Print finally died but was quickly resurrected; a new platform for women showed how things can be done; and adblocking remained a thorny issue – like all years in media, things were anything but dull.
Unlikely investigative trailblazer
BuzzFeed has spent the past few years bulking up its investigations team to show it can offer so much more to readers than listicles and cat memes. In 2016 its efforts came to a head thanks to the leadership of editor-in-chief Janine Gibson. Under the former Guardian editor’s watch, and spurred on by investigations editor Heidi Blake, BuzzFeed broke some major stories.
A joint 2015 examination with BBC Newsnight into Kids Company resulted in the closure of the charity in early 2016, after BuzzFeed revealed the non-profit was embroiled in a row with government over funding. The site also broke news of the tennis racket scandal that revealed the corrupting influence of gambling syndicates on the game.
Gibson told The Drum earlier in the year that she wanted to turn BuzzFeed into a "consistent, top-tier, scoop-getting, disruptive, serious investigative part of people’s lives”, so expect plenty of the same in 2017.
Best YouTube channel
It was a strong year for Copa90, with the football media platform trying innovative approaches to connecting with its audience. The first was a fan-driven merchandise store that crowd-sourced ideas from followers before creating and selling the best ones in an online pop-up store. It then took its hugely popular Fifa and Chill show to the Ibiza Rocks music festival, to capitalise on football excitement during the Euros.
Perhaps most significant was the partnership with the Bleacher Report, where the two launched a weekly Snapchat show through the Bleacher Report’s Discover edition. The collaboration yielded unique content, including an episode that made users feel as if they were on Paul Pogba’s phone.
Best use of automation
There was a gold rush towards chatbots in 2016 as publishers tried to prove they are quick off the mark when it comes to new technology. Among the first to experiment with conversational news as a means to gain intimate access to readers was Quartz. The publisher’s chat-based news app allows the user to curate their own feed by teaching the app what they want to see, a welcome alternative to sifting through a busy newsfeed. The app was curated by a team of five editors who rehash news stories as a ‘back-and-forth’, rather than relying on deep-learning algorithms, giving it the human touch that sets it apart from others. Emojis and gifs are used to give stories a unique Quartz voice.
Best online magazine
The Pool – ‘the platform for women who are too busy to browse’ – was launched in 2014 as the brainchild of broadcaster Lauren Laverne and Cosmopolitan’s former editor-in-chief Sam Baker. Yet 2016 was the year it cemented itself as a commercially savvy and editorially respected alternative to the online attempts of its glossy rivals.
Like a broadcast schedule, mobile-led content is published at pre-agreed time slots to coincide with historic spikes in traffic. The format was designed to hit back at what Laverne calls “the crazy deluge” of content flung at the modern woman 24/7.
The same tactic has been taken commercially, with native advertising and branded content partnerships replacing banner ads. The Pool also expanded into events with a panel debate held in partnership with Lloyds Banking Group.
Print is dead*
The New Day
When the first UK newspaper to launch in 30 years arrived in February, it promised a less gloomy take on world affairs. “Life’s short, let’s live it well,” went the New Day’s masthead motto, and it was prophetically accurate: just nine weeks after publishing its first edition, the newspaper printed its last. The New Day’s pledge to be politically neutral and not tell readers “what to think” promised something alternative, but was ultimately too bland to find committed readers – particularly among its coveted audience of young professional women. The reasons for its demise are several: disappointing distribution, a questionable web strategy and poor pricing plans among them. But, ultimately, it learnt the hard way what has always been true of British newspapers: bad news sells.
*Print isn’t dead
The New European
What we were saying? Oh yeah, print’s thriving. Launched only 15 days after the EU referendum, the New European aimed to give a voice to the 16 million remain voters dismayed by Brexit. Conceived, designed and printed in just nine days by regional publisher Archant, many observers predicted the weekly national would do well to enjoy even the same lifespan as the New Day. But it has found a steady circulation, believed to number around 25,000, and is expanding its reach into digital and live events as it aims to turn the voice of ‘the 48%’ into a thriving – and paying – community. But print had to be the starting point, according to editor Matt Kelly, who said: “If we were trying to launch a website we would still be designing it now. A newspaper we can spin out within days. So the old lie about this being a slow industry is just complete bollocks – print can be quicker than anything.”
Force to be reckoned with
AdBlock Plus’s attempts to forward its proposition throughout the year were met with bile and multiple attacks, but despite the moralising around it all, the Germany-based outfit (and others like it) remains a force to be reckoned with.
In early 2016 it announced its plan to beta launch a publisher compensation system, Flattr. However, that was met with ridicule by many in the industry, both buyers and sellers alike. This was followed by the announcement of its intended ad network, which would leverage the media-buying capabilities of two of the industry’s largest names, although AdBlock Plus-owner Eyeo quickly found itself out in the cold in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.
You can read more New Year Honours here.