This paper has a text marketing editor (who compares the job to picking people up at a bar)

Every day as the clock ticks toward the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung’s 5 p.m. print deadline, Jenny Buchholz sits at her desk in the heart of the paper’s Munich newsroom and reads through the stories that will be posted online that evening and in the next day’s print paper.

Buchholz is hunting for stories to highlight in a section on the paper’s homepage called Das Beste aus der Zeitung: “The best of the newspaper.”

Buchholz is SZ’s text marketing editor. Her mandate is to decide which stories will only be available to the paper’s premium subscribers, and which might appeal to potential subscribers if they’re packaged in a way that will convince people that they’re worth paying for. She works with Andrea Landinger, who helps refine the coverage to improve SEO and clickthrough rates.

SZ created the text marketing role to coincide with the launch of its digital subscription model, which it calls SZ Plus, in 2015.

The paper’s paywall strategy is somewhat complex. General interest stories from wire services are freely accessible on SZ’s site. A meter allows free access to 10 staff-written stories per week. Premium stories and digital editions of the paper, however, are only available to paying subscribers.

A full-access digital subscription costs €34.99 (about USD $40) per month. Readers can also purchase €1.99 day passes that give them access to the stories behind the paywall. A two-week trial is free.

The “best of the newspaper” section on the SZ homepage features four stories that are only accessible via SZ Plus. The stories Buchholz chooses for those slots are generally from that day’s paper, and go live at 7 p.m., coinciding with the release of SZ’s digital edition.

A separate SZ Plus page collects all the premium stories. The site features older stories that were popular and also lets readers search for stories or sort them by topic.

Buchholz looks to highlight longer stories that will be worth readers’ time nd that cover a variety of topics. She then writes a headline and chooses an image that will help the story stand out on the busy homepage. “I need this one article to be convincing and worth their while,” she said.

“I’m very interested in having people return. When I type in a teaser to stories, I’m not at all interested in overselling or in clickbaiting them into reading it, because the worst thing that can happen is that they buy the article because it sounds interesting and then they read it and go, ‘Well that wasn’t worth it.’ I’m really not interested in that happening. We’re not an Autobahn stop where people come and eat and the quality of food doesn’t matter because they’ll never be back.”

From the beginning, SZ viewed the text marketing role as one that needed to be in the newsroom. Buchholz sits near the paper’s top editors and regularly consults with them about what the newsroom has planned.

At WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference in Copenhagen in April, SZ digital editor Stefan Plöchinger told me SZ purposefully structured the text marketing position in the newsroom so that it would fit into the newsroom’s workflows.

“If you start a subscription model, you have to have someone in the newsroom who is identifying with the subscription model,” he said. “We are trying to get the evolution of it going in the daily business of the newsroom.”

Buchholz works with staffers to write short teaser versions of SZ Plus stories that she also posts on the homepage to entice readers to buy access to the full version.

The job has a marketing aspect to it, as its name implies. Buchholz works closely with staffers on the business side of the organization, said Johannes Hauner, SZ’s head of digital marketing.

The budget for promoting stories on social platforms such as Facebook or via email campaigns comes from the marketing department, and working with the editorial team, Hauner said they’ll determine the best way to utilize that budget and which audiences they want to target.

SZ, for instance, will target stories to users with specific interests and also resurface timely archival content.

Buchholz also chooses up to 15 evergreen premium stories that are shown on rotation to un-logged-in readers when they try to read an SZ Plus story.

“One big difference between Jenny and me…is that she is a journalist who thinks very much in a marketing way, and I’m a marketer and I think in a journalistic way,” Hauner said. “She can write teasers in a very good way for marketing the articles. I couldn’t do that. That’s not my profession. That’s her quality. That’s very important. On the one hand we have to do it from the same point of view and the same way, and on the other hand it’s important that there’s a journalist who looks on the things we do and that there’s a marketer also. It has to be a very straightforward and together approach.”

SZ Plus had 55,247 subscribers in the first quarter of 2017, and while he provide specifics on conversion rates or how many daily passes the paper sells, Hauner said the paper looks at metrics both from outside platforms and its own website to analyze how it can improve how its pitches to would-be subscribers.

On Facebook, for instance, it wants to be able to target as many interested users as possible, without breaking the bank. “The cheaper it is in the target group you want to reach, the better,” he said.

But on its own site, SZ looks at how readers navigate its conversion funnel and interact with the paywall. The most important metric, Hauner said, is the number of subscribers, but another key data point the paper follows is how many people actually click on the subscription offers.

“If somebody pushes the button on the offer page to come into the funnel, that’s a very important click, in relation to the paid article’s total pageviews,” he said. “It represents the first attractiveness of that article.”

As part of this process, SZ regularly conducts A/B tests. For instance, it tested out different formats for the best-of section that highlights SZ Plus stories. It ultimately decided just to feature four stories a day, but Buchholz picks up to seven different stories to test out in that area, ultimately winnowing them down to four.

“We need A/B testing on a daily basis,” digital editor Plöchinger said. “That’s what e-commerce platforms do all the time, and that’s what we need to do as well.”

SZ ultimately sees the text marketing position as a way to reach readers and help maintain a sustainable digital business.

Often, the way that newspaper title and tease pieces is just “the equivalent of a person standing at the bar and just standing there, because they made their presence known,” Buchholz said. But there’s a better way to attract people: “I much more believe in eye contact, looking around, being a little more outgoing and trying to engage the audience.”

Photo by Felix Ro used under a Creative Commons license.

You can now use social audio app Anchor to publish podcasts

The social audio app Anchor is on Thursday introducing a new feature that allows users to easily publish podcasts to major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Users can initially set up the podcast through the app by choosing a name, art, and more, and then subsequent episodes will be automatically added to the feed.

