More news organizations are deep diving into service journalism. What’s that about?

Service Journalism

Service journalism.

It’s a newish term used by news agencies to describe what’s been the backbone for many news operations – the feature and evergreen material that typically fill editorial calendars. It’s the stuff that can be planned in advance.

Ask Wikipedia and here’s what you get: “generally consumer-oriented features and advice, ranging from the serious to the frivolous.”

It seems more and more news organizations are beefing up this content.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst and leader of news transformation organization with The Poynter Institute, says the content itself is “pretty straightforward.”

“[It’s] easy to produce verticals that have a following — and that people will pay for,” Edmonds says, mentioning The New York Times’s Crosswords or Cooking section.

For The Times, its how-to pieces are among the “best performers when it comes to signing up new subscribers,” reports Digiday.

“The Times has had service journalism as part of its bundle since at least the ’70s, but it’s taking a more systematic approach to it today as part of an effort to double its digital revenue,” reports Digiday’s Lucia Moses. “One way it’s doing that is through a new Smarter Living initiative and its set of interactive features called Guides.”

Guides covers a slew of how-to topics, from exercise and personal health to travel.

Not Exactly a New Trend

On Nieman Lab, Tim Herrera says in his piece The Safe Space of Service Journalism that the “pendulum is swinging back, and at the forefront of that swing will be service journalism and trusted guidance.”

“The sole purpose of this coverage is to help people live lives that are more efficient, more productive, healthier, and smarter — who doesn’t want that?” asks Herrera.

But this form of journalism isn’t a new trend. It’s been around for a while, complementing the traditional and hard news coverage of any agency.

MinnPost’s Brian Lambert even wonders about the distinction for service journalism in his piece, So what is ‘service journalism,’ anyway?

“But to the rationale for making a distinction: If identifying a problem, reporting and providing a solution is the essence of service journalism, how is that any different than what most of us understand to be … journalism?” Lambert asks.

Many seem to agree there’s financial gain to be made here. Whether there’s a limit to how much the market can bear – no one seems to know.

“It does seem we may reach the saturation point soon — but that logic does not always prevail,” Edmonds says. “Part of the answer is that verticals can be subdivided — e.g. fashion, fashion for millennials, fashion for millennials at work, fashion for millennials on their nights out, etc.”

Edmonds also says a topic also may have its own following or level of enjoyment.

Example: cooking. Whether readers make the recipes or not, some just enjoy having them or reading the content.

These also fit “handily into newsletter format,” Edmonds says.

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Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at @cpcube.

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