For Publishers, Visual Journalism is the Key to Attracting Readers & Raising Revenue
By Jess Rovello, CEO, Arkadium
Digital media is constantly evolving and reflecting the tastes and habits of its users. Lately, the trend is visual. In our own study of more than 1,000 news consumers, we found that pairing news stories with visual content — the visualization of data and text in the form of anything from images and videos to static or interactive infographics — helps boosts reader engagement, and even trust. And publishers are taking note. The New York Times, for instance, released its “2020 Report” last year highlighting the need to restructure its own newsroom to address the demand for visual media. The Times is far from the only publication acting on this trend; The Washington Post and The Guardian are two other examples that have dedicated resources to the use of visual tools to supplement story content and increase reader engagement.
Publishers are also embracing a more visual approach on mobile, where you need to grab attention quickly. And while it’s proving beneficial for audience engagement on the editorial side — as articles accompanied by data visualization are proven to generate 16 to 34 percent more comments and shares on-page, and also increase the average session duration by up to 100 percent — it’s also driving opportunity for publishers in the area of monetization and advertising.
With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the concept of visual journalism, and how publishers can use it to their advantage moving forward.
What is visual journalism?
Visual journalism marries traditional text with graphical elements to tell an immersive story. As Amanda Farnsworth of the BBC explains, “We want to use our skill and creativity to engage and inform our audiences on the biggest, most significant stories, providing insightful, personal and shareable visual explanations.” The BBC’s early implementation of this vision proved successful; it generated seven million page views and 50 social shares for every 1,000 views.
Interactive data visualizations are another visual tool to boost user interest, and they‘ve proven to increase shareability and engagement. Articles that contain charts or infographics garner up to 317-percent improvements in depth of scroll.
This aligns with data from Ion Interactive that compared visual and interactive content to traditional editorial. According to the findings, nine in 10 people who consumed visual interactive content cited that it was ‘somewhat’ or ‘very effective’ in differentiating against competitors. Just 55 percent of the traditional, text-based content group reported the same. These findings confirm a key learning point for digital publishers: users crave visuals. And on smaller, mobile screens, there’s even more incentive to push graphical content.
Small screen, big opportunity
By now, it’s abundantly clear that mobile devices are the future drivers of web consumption. A 2016 study conducted by Pew Research Center showed that unique visitors on mobile devices outpaced unique visitors on desktops for 99 out of 110 news outlets studied. What’s more, nearly 15 percent of internet users, or 40.7 million individuals, only used a mobile device to access the internet in 2017 – an increase of 11.2 percent from the previous year. As audiences continue to turn to mobile for news, digital publishers are responding accordingly.
Rich visual experiences on mobile create better user engagement figures for publishers, as well as longer session durations. For example, Forbes ran a mobile-only experiment replacing most of its editorial with interactive visual formats and compared average engagement rates with those of traditional editorial. The results were striking. Session durations more than doubled, with 35 percent of users spending 10 minutes interacting with visual formats compared to the standard four minutes for a text-based piece of content.
The advertising benefits
As publishers embrace visual content for storytelling, it has a cascading impact on advertising revenue and monetization. Visual content — whether in the form of interactives, data visualizations, polls, games, quizzes and more — delivers higher levels of engagement and retention on-site. More engaged, loyal readers mean better results for ad inventory. As an example, The Independent, a UK-based news site, attracts 55,000 more unique users and 186,000 more page views every month because of games and puzzles. The Independent’s users spend an average of nearly 14 minutes on the site playing games, compared to the industry average of under four. And the more time on-site, the likelihood of ad inventory interactions increases, boosting CTRs, viewability and more.
Additionally, publishers can build ad inventory around visual media to reap greater financial benefits. More visual content provides publishers with an opportunity to similarly develop a high-CPM inventory that mimics their visually dynamic editorial, selling it at a premium to advertisers. For example, Josh Topolsky – co-founder of The Verge and Vox Media – created The Outline, a graphics-first news site that integrates interactive ads between its articles and works with brand partners to create specific visual ads. These ads include fact cards, draggable comparisons, and games that readers can play on both mobile and desktop browsers. Ads on the site receive a click-through rate that’s 25 times the industry average, alongside ad engagement rates that are 13 times the industry average. Advertisers are going where consumption is, and that means visual, interactive, and graphic-driven content. For publishers, this is a massive windfall.
What’s the catch?
While visual journalism certainly has its benefits, scaling that content among publishers is still proving to be a challenge. It requires additional newsroom resources and manpower — luxuries that not all publishers have. Emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, however, can remedy these problems and create opportunities for publishers with stricter budgets to more easily create and distribute visual content without breaking the bank.
But even then, current AI tools are only in their earliest stages of adoption and they aren’t cheap. Reg Chua, COO of Thomson Reuters explained that the idea of automation being cheap — just because it removes some of the cost of human labor — is in fact false. Automation tools need to be carefully managed, tracked, and maintained, making a seemingly inexpensive solution much more costly. Because of this, at the moment only the top-tier publications like the New York Times have the resources to invest in automation technologies. But as these big-name publishers spend the time and money to perfect the use of AI tools in journalism — and benefit from it in the short term — they will end up opening the doors for smaller publishers down the road.
While visual journalism is currently a hot topic, digital media will continue to evolve both in content and delivery. It’ll become increasingly critical for publishers to harness new innovations to resonate with audiences and stay ahead of the competition.