“They’ll be able to control everything about the podcast that they need to control from Anchor,” cofounder and CEO Michael Mignano told me. “Our hope is that we can remove all of the technical and difficult aspects of the process to the end user. If we had it our way, the user would never even need to know what an RSS feed is. It’s an older piece of technology that we think most creators need to even be aware of.”

Even though users will be able to upload podcasts through the app, they’ll still be subject to the requirements of each of the podcast platforms, and Mignano said podcasts created through Anchor should be available on the various podcast apps within a day or two of the initial upload.

While Anchor wants users to create audio and listen within the app, Mignano said the company was adding the ability to export audio as podcasts because it wants to encourage users to create longer stories that might be better suited to listen to as a podcast rather than in the app, which was designed for shorter audio.

“For us, anything that removes friction or enables creators to make something is a win for both the creator and for us,” he said. “If we can bring people over to the platform by offering them tools they can’t get anywhere else, than we feel we’ve done our jobs.”

Anchor launched in 2016 and was designed to try and make it easier for users to record and share audio while also fostering discussions. The app was incubated at the New York startup accelerator Betaworks, and it has raised more than $4 million in venture funding.

Anchor has yet to begin monetizing the app, but Mignano said the app will likely introduce advertising or subscription offerings. He declined to offer a timeline, but said the company is committed to eventually sharing sharing revenue with users.

In March, Anchor relaunched the app with an array of new features, including integrations with Spotify and Apple Music that lets users import song and tools that simplify the interview process and enable listeners to call into shows.

At the time, Nick Quah wrote in his Hot Pod newsletter that the additions put Anchor in competition with Bumpers, an audio creation app founded by Ian Ownbey and Jacob Thornton, formerly of Twitter:

In my head, I’ve come to place Anchor and Bumpers in one bucket, given both these apps’ focus on serving as the mediating space between users and other users, while establishing another bucket specifically for short-form audio app 60dB and the AI-oriented Otto Radio which seems, to me at least, primarily occupied with developing a firm grasp on the interface between professional publishers and listeners.

Mignano wouldn’t say how many users Anchor has, and it remains to be seen if social audio can take off when apps such as Facebook and Snapchat already dominate many users’ time and homescreens. Still, a number of outlets, including The Verge and The Outline, are publishing on the platform, and as the app continues to evolve, Anchor wants to ultimately make it easier for users to create and share audio clips.

“People can both create and listen freely, much like open platforms for other mediums like photos, text, or videos,” he said. “We want it to be a conversation, we want it to be multidirectional, just not one way like broadcast. I think a way for us to get there is by opening up tools, creating utilities and tools that empower creativity.”

What are the ethics of using AI for journalism? A panel at Columbia tried to tackle that question

Journalism is becoming increasingly automated. From the Associated Press using machine learning to write stories to The New York Times’ plans to automate its comment moderation, outlets continue to use artificial intelligence to try and streamline their processes or make them more efficient.

But what are the ethical considerations of AI? How can journalists legally acquire the data they need? What types of data should news orgs be storing? How transparent do outlets need to be about the algorithms they use?

These were some of the questions posed Tuesday at a panel discussion held by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia University that tried to address these questions about the ethics of AI powered journalism products.

Tools such as machine learning or natural language processing require vast amounts of data to learn to behave like a human, and NYU law professor Amanda Levendowski listed a series of considerations that must be thought about when trying to access data to perform these tasks.

“What does it mean for a journalist to obtain data both legally and ethically? Just because data is publicly available does not necessarily mean that it’s legally available, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily ethically available,” she said. “There’s a lot of different questions about what public means — especially online. Does it make a difference if you show it to a large group of people or small group of people? What does it mean when you feel comfortable disclosing personal information on a dating website versus your public Twitter account versus a LinkedIn profile? Or if you choose to make all of those private, what does it meant to disclose that information?”

For example, Levendowski highlighted the fact that many machine learning algorithms were trained on a cache of 1.6 million emails from Enron that were released by the federal government in the early 2000s. Companies are risk averse, she said, and they prefer to use publicly available data sets, such as the Enron emails or Wikipedia, but those datasets can produce biases.

“But when you think about how people use language using a dataset by oil and gas guys in Houston who were convicted of fraud, there are a lot of biases that are going to be baked into that data set that are being handed down and not just imitated by machines, but sometimes amplified because of the scale, or perpetuated, and so much so that now, even though so many machine learning algorithms have been trained or touched by this data set, there are entire research papers dedicated to exploring the gender-race power biases that are baked into this data set.”

The whole panel featured speakers such as John Keefe, the head of Quartz’s bot studio; BuzzFeed data scientist Gilad Lotan; iRobot director of data science Angela Bassa; Slack’s Jerry Talton, Columbia’s Madeleine Clare Elish, and (soon-to-be Northwestern professor) Nick Diakopoulos. The full video of the panel (and the rest of the day’s program) is available here and is embedded above; the panel starts about eight minutes in.

The Swedish startup Kit is rethinking analytics for a broader view of what makes a story successful

Every time a staffer at the Swedish news startup Kit produces a story — no matter if it’s a Facebook video recipe for avocado hummus or a text story on Kit’s own website about coal-fired powerplants — they have to fill out 17 categories of metadata that the company developed to classify stories.

Those data points include 145 different classifications (for a total of 43 billion combinations) covering things such as the tone of the story (is it funny? Is it dry?) and the story’s intent (was it created to surprise the user? Is it supposed to explain something to them?)

Kit also collects more than 200 different output data points on every story, including time spent on the page, scroll depth, reach, engagement, and more, depending on the story’s format and the platform where it was posted.

