A newcomer’s perspective: top five interesting news formats

Fathm’s communications and admin trainee, Jacob Clapham, is new to the industry. After several months of immersion at Fathm where he has got to understand our work, and the broader journalism ecosystem, we thought it would be interesting to get his insights on the five most interesting news formats. Once he shared them with us we thought that others might also be interested in the observations of a new industry insider.

With the world still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, battling variant after variant,  there has been a captive global audience working from home with new formats to explore. Conditions that are perfect for innovation. I’m completely new to this industry and learning about these formats and how they have evolved over time is something I have very quickly become interested in. I’m sharing my “top five interesting news formats” and I look forward to seeing how things change and develop over 2022

Let’s start with what is perhaps more of a person than a format, Ros Atkins. Ros has become famous over the UK’s lockdown for his calm and considered manner, cutting through the noise with his assertive attention to detail. His videos are around six minutes in length, he starts by introducing the topic or using a pivotal point in the story to then expand and add context. Often, he adds multiple sources to provide a link to his opening thesis and this loop ensures the audience is reminded of the key talking points and continues following along. What marks his format out as different is the way he is able to layer in detail: he uses multiple sources often incorporating visual quotes, newspaper articles and video clips. Ros employs a casual tone to his videos typically not used by a traditional news reporter, creating a more inviting tone. His explainer video format has proved to be extremely popular with amongst my peer group with his videos often being viewed in the millions on Twitter. One such video series totalled over 14 million views.

According to Nieman Lab two-thirds of the TikTok audience are under the age of thirty. Omnicore data supports this, suggesting that 50% of TikTok’s global audience is below the age of 34 with 32.5% being between 10-19 years old.  I think this is because the format fits the audience. Instead of endlessly scrolling through Twitter reading pithy comments or mean tweets, with TikTok you don’t even have to read as it is entirely visual. Pick a trend (trends work like Twitter’s hashtags), swipe down and then watch video after video in your chosen topic. TikTok’s format provides the ability to overlay video on video, for example one video could pose a question and the other could answer it. NBC News’ Stay Tuned, for example, posts four times a week aligning trends with stories. “TikTok is like someone has invited themselves over for a dinner party” wrote Dave Jorgenson of the Washington Post, capturing how TikTok allows media organisations the ability to talk to their audience instead of down to them.

Visual podcasts could seem somewhat redundant, however turning an audio only format into a visual experience means you end up with something akin to a TV show imparting all the benefits that medium possesses. With Brexitcast, which has since been rebranded into ‘Newscast,’ it allows for a stripped back presentation showing journalists in a new light with allowances for humour, whilst still maintaining the professional tone of the BBC. 

With working habits now permanently changed as a result of the pandemic, and many opting to stay and work from home, email subscriptions to media outlets have experienced significant growth. Take Axios, as an example, which is an American news website with accompanying newsletter founded in January 2017. Employing a brief matter-of-fact tone, stories typically consist of no more than 300 words. These stories are often just bullet points, allowing audiences to scan-read the articles and digest the information that is important to them. This format allows busy people to stay up-to-date with the stories that matter. And with the likes of Axios running multiple newsletters, this adds further customisation options to the audience’s personal news cycle.

Gamification is an intriguing new format as it utilises a medium (games) which has long been associated with being frivolous and childlike. It is now being used by news organisations like the BBC, to both attract and teach a new wave of hopeful journalists about the particular nature of the newsroom. The BBC’s iReporter puts the player in the role of a journalist working on a breaking story, with the aim of teaching the player the importance of accuracy, speed and editing. It helps demonstrate how journalists can gauge audience reaction over social media through collecting comments and generating interactions as well as alerting the player to the dangers of using social media as a source of information and the need to avoid misinformation.