Online media industry lacks traditional news sense, says journalist and media professor Mark McSherry

The media industry has had to adapt quickly to the digital world, and in making the move online many organisations have lost one crucial element: news sense.

“Just because the stories are going online you still have to employ the same news judgement in terms of what stories lead,” said Mark McSherry a media professor who has written and edited for publications including Reuters, UK Sunday Times, Bloomberg, South China Morning Post, and the Scotsman.

“Some sites, I’m afraid to say, don’t have the best hierarchy and are not making the best decision about what stories are most important and what stories are not. What is a front page story or a page three story, or page five story? There is a lot of judgement that goes into that and I look at some mainstream news sites and they appear to be not making the right decision.”

Discussing with The Drum what makes a quality news website ahead of the Online Media Awards, for which he is a judge, McSherry went on to explain why it is a skill being forgotten about.

“The people who get hired to run the digital version of these news sites or papers or magazines are very good with their technical skills, they have good digital media skills, but they don’t always come from a journalism background where they’ve learned to make those calls. It makes me sound like a bit of a dinosaur but a big part of [a journalist’s] job is to decide what stories should be there. That’s your front page,” he said.

Although he worked there for over 28 years, McSherry was not hesitant in naming Reuters as one of the sites which needs to improve its homepage.

“If I go to Reuters I’m looking for business and financial news and I expect their front page to tell me what is the most important news of the day. I don’t mind saying that I go to the site some days and they have one important story and then they’re telling me something else. Reuters doesn’t have the hierarchy right yet,” he said, adding that Bloomberg is another one guilty of overloading its front page with news which can be irrelevant.

He went on to warn editors that if they don’t start putting serious thought into the careful curation of homepage content and start using their news judgement then they will “lose influential readers. Because people are busy and if I can’t find what I want I’ll go somewhere else”.

However, “they’ll figure it out eventually”, he said, citing Mashable as one such media site which has transformed its approach to displaying content over the past few years.

“It used to be terrible in terms of its news sense. A couple of yours ago I went on to it and thought “what is all the fuss about”. It really wasn’t a news site,” he said. “[But] I was on it a few days ago and it’s vastly improved. They’ve figured it out.”

McSherry is currently a media professor at St Francis College, Brooklyn, and writes as the US business correspondent for the Independent and London Evening Standard.

Entries for The Drum's Online Media Awards close on 14 March. For more details visit the dedicated website.

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