The goal of collecting all the information is to create Kit Core, a taxonomy for editorial content and a more holistic overview of what makes a story successful, said Fredrik Strömberg, Kit’s cofounder and VP of product.

“We are trying to structure the editor part of this whole process,” said Strömberg. “A lot of data-driven editorial teams are looking at the subject: What do we want to write about? And there’s a a lot of data mining, data analysis, and text analysis engines that look at the content itself and say, well, shorter works better, or you should have seven images in there. We’re trying to fit in the space between the ‘what’ and ‘what came out of it’…Can I create the editorial assignment in such a structured way that somebody can receive this assignment and know what they are supposed to do?”

That’s the heart of Story Engine, the CMS that powers every aspect of Kit’s editorial processes — from story ideation through creation, publication, and distribution. Kit is primarily a distributed publisher, and everything it produces, no matter the platform where it is published, is created and distributed within Story Engine, which allows Kit to categorize stories in more nuanced ways and also optimize the content for each platform.

An example Strömbeg often shares compares two hypothetical boat accidents in the Mediterranean: One involves 12 Syrian refugees trying to reach Italy and the other includes 12 British tourists off the coast of the Gibraltar. Even though both stories could both be defined as accidents, they are dramatically different stories, he said.

“That would make a world of difference in how we cover that story, even though in a machine analytical way it’s the same thing,” Strömbeg said. “At the same time, how to cover the Olympics and the Nobel Peace Prize awards could be exactly the same…We’re trying to figure out — which is a bold claim — how to tell any story in the best way possible.”

The company uses a combination of the metadata staffers input and the analytics of how the stories perform to better understand how users consume different types of stories and content types on various platforms.

With video, for instance, virtually everything Kit creates is vertical or square ratio, and 97 percent of videos are created without sound, Peder Bonnier, Kit’s CEO and cofounder, said in an interview this spring in Copenhagen during WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference. Kit measures viewer retention uses that information to offer guidelines to producers on how they should create a particular video — including tips on how the storyboard and script could be optimized, and showing when viewers tend to stop watching the video.

“Usually, you have the story — a video, article, or image — in your CMS and you measure performance on that story with some Javascript or Google Analytics,” Bonnier said. “Then you have a bunch of distribution items tied to that story: a Facebook post, a tweet, an Instagram post, or whatever. It’s difficult to tie those systems together, and the most insight you can get is: Maybe it’s better for us to publish this to Facebook on Thursdays. But we do all of this in the same system. We produce a job, we attach a bunch of categories to it, and then we produce a bunch of distribution items to the job and categorize those as well. It enables us to say things like: If you want [a story] to be read through, it should be distributed this way. If you want it to generate massive engagement, it should be generated this way.”

Kit was founded in late 2014 by Bonnier, Strömberg, and editor-in-chief and cofounder Robert Brännström. It began publishing in spring 2015, and now has about 30 employees, half of whom work on the editorial team.

The site received 50 million Swedish krona ($5.7 million USD) in funding from Bonnier Growth Media, the venture capital arm of the media giant Bonnier. (The three co-founders all previously worked for the company, and Bonnier is on its board.) Bonnier Growth Media owns 67 percent, with the co-founders and employees retaining the rest of the ownership.

Bonnier wouldn’t disclose how the company performed last year, though it lost 22 million krona ($2.53 million USD) in 2015 before it began generating any revenue, according to its annual report. Kit has been collecting editorial data since it launched, and last year it began offering access to its content insights to brands and advertisers.

“Our business is totally based on how to tell a specific story in the best way, and selling that insight back to advertisers,” Bonnier said.

Editorial staffers are encouraged to experiment so Kit can see how different types of stories perform and continue to build out content forms.

For example, staffers recently changed the process of how they produce recipe videos. Traditionally, it had started with an overview of all the ingredients before going into the step-by-step instructions for how to actually make the recipe, ending with a scene showing the final dish. But they decided to try removing the ingredients overview and jump just straight into the recipe.

A post shared by KIT Mat (@kit_mat) on

A post shared by KIT Mat (@kit_mat) on

The move improved retention rates by 25 percent, Brännström said.

“We don’t want to mainstream the content that we produce,” he said. “We don’t want to just keep repeating what we know works. In every vertical that we’re in, we try to put 20 percent of the effort into developing new stuff or testing out stuff so that we don’t get stuck doing the same thing over and over again.”

In Sweden, Kit is now focused on growing its commercial operations. Bonnier said he could imagine Kit starting its own site or partnering with an existing news organization in another country, but for now the company remains primarily focused on Sweden.

As Kit continues to build its business, it’s focused on ensuring that its staffers and clients have the language to discuss and understand the data and understand what it’s telling them.

“You have to choose what you want to do, but you also have to have this language for it. If you just want to drive volume, then you have your set of tools or insights to do that. If you want to drive retention, content completion, more quality aspects of content, then that’s different from what drives reach,” Strömberg said. “We’re trying to get people to understand that this is not about doing something 1,000 percent better tomorrow. It’s about doing it better every day, having a structure for doing stuff better instead of just lucking out.”

This new tool will help your newsroom create better email newsletters

So you heard that email newsletters are the hot new trend for news organizations looking to reach highly engaged audiences and now you’re thinking of starting one in your newsroom. But where should you start? A new tool out Monday from the Seattle-based Crosscut Public Media and Reynolds Journalism Institute helps to hope answer newsroom’s newsletter questions.

The guide, called Opt In, offers a best-practice guide to starting and optimizing email newsletters with tips for design, revenue generation, content suggestions, metrics to follow, and more depending on what you want to accomplish with your newsletter.

