Quality contents and journalism, the example of Le Monde

Tempo di lettura : 4 minuti

“To write from a SEO perspective is synonym for very low quality writing, by now”: it is with these words that Ivano Di Biasi introduces our ebook “Modern SEO copywriting“, then dwelling on the sensitive relationship between journalism and Web. Recently, even the well-known newspaper Le Monde seems to be considering the same issue lately, allegedly finding out the winning formula.

Journalism, web and quality

Let’s go back on the remarks of the SEOZoom CEO, according to who with the introduction and spreading of the Net “the most prestigious publishings worked hard to train their journalists and perform a professional migration of some sort so to turn them into good web writers; but, unfortunately, the smaller editorial groups preferred to spare professional journalists and only rely on web writers who, for a cheaper price, will succeed in acquiring more organic traffic from search engines”.

Equally important, in this downwarding process, the economical reasons: “Why pay the salary of a journalist that writes for me one good article a day, when I could have lots of minimum-wage web writers writing up to 20 articles a day so to surely achieve more traffic?”, our boss sums it up.

Final result is that “some editors now exclusively publish in a quality that can only be compared to the one of a small independent town bulletin, just because everyone think that is the way”, so ending to turn the web into “a huge dumpster full of waste paper, a lousy news fast food”.

Le Monde’s experiment

From France, as we were saying, here it comes a complete opposite story, with an experiment that seems to testify how possible it is to keep on producing quality contents in the world of modern journalism. To turn the spotlight on Le Monde are the articles of two italian newspapers, La Repubblica and Il Foglio, explaining how the historical french newspaper have found their successful formula in the digital era.

On the roman newspaper, the journalist Riccardo Luna anticipates that this game is “complicated by at least two factors: first is that the online ads market is mostly a facebook and Google prerogative, leaving anybody else with not enough resources to support costs; the second is a long crisis,  maybe not that unstoppable under a specific threshold, of paper copies“. Therefore, in order to escape from the deadlock editors bet on “costs containement” through the reduction of journalists, alongside an “increase of productivity, only measured in terms of published articles”.

The classic road: more articles, less quality

Is, basically, a concept expressed in our ebook and explained this way by the french people: “With new technologies, a person can create a lot more articles than before: more articles, more clicks, more unique users and more earnings“. A logical kind of reasoning but not one able to “save” any newspaper, “or – if it did – it did that at the expense of quality”.

More attention to contents

Here starts Le Monde’s challenge and its editorial director, Luc Bronner, summed up on Twitter the path undertaken between 2018 and 2019: reduction of articles, increase of journalists. A sharp and clear turnaround, that seems to have produced interesting results, because “The number of users on both web and paper has increased of the 11% in each sector”. In fact, “over the last three years, the number of web subscribers has risen from 120k to 220k, and if if you add to this number the subscribers of the paper version we have a total of 300 thousands”, the highest result ever had in the history of the newspaper.

Le Monde: less articles, more journalists at work

To be precise, “Le Monde reduced the number of articles of the 14% (even of the 25% over the last two years)”, while in the meantime has expanded its writers base (over 500, nowadays), granting them more time to produce contents and make investigations.

Result: readers appreciate quality articles

The effect was surprising, with the equation “more journalists less articles is equal to more readers” that is successful because it pleases “a hidden variable”, the quality of journalism, indeed guaranteed by the opportunity for professionals to devote more care and attention to content creation.

How to make quality journalism online

Il Foglio’s Mauro Zanon picks up Jérôme Fenoglio’s claimings, publishing director of the parisian newspaper who questions about “how can we make quality journalism“, replying with these words: “By writing elaborate articles, that can recount the complexity of the world we live in, the kind of articles in which readers can find original and exclusive things“.

The management of Le Monde’s editorial staff

But these contents “take time”, because they have to be “useful, able to create a sense of surprise in the reader, to reveal something to him that he could never find anywhere else” (it almost seems to be reading Google’s advice on how to build a quality site!). On more practical terms, Le Monde managed this strategy as follows: it did not give up to follow the news flow, assigning to a “specific desk all the news in need of an immediate reaction“, while other journalists had the task “to write more complex pieces, to perform field investigations and to take all the time they need to produce a deep and detailed text”.

Highlighting in-depth articles

Furthermore, it was important to give visibility and prioritize quality contents over the “bulk of interchangeable articles”, again says Fenoglio, given the fact that “despite what some people think, i.e. that in the digital era the journalistic production would have only survived thanks to the ads gravitating around the pieces and the activities linked to the newspaper, it is the quality news, a method to cover topics way deeper that actually generates the greater economical value”.

Respect for readers

The french formula does not overshadow users, who have all the time they need to further deepen the articles. And is Fenoglio once again to say that “we cannot bomb our readers everyday, but rather offer contents that will let them breathe and go deeper”. A clear example proves the validity of this philosophy: one of the most read articles of January 2020 has been 20-thousand-characters portrayal of Jacques Bloch, resilient survivor to the concentration camp of Buchenwald.

Le Monde’s winning formula

“There is an audience willing to pay for a unique and quality product, with strong identity and reliability“, closes Repubblica, and this can really be a solution to the infobesity issue, the informational overload syndrom that risks to only produce negative effects. Because, on one hand, it leads to the production of poor-value articles and overload of work for all journalists, and on the other neither does attract readers, that are looking for more valid info.

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