomed to.

The broader question that is implicitly being asked in this change of strategy is: Do newspapers, as a brand, risk devaluing themselves as creators and cultivators of high-quality editorial content, attempting to be 24-hour news services with on-the-minute updates, in the same way BBC News does?

From a web design perspective there’s also a benefit to be leveraged here in that editions can be fixed into a recognizable, templated style (similar to print newspapers themselves) with greater ease, and hopefully become correspondingly more intuitive for the end-user as they grow accustomed to them.

As a result, senior editorial and management staff at The Times have obviously spent a great deal of time thinking about where to place themselves in this marketplace, and how best to gather an engaged audience. While their answer is what we’d call “edition-based” for the moment, it’s important to bear in mind it diverges from our traditional understanding of edition-based content, in that editioning will take place up to 4 times a day. Moreover, there will be no divergence away from the increasing use of video content in articles, alongside other kinds of interactive HTML5 infographics that The Guardian, among many others, have become known for.

So, when speaking in broad strokes, it’s less of a “step backwards” than it is a “step sideways”. An attempt to bridge “fast” (interactive, video and social-media feed content) with “slow” content (longform text and its equivalents). Have Alan Hunter and his team managed to hit the sweet spot? Time will tell.


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