“If someone opens up an email and it’s not relevant or it’s not useful once or twice, they’re not going to send feedback or help improve it. They’re just going to unsubscribe, or they’re going to blacklist it, or they’re going to spam-filter it. You then burn that relationship for the longer term,” said Tamara Power-Drutis, Crosscut’s former executive director who led the project as a 2016-2017 RJI fellow. “What we realized is that there’s a cost to sending poorly curated newsletters. If you send an email that isn’t relevant to someone, it actually has a potential harm on your brand or a potential negative impact on your revenue stream.”

She said they wanted to “look at what it looks like for newsrooms, specifically in the journalism field, to design effective emails for delivering the exactly right content and the branding they want to exactly the right people they want it delivered to. Email remains a really prime opportunity for engagement, for informing, for driving traffic, and for driving revenue.”

Opt In is free to use. Once users create an account, they’re asked to fill out a diagnostic form that asks about the reasons why the user is starting a newsletter and what they want to accomplish with it. The on-boarding process was designed to take an hour, and once it’s complete, users are emailed a PDF document with their full report.

The Crosscut team has spent the past year researching and developing the product. It surveyed more than 30 different newsrooms and individual journalists about their newsletter strategies, including The New York Times, Mic, and Ann Friedman, among others. Crosscut has also been regularly publishing updates about its research on the RJI site.

Lessons that the Crosscut team learned during this research — such as that the Times found that newsletter subscribers are 50 percent more likely to buy a digital subscription, or that Mic was able to drive three times more traffic to its site from its Mic Check newsletter after it was redesigned — have been applied to the Opt In tool, said Crosscut editorial and research assistant Sangeeta SIngh-Kurtz.

“Once people decide why they want a newsletter, they need to design a specific newsletter to feed into that purpose,” she said. “With our research we found that we could create something that helped people include those elements into their newsletters to help better achieve their goals.”

The Wall Street Journal is killing its What’s News app (but bringing lessons from it to its main app)

The Wall Street Journal on Thursday said it was shutting down its standalone What’s News digest app — one of the few survivors of a period when top publishers were launching secondary mobile apps aimed at reaching different audiences and incubating innovations harder to execute behind the outlet’s primary homescreen icon. The Journal is currently in the process of revamping its main news app, and it plans to introduce features it developed for What’s News into the main app.

The What’s News app — named for the Journal’s daily front-page briefs — launched in the summer of 2015 as the paper’s first mobile-only product. The app features a swipe-heavy design with a select 10 news stories at a time (plus some opinion). It’s updated regularly throughout each weekday, puts stories in quick summary form, uses custom headlines distinct from those on, and allows users to follow specific news topics. Access to the app was included as part of a subscription to the Journal. The Journal said the app had been downloaded more than 110,000 times; it will cease publishing on June 30.

Prior to the app’s launch, deputy editor-in-chief Matt Murray told my colleague Shan Wang that the What’s News app was the result of a concerted effort from the Journal’s news desk to become mobile-first.

“We were simply doing what all journalists are now doing, which is thinking about digital journalism, what our readers want, and how you experience news on your phone,” he said at the time. “Somewhere we made the connection to the news digest already in our papers, What’s News.”

Now the Journal is incorporating those lessons into its main app as part of a larger overhaul. In an interview earlier this month, before the paper announced its plans to to shut the What’s News app, mobile editor Phil Izzo said it was looking toward the What’s News app for inspiration as the Journal thought about introducing more flexible ways to indicate story hierarchy and package stories in the app.

Other news organizations, such as The New York Times, also introduced secondary news apps only to pare them back. (It’s a common strategy in businesses seeking to stoke innovation — separate and reintegrate.) In 2014, the Times launched the millennial-seeking NYT Now and a standalone Opinion app. It quickly shuttered the Opinion app before moving NYT Now to a free model, eventually eliminating it altogether last summer.

The Times of London also last year closed its secondary app aimed at international audiences after only 10 months of operation. The Washington Post still maintains two separate mobile apps (one “Classic” app, with the usual list of headlines, and one with a more swipe-friendly, forward-looking interface).

The Journal still operates a handful of other standalone apps, including the WSJ Live video app (though it hasn’t been updated since 2015) and WSJ City, an app that shares the same design as What’s News, but exclusively covers London-based business news.

But the Journal’s core focus now is its main mobile app — starting with iOS. Earlier this month, the Journal introduced rich push alerts and added the functionality to follow specific reporters in the app and receive a push notification every time they publish a story — useful for readers who want to pay close attention to a reporter covering their industry. (The paper had introduced a following feature — for topics and companies, not reporters — in the What’s News app last year. The Journal said those who used it spent 20 percent more time in the app than those who didn’t.)

In addition to redesigning the main feed to add more flexibility, the Journal would like to add increased personalization to the app, product director Jordan Sudy said.

“It’s already personalized with content that you save and the push alerts you’re receiving by following certain authors, but we want to be able to actually have some sort of feed or what have you in the app that will surface that content to you in a digestible way,” Sudy said. “Everybody sees the content that’s been chosen by the editors, but [we want to] also make the app for you — but not doing it in a binary way. Right now, it’s all the same app for everybody — the Times sort of does the same thing — or you have these aggregators where it’s the same app for everybody, but aggregated personalized content. We want to make sure we do both.”

The Journal’s personalization capabilities aren’t there to enable that quite yet, but Izzo said it is in the process of laying the groundwork by introducing better metadata through improved article tagging.

While previous redesigns were introduced as big wholesale changes (I wrote about’s 2015 redesign, for example) the Journal is now focusing on a more iterative process that will see lots of smaller incremental changes, Izzo said. He declined to provide a timeline for when the Journal would introduce additional features or when its current cycle would finish.

