A Case for Strategic Thinking

A few days ago, a Poynter research report appeared in my Twitter feed. After poking through the data, as well as the accompanying figures from Pew, I was all too aware of how a more thorough analysis was missing.

The report in question dissects trends in news consumption between generations. Unsurprisingly, Millennials spend the least amount of time consuming the news by the numbers. There are two main places you can go with this information: we’re either a generation that doesn’t care enough about the news, or we’re a generation that gets news differently.

Data is everything. Strategists who build things without it are akin to warriors fighting a battle without weapons.
The headline of the report states that the future of news is “perilous.” The author, Andy Kohut, writes, “Today’s younger and middle-aged audience seems unlikely to ever match the avid news interest of the generations they will replace, even as they enthusiastically transition to the Internet as their principal source of news.”

Consider services like Circa, which is my personal preferred method for news consumption. They describe themselves as “a media organization that enables readers to more easily consume, engage with, and follow the day’s news by delivering comprehensive yet to-the-point coverage in a format tailored specifically for mobile lifestyles.”

A media organization whose goal is to let me consume news quickly and easily. Interesting, especially given the fact that younger generations have access to more technology, have shorter attention spans, and grew up as digital natives with cell phones in their hands.

Now, Circa isn’t included in the interpretation of “internet news” in this Poynter piece. The widget Facebook has integrated into its service isn’t included. And, behaviors on Twitter aren’t dissected enough to be included here, either. For instance, this report doesn’t consider my following of Circa’s EIC, Anthony De Rosa, as an act of news consumption, though his feed is one of the most reliable sources of breaking news that I’ve found on the internet. It doesn’t take into account any of the journalists or news anchors I follow on the platform, actually. Or the rampant nature of citizen journalism and its impact on my level of “informed.”

Think about all of the news Twitter alone has driven, from political unrest in Egypt, to Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger, III’s extraordinary landing of a commercial passenger jet in the Hudson. While the Poynter article does call out that social media is seen as a “potential bolster” for news consumption with youngsters, it does little else to define what that engagement looks like in 2015.

I wrote all of this under a moniker suggesting my point is less in defense of my generation’s interest of the news, and more about the need for strategists. Here’s where I pay that off.

Data is everything. Strategists who build things without it are akin to warriors fighting a battle without weapons. For the sake of the analogy, let’s just say their melee skills are terrible. However, numbers can only say so much. Analysis identifies trends, but in this case, only identifies a potential explanation that fits a small group of users.

What about the rest of them? At the risk of sounding like Tron, that’s where strategists typically fill in. We spend hours and hours pouring over research like this in the hopes of identifying actionable insights. We spend even more time dissecting our audiences, studying their behaviors and feelings and needs. We explore the paths less taken to see if they provide a more scenic or exciting ride to our desired destination.

Without strategy, this data only shows that younger generations spend less time consuming news (and use the internet more than any other group). It never answers why because it can’t. Without a strategic interpretation, it can only arrive at one viewpoint. If life were that one-sided, we’d all have a much easier time making decisions.

Andy Kohut isn’t wrong in suggesting that the future of news is perilous. His only misstep is not exploring other explanations more completely, explanations that many readers who share my view called out in their comments.

One noted The Daily Show, which has high Millennial viewership and covers the news. It’s also satire, which makes its inclusion questionable. Regardless, I’d posit that it presents the same amount of information as a traditional broadcast, but the delivery is ultimately more attractive to many, and is what gets eyes in front of their TVs or computers to tune in.

Thinking strategically, if the future of news is, in fact, perilous, improving its delivery is a viable solution. That’s precisely why things like Circa and Facebook’s trending stories widget exist. They are grounded in a strategy comprised of insights and analysis. If the data simply stopped at “younger people spend less time consuming news,” perhaps they’d never have come to be at all.

TL;DR Don’t trust data without an analysis, and don’t trust an analysis without an argument.