Digital innovation to play key role in future of business journalism

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From left: Owen Youngman, Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Xana Antunes, editor for New Initiatives at Quartz, and Brad Foss, deputy business editor at the Associated Press. (Chloe Nordquist/Arizona State University)

By Chloe Nordquist
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University

CHICAGO – Imagine if The Economist had been born today. What would it look like?

That was one of the questions posed by Xana Antunes, editor for New Initiatives at Quartz, during a panel discussion on the future of business journalism.

Digital innovation has caused news organizations to change the way that they present their reporting and reach out and engage with their audiences.

Xana Antunes, Brad Foss, deputy business editor at the Associated Press, and John McCorry, executive editor for the Americas at Bloomberg, discussed how their respective news organizations have changed in the digital age, and what their plans are for the future.

Each organization has adapted in the way that they use technology, analyze data, and communicate with their audiences.

“Innovation is happening across the newsroom at AP,” Foss said.

The AP partnered with Zacks Investment Research and Automated Insights to make earnings reports turn faster. When a company’s earnings come out, a computer can use a spreadsheet algorithm to produce an earnings story in as little as a minute.

“We are making use of technology in the production of news,” Foss said.

The Associated Press now produces 3,000 earnings stories every quarter. Before this system, humans could only produce near 300. This gives reporters more time to produce enterprise stories, according to Foss.

However, little is still known on what makes an online publication successful.

“As an industry we are still figuring it out,” McCorry said. “”If we as an industry had that figured it out, we’d be rolling in dough.”

Bloomberg’s business model works and works well, according to McCorry, but it depends on the Bloomberg Terminal, which is a unique product with very little to no competitors.

However, digital innovation and initiatives differ for established pre-Internet companies and those that are digitally native.

Quartz, a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy, was founded in 2013. Quartz has a completely different business model and way of dealing with advertising than most traditional news outlets.

The news outlet has broken out of pay for clicks models and its advertisers are mainly paying for the brand, according to Antunes. The organization also takes a fresh approach on news.

The site is “led by the obsessions of its audience and writers,” Antunes said. “If we don’t feel we have anything to offer we won’t run the story.”

Antunes also found that their most successful stories are either between 100 and 200 words or around 900 words.

“The stories that are most successful are either very short, very quickly produced stories,” she said. “And the other is the deeply reported thoughtful enterprise journalism.”

The journalists at Quartz decide what to write about based on what the readers are interested in or obsessed over. Quartz also has only one meeting a week and does not use e-mail so they can focus on the reporting, according to Antunes.

However, all news outlets have to innovate to keep up with technology, their audiences, and the ever-changing Internet culture.

“We are looking to pull out the most interesting stuff, and I think a lot of people are,” Foss said.

In a way, all news organizations are wire services in terms of speed and all are magazines in terms of telling interesting stories, according to Foss.

“We’re not futurists here, we are journalists operating in a space where the future is coming at us,” he said. “This is a great time to be in journalism.”

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