“We’re thinking of multiple iterations for as long as the phone is the primary delivery system for news, and then whatever comes next, then that’s going to be the thing that we’re thinking of,” Izzo said. “The whole point of making it an iterative process is that we don’t just focus on this intensely for a year and then we go back to doing something else. That’s going to create the same problem we had in the past. What we’re trying to do is set up a place where we can make changes. We’re never going to be a tech company. We’re never going to be Google or Facebook. But what we can do is have more control over our product and more control over what we put out.”

How The Washington Post plans to use Talk, The Coral Project’s new commenting platform

It was late April and the staff of the Coral Project was “on tenterhooks” as The Washington Post was conducting its first public test of Talk, the project’s new commenting platform, Andrew Losowsky recalled recently.

The Washington Post — which launched the Coral Project along with The New York Times, Mozilla, and the Knight Foundation to improve communities around journalism — invited about 30 commenters who were active on its Capital Weather Gang blog to try out the platform and offer feedback. The callout attracted more than 130 comments, which included Post staffers probing commenters for more details and specifics, and additional reactions submitted through a form and email.

“We were expecting people to be quite negative,” said Losowsky, the project lead. “Initial change isn’t something that people tend to welcome. It looks a bit different, it has a few different features, and the responses we got were actually very good and very respectful and thoughtful. That’s, of course, what can happen when you openly make clear that you are listening to and engaging with your readership.”

The Post plans to make the Talk platform its primary on-site commenting system, and it’s now working to further integrate it into its site with plans “to launch as soon as is practical,” said Greg Barber, the Post’s director of digital news projects.

The Coral Project, meanwhile, is taking that feedback from the Post’s users and integrating some of the changes they suggested into the platform.

Talk will replace the Post’s current commenting platform, which it calls Reverb, internally, Barber said. “It was born of necessity because our commenting vendor went out of business and we needed a solution, so we made one,” he said. “It was created during a time after the Coral Project had been announced but the Coral software wasn’t yet ready, so we needed an interim solution…it was never intended to be a permanent solution to our commenting needs. Coral was.”

The Coral Project launched in 2014 with a three-year, $3.89 million grant from the Knight Foundation that was set to expire this summer. The project has been able to secure additional funding from Mozilla and the Rita Allen Foundation to continue its work, Losowsky said, adding that they’re in conversations with additional funders, including Knight. (Disclosure: Knight also supports Nieman Lab.)

Along with Talk, Coral has also released Ask, a platform that enables newsrooms to ask specific questions of their audience, and it’s planning to release guides to journalism and engagement later this year.

While the Post will be the first news organization to use the Talk system, the Coral Project is in talks with a number of other outlets who didn’t want to be among the earliest adopters, Losowsky said.

Talk was designed with the idea in mind that a commenting platform should be more than just an empty box at the bottom of a story. As journalism business models become increasingly reliant on direct reader revenue — digital subscriptions are all the rage right now — Losowsky said commenting systems should work to proactively engage readers and build community around the news:

Almost everybody online knows how to post something on Facebook or Twitter. The barriers to entry to being able to publish your thoughts online is [low]. As a result of that, news organizations need to think about what is the kind of dialogue they want to host versus the kind of dialogue that will appear elsewhere. I think it’s perfectly fine to say that there are rules here that are different from rules in other spaces, and if you want to do some other form of interaction, you can go and do it over there — but this is the kind of thing we’re looking for here. These are the baseline assumptions that we have here. Here are the things we’re trying to do with it. This is what this space is for versus that space.

Being able to really define that, I think, is going to be really important. On the one hand, news organizations are not going to win in a battle with Facebook to create the best social network. But what news organizations can do is create a space which gives direct access to the journalists, that has the ability to bring the community into the process and be part of the process, manage interaction on the news organizations’ terms rather than Facebook’s terms about what is visible, what moderation tools you have, about the ability to focus and highlight on different conversations and so on. And news organizations can be transparent about how they’re using people’s data and really safeguard the privacy and transparency around the data of every interaction that they’re having with the community.

On every article, news orgs using Talk can set an opening prompt at the top of the box to try guide the discussion and keep the conversation on-topic. Other features meant to facilitate productive discussions include the ability to add context to reports of inappropriate comments, banned words that are automatically rejected and suspect words that are flagged for moderation, and badges for staff members so they’re easily identifiable.

Outlets can also personalize the way users can respond to comments. The default, based on research from the Engaging News Project, is a “respect” button instead of a “like” button.

Moderators are able to ban users directly from the comment, and the moderation dashboard automatically highlights banned and suspect words. They can also pin their favorite comments at the top of the feed, to highlight the best comments and also set the tone for the conversation.

“There are a lot of things that we’re focusing on — first of all, from the commenter’s perspective, really thinking about how do we indicate what’s wanted in the space and use subtle cues to encourage and improve the behavior,” Losowsky said. “Then, from the moderator or journalist’s side, how do we create tools to make it fast and easy to be able to do the actions that they need to take — remove the bad content, ban users who are abusing the system, suspend those who in some way are perhaps redeemable or having a bad day and give them a time out, and then be able to not only approve but highlight really good comments so that you’re indicating the kind of behavior you want to encourage.”

Talk, like everything The Coral Project has produced, is open source, so outlets can build upon it as they like and the entire Talk system is built around plugins, with the idea that publishers can tailor the system to their needs. The Coral Project also offers hosting services, which could be useful for smaller newsrooms.

For its part, the Post has been conducting quality assurance testing and also making sure the code in Talk doesn’t interfere with any of the other Post’s services. It was also tested on the Post’s development and staging servers to make sure everything worked properly before it was rolled out to users.

Barber said the test in late April was unusual because the Post conducted it before it was able to hook Talk up to its own authentication system, which is one of the ways that it’s customizing the platform to hook up to its infrastructure. The Post is also connecting Talk to the systems it uses to monitor its servers and hooking it into its CMS so comment streams can automatically be created for stories.

“The Coral Project group is continuing to build core features onto Talk and to take some of its features and turn those into plugins that are more accessible to organizations like the Post, so that we can tinker with them, as we’re often wont to do, to customize in different ways,” Barber said. “Other organizations that are interested in customizing in the same way that we are — or in ways that are different from what we want to do — will have that capability as well. The Coral team, of course, is critical to this. They’re building the main software, they’re building the main functionality, they’re giving us the spaces to customize the bits and pieces we want to work in specific ways. But then what The Washington Post team is doing is working on specific plugins that might not fit Coral’s overall strategy, but are things that we want to do here.”

The Coral Project team is also working on adding new features based on the feedback it received from Post commenters who tested out Talk last month. The current Post commenting system, for instance, allows readers to edit comments. Talk didn’t. They’re now working on adding an edit feature to Talk. Outlets will be able to set a time limit for — maybe five or 10 seconds — for commenters to read over their post and edit it before it goes live.

“If you change your mind, if you regret it, if you see a typo you still have a window in which you can edit and change it,” Losowsky said. “That was something that was requested by a number of different Washington Post people.”

Barber and Teddy Amenabar, the Post’s comments editor, were active in the comments for the test last month, thanking users for feedback and asking questions such as “Anything missing that you’d like to see in a new system?” They collected that feedback and created a spreadsheet with the information that they then shared with the Coral Project. The Coral Project plans to take that feedback and continue to build out Talk while also looking for ways to help news organizations develop their engagement strategies and define what kind of conversations they want to host on their own platforms.

“What do you want from us in this space from the perspective of the audience? And from the perspective of the journalist, what do we want in this space? What do we want to happen here? By outlining and making clear what your expectations are for the space, you’re already creating a greater likelihood of success.”

Photo by Philipp used under a Creative Commons license.

Study: More Americans than ever are getting their news on mobile, but there are huge partisan divides over the media’s proper role

It turns out that The Resistance to President Trump is accelerating changes in how many Americans — especially Democrats — are consuming news.

Americans increasingly prefer to get their news on mobile devices and are accessing more national news, according to a study out Wednesday from the Pew Research Center. These changes are being driven by Democrats; the report also highlights a number of growing divisions in Democrats’ and Republicans’ attitudes about the media.

Pew reports that 45 percent of U.S. adults now “often” get news on mobile devices. That’s an increase from 36 percent last year and 21 percent in 2013. The percentage of Americans who “often” get news on their laptop or desktop stayed practically the same from 2013 through 2017 with 31 percent of U.S. adults saying they “often” read or watch news in that way, according to Pew.

In total, 85 percent of Americans now get news on their mobile devices — the same percentage of people who access news on desktops and laptops, the study said. But of the people who access news on both desktop and mobile, 65 percent prefer consuming it on their mobile devices. That’s up from 56 percent in 2016.

The Pew survey found that the increase in mobile news consumption were primarily driven by Democrats: 52 percent of Democrats surveyed said they now get news on mobile devices often — a 15 percent increase from 2016.

“The gains here were not due to the fact that Democrats tend to be younger than Republicans; in fact, the largest gains were seen among Democrats 50 and older,” the study notes.

Democrats are also spurring increased interest in national news and are consuming more news directly from news organizations. 40 percent of Americans say they follow national news “very closely” now, up from 33 percent in 2016, the study found — an increase split between a 16 percent increase among Democrats and no change among Republicans. And much as with mobile news consumption, it’s older Democrats who are pushing the growth:

Sharp increases occurred among both Democrats ages 35 to 49 (from 26% who followed national news very closely in 2016 to 44% in 2017) and Democrats 50 and older (from 41% in 2016 to 63% in 2017), while there was no significant change among Democrats ages 18 to 34.

That increased interest hasn’t carried over to local or international coverage, for which interest has remained steady or declined:

Interest in local news actually saw a slight decline (33% follow local news very closely, compared with 37% in 2016) while interest in international and neighborhood did not change significantly. There were also no party-line changes here other than among independents whose interest in local news fell 9 points from 2016 (35% saying they very closely follow local news) to 2017 (26%).

45 percent of people who get news from digital sources also said they often get news directly from news organizations, as opposed to from people they know well or people they don’t know well, the study found: “As with interest in national news, this increase is driven primarily by Democrats (55% often get news this way today, up from 41% in 2016). No significant shifts occurred among Republicans or independents.”

Many news organizations have been able to grow their subscription bases due to this pronounced interest in news. The New York Times, for instance, added 308,000 digital subscribers in the first quarter of 2017, and the paper has positioned itself as a defender of truth with a new advertising campaign that it debuted during the Oscars broadcast.

Still, the Pew study found that Democrats and Republicans are sharply divided about what role the media should play.

According to the study, 89 percent of Democrats said it was critical for journalists to play a watchdog role and keep an eye on public officials. Just 42 percent of Republicans agreed. That’s the largest partisan gap since Pew began polling the question in 1985.

“While Republicans have been more likely to support a watchdog role during Democratic presidencies and vice versa, the distance between the parties has never approached the 47-point gap that exists today. The widest gap up to now occurred during the George W. Bush administration, when Democrats were 28 points more likely than Republicans to support a watchdog role.”

Republicans and Democrats also had sharply differing views on whether news organizations favor a particular side, whether information from national news organizations is trustworthy, and whether the national media keeps them informed.

However there is one area where both Democrats and Republicans agree: They both have low levels of trust in social media. Only 5 percent of web-using U.S. adults place a lot of trust in information they get on social media.

The full Pew report is available here.

Schibsted is creating new editorial formats — from messaging to personalized homepages

Last year, the giant Scandinavian publisher Schibsted restructured its product team. It centralized its efforts, creating one unified product and technology group that worked across all its publications. The idea was that the product team would be able to work with individual publications to develop new products before scaling them out to the rest of the company.

Schibsted — which publishes newspapers such as Verdens Gang and Aftenposten in Norway and Aftonbladet in Sweden, along with a strong digital classifieds business — also created a Next Generation Publishing Products team to help develop new ways to tell stories and present news to readers.

“We want to build common product and common technology,” Espen Sundve, Schibsted’s VP of product management, told me. “Not just for the newsroom, but for the end user. We’re rebuilding parts of the plane while it’s in the air.”

Sundve spoke last week at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, and he and I met after his talk to discuss Schibsted’s strategy in more detail.

He described how the team is working with Verdens Gang to develop a messaging-based news product and also working with Aftenposten to create automated personalizable homepages. The ultimate goal, Sundve said, is to enable all of Schibsted’s publications to use the platforms. “If they nail it, all the other companies will be on that other platform,” he said.

What follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

Sundve: Yeah, but it’s more in the actual newsrooms now. The same with Alexa, which is only in English. You want to test it, but there’s no really way to get anything besides qualitative data back on the performance. In some of these things, we should be really fast adopters of emerging and interesting technology as opposed to just when it starts to get some traction.
Lichterman: Is there anything else I should know about?

Sundve: This is not a reorganization that is forced upon a publisher. It’s a joint realization that if we join forces we can do more than by operating on our own. That also enables and makes it very easy for us to have integrated work between the newsroom, product, UX, data, and commercial.

My key worry when we started investing in a lot of data was that the newsroom [wouldn’t be involved]. They need to be part of it — otherwise, we have no competitive advantage.

Lichterman: The data needs to be useful to the newsroom.
Sundve: Or, like, what is interesting data to capture? What are the interesting editorial signals to capture. You can’t sit somewhere in a different building and think of those; if you do you’ll just think of the data Facebook captures, which is users, likes, and traffic.
Lichterman: What data points are you more interested in capturing?

Sundve: At the moment, we do very basic things. In the creation process, it’s getting the meta information around the story itself: tagging, what an image is conveying, what place, what’s the news value of the story, what’s the lifetime of the story.

My dream here — and this is far from reality — but take VG as an example. Every day at 10:45, the editor-in-chief goes down to the newsroom. The whole team, not just the newsroom, the whole organization, gathers for 15 minutes of “we’re great at this,” “we’re bad at this,” and these types of things. Those are amazing signals, right? The guy stands there and says: “We don’t portray women like this, this isn’t who we are.” There are a lot of these editorial aspects that we could start to capture.

Lichterman: So more qualitative things that you’re then able to quantify?
Sundve: I want to make sure over time that we’re able to quantify a lot of those things, so that when we do automation and personalization, we infuse the editorial signals in a very sophisticated way.
Screenshot of Sundve from this YouTube video.

Here’s how this Norwegian publisher built a successful digital subscription model for local news

Three years ago, the Norwegian publisher Amedia, which owns 62 local and regional outlets across the country, introduced a digital subscription strategy, starting with a universal login system across all its newspapers’ platforms it called aID.

And it’s found remarkable success: Since launching in April 2014, the company has signed up about 130,000 digital subscribers — more than any American newspaper aside from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. That’s in Norway, a country with a population of about 5 million people.

Amedia attributes the growth to a three-pronged strategy addressing three groups of customers: existing print subscribers, those who are registered online users, and those who are use the company’s sites without registering and logging in. In each case, the effort is to move people up the value chain: to get the unregistered to register, to convince the registered to subscribe, and to move print subscribers into digital registration and, eventually, to upsell them into premium products.

Amedia now has about 530,000 total paying users (both digital-only and print-plus-digital) registered in the aID system — about 10 percent of Norway’s entire population. And 800,000 Norwegians are registered on its sites.

Amedia expects the growth to plateau in 15 to 18 months, Pål Nedregotten, the company’s EVP in charge of business development, data/insight and innovation, told me last week at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. As the company prepares for growth to slow, it’s looking to find new ways to engage its existing audience more deeply. For instance, Amedia bought the rights to lower-level Norwegian soccer leagues and broadcast 347 matches last year.

Amedia made NOK 123 million ($14.3 million U.S.) in profit before taxes last year, a decrease from NOK 267 million ($31.2 million) in 2015. Advertising revenue fell by 16 percent in 2016, and for the first time last year, the company’s subscription revenue surpassed advertising.

Nedregotten gave a presentation about the company’s strategy at the conference. He and I spoke prior to his presentation about Amedia’s use of data, the importance of strong journalism, and what’s next for the company. Here’s a lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

Joseph Lichterman: I’m interested in your plan to get readers to register, subscribe, and then get them to higher-paid categories. How do you move them up that scale?

Pål Nedregotten: The phase we’re at at the moment is to try and convert scale into depth. We had a huge reach before we started this process, and we have started capitalizing on that reach. It’s like having a big reservoir that we’re building into a hydro dam that we’re funneling into electricity.

The key to utilize it further is to have a lot of data, so that we’re able to find the right segments to attack with different value propositions. We’re looking at how many visits it takes to register, how few visits it takes before you actually stop subscribing. We’re able to see patterns into which kinds of customers are likely to go to another level. We’re using this kind of insight both from the open-traffic, cookie-based, browser-based customers, all the way up the funnel to our logged-in really valuable customers, looking at what they’re willing to pay more for.

Because we’re a local media company — we have 62 titles scattered all across Norway — we have tested willingness to pay for more than one title, offering access in a region for all the newspapers we have in a region.

Lichterman: I’d imagine along with that data, though, you need to have the coverage that appeals to people.
Nedregotten: One of the most gratifying things, as an old editor and an old journalist, is that the stuff we thought was important actually turned out to be important. That’s what’s driving this growth: the quality of the journalism, the quality of the content we’re actually producing. We’re seeing that clickbait headlines don’t sell, don’t drive engagement, don’t drive reading time, don’t drive the financial situation of our company. What does is the exact opposite: good strong creative headlines, good strong creative journalism, and covering the topics that people in our local communities actually care about.
Lichterman: Does that also include content types like football rights, that aren’t traditional news but that readers are interested in and might be willing to pay for?
Nedregotten: Yes, but that is supplementary. It’s part of the remit of a local news brand that has been ever since we started in this business 150 years ago. It’s extending it. But if we were only to turn into a local football coverage site, it wouldn’t work. It’s a package.
Lichterman: In the U.S., it’s a big challenge for local publishers to get enough readers to be able to make either subscriptions or advertising revenue worthwhile. It seems like an advantage to have a large network of local papers across the country.

Nedregotten: Our journey isn’t necessarily a blueprint for others, but I do think some of our experiences are replicable. The key thing we rediscovered is the value of actually delivering something that a local reader values. Are we able to produce journalism? Are we able to deliver content every single day that people find relevant and that impacts them in some significant way, either as a standalone or as a process going over weeks and weeks? Delivering that kind of value is vital.

[Having 62 sites across the country] certainly made it easier for us, because we had done a lot of investments that we didn’t really have to think about; we had building blocks to stand on when we started out. But it was also understanding the advantages we had in the marketplace and the role we used to play in people’s lives. We wouldn’t have been able to execute if we didn’t have that kind of understanding.

It was starting out with: Okay, we have these 480,000 paying print subscribers. What are we going to do with them — are we just going to allow them to disappear one by one, or are we going to try and make them into digital users? That was the starting point that was rooted in a value that we had and a recognition of that value.

Now we’ve passed 130,000 paying digital subscribers; three years ago, we had zero. In a country with 4.1 million people above the age of 15, these numbers are significant.

Lichterman: How does print fit into the strategy?

Nedregotten: Print is vital for us. It will continue to be vital for us for years and years. An interesting side effect of what we’ve been doing in digital is that we’ve been able to increase the quality of our journalism, period. I would argue, and I think a lot of our readers would agree, that our printed newspapers are better for the digital transformation that we had.

When we started out, I’m sure a lot of people were worried about cannibalization, and people moving from print to digital, but that hasn’t really happened at all. We have good numbers to show that people who cancel their print subscription would cancel anyway, and we’re actually now getting them as a win back into the digital subscriptions. We’re putting up a value proposition: If you want the news delivered to your door every single morning, you can get it. If you don’t want that, you don’t have to. Every single print subscriber is also a digital subscriber, so they are getting the digital value and access to all the digital channels that we use, because we radically simplified our product pricing points and the products we offer.

One of the things holding us back in digital was production processes. All of our journalists were producing for templates in a print geometry. They were writing stories to fit the print geometry — because someone said many years ago that you should have four pages of culture, not withstanding the fact that you probably didn’t have four culture stories to print that day. When you just put those things online, no wonder nobody clicked on it or read it — it wasn’t that interesting. When we changed our production flow and our journalists started actually writing for our digital platforms and the digital tool first, that improved massively the quality of journalism that we were publishing in the print papers as well.

Lichterman: Has it been a challenge to get journalists across the company to change their processes?
Nedregotten: You don’t change these things overnight. We’ve been at this now for three and a half years, and the bell curve still applies. You do have a bunch of people who are really far ahead of the pack, and you have some who probably wish that digital never happened at all, but most of the journalists are in the middle. I think the important thing is that we’re shifting the bell curve to the right. There’s a lot of optimism these days, which is very intriguing to see.
Lichterman: How have things on the business side changed as the company has switched its focus from advertising to subscribers?

Nedregotten: We used to have pretty much 100 percent ad focus. The funny thing is that the ad business is coming up stronger as a result of the subscription business as well. We stopped going for scale for scale’s sake. We stopped chasing eyeballs, which meant that pageviews went down. But we were able to categorize the different kinds of readers that we had, and we could categorize the fly-by category. We saw that a lot of the less valuable traffic we had — less valuable even in advertising terms — came from those fly-bys.

We started going for the more engaged readers, the people who actually had a relationship with the communities where we published. That, after an initial settling-in phase, translated into higher pageviews.

There were a whole host of legal issues that we had to learn how to deal with. It’s also been a journey not just for the journalists, but for our sales guys, the administrative staff, the top management, pretty much for the entire organization.

Lichterman: You have 800,000 registered users, even though they aren’t all paying. How do you hope to grow that, or deepen that engagement?

Nedregotten: Deepening the engagement is really important. This doesn’t grow into the skies: There are only 4.1 million Norwegians above the age of 15. I would guess that we cover somewhere in the region of 2.5 million Norwegians, but not all of these people are willing to be subscribers. I would guess that we will start plateauing in 15 to 18 months. At that point, everything has to go into engaging.

Engaged readers are far better customers. They remain subscribers. It’s all about working smarter and being able to offer a better value for our subscribers. That’s probably never going to stop.

Lichterman: What does that added value look like? Is it additional things like the football, or other types of content?
Nedregotten: It’s certainly those things, but it’s actually far simpler and far more difficult than that. Quite simply, it’s better journalism. As hard and as easy as that.
2011 photo of Nedregotten at another journalism conference by NMD Spesial used under a Creative Commons license.

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