Tweetstorms are better with friends: How three papers are tweeting together over 4-plus days

Tweetstorms are usually the work of one person, but what if you could bring other voices in too? That’s what The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and Chicago Tribune did this week: They worked together to tweet about the riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.

The threaded tweets linked back to the papers’ own coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination and how it affected their respective cities. Here’s the Post’s coverage, here’s the Sun’s, and here’s the Tribune’s.

The thread was the original idea of Tauhid Chappell, who until recently was an embedded audience editor on The Washington Post’s local desk (he’ll soon start a position as the engagement editor at the Philly Inquirer). The project was run by the Post’s Julie Vitkovskaya, digital operations/projects director, and Ric Sanchez, social media editor; the Tribune’s digital news editor Elizabeth Wolfe, and the Sun’s audience editor Steve Earley. In a shared Google doc, they planned out tweets, including the timestamps for roughly when each would go out. The first tweet was sent at 7:01 p.m. ET on April 4, almost exactly 50 years since King was pronounced dead and the riots began. The papers will continue to tweet for as long as the riots lasted in their cities: The Post will stop adding to the thread on April 7, the Tribune will add to it through April 8, and the Sun will add to the thread through April 14, when the Baltimore riots ended.

Vitkovskaya has been thinking about how a group tweet thread would work within the Post — for example, the Post’s main account could start tweeting about a story like the violence in Gaza, and then the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Loveday Morris, could continue tweeting and reporting from Gaza itself over a period of several days. “We see this as a tool we’d like to use again,” she said.

The platforms are the problem: The fight against digital disinformation gets $10 million from the Hewlett Foundation

Philanthropic foundations are interested in tackling the fake news problem — but where do they put their money? When the Hewlett Foundation — the philanthropy founded by the Hewlett family of Hewlett-Packard fame — started looking at how it could get involved after the 2016 presidential election, it found most money was either going “upstream” or “downstream” rather than midstream. Continue reading “The platforms are the problem: The fight against digital disinformation gets $10 million from the Hewlett Foundation”

Scroll, the $5/month news subscription startup, signs up The Atlantic, Business Insider, Fusion Media Group, Slate, and others

Scroll, the news startup from former Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile that will charge $5 per month in exchange for ad-free reading across a number of sites, has signed its first partners ahead of its launch later this year, the company announced Thursday. They include The Atlantic, Fusion Media Group, Business Insider, Slate, MSNBC, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Talking Points Memo. Gannett also signed on as a strategic investor, joining The New York Times, Axel Springer, and News Corp. Continue reading “Scroll, the $5/month news subscription startup, signs up The Atlantic, Business Insider, Fusion Media Group, Slate, and others”

Six years later, the Financial Times is back in the App Store. (Apple still won’t get a cut of subscriptions.)

“Six years is a long time in product,” said Martin Fallon, the Financial Times’ product manager for apps. Six years ago was the last time that the FT’s main app was in Apple’s App Store. In 2011, the company introduced a web app and, a couple months later, pulled its dedicated iOS apps because, reportedly, it did not want to give Apple a 30 percent cut of in-app subscription revenue and wanted more information about subscribers than Apple was willing to provide.

More than half a decade later, you can find the FT app in the App Store once again (alongside some of the company’s other apps, like FTChinese, that never left.) Apple will not, however, be getting a cut of subscription revenues; as The Wall Street Journal reported Monday:

The new iOS app will therefore only be accessible to existing FT subscribers. New readers won’t be able to purchase subscriptions from within the app itself, but must instead do so from the FT’s website before logging in.

This model means the FT can avoid giving Apple a cut of subscription revenue and will allow it to collect payment information and other valuable data directly from its subscribers. Spotify and other subscription-based services have taken a similar approach in recent years.

“We identified an iOS app as a key way to drive engagement,” Fallon told me. “We saw that readers who used our existing apps were much more engaged than those who didn’t. We also saw that we had a much higher app adoption rate on Android, where we had a native app, than on iOS.” (Engagement became a bigger part of the discussion in 2015, when the FT created an audience engagement team.) He also mentioned other benefits of an iOS app over a web app: Improved offline reading, persistent login, easier sharing, and — ultimately — push notifications and automatic update downloads, things that readers have been asking for but that weren’t possible with the web app.

“Another motivation is simple — customers asked us for it,” Fallon said.

Right now, the FT’s iOS app is aimed only at existing subscribers. When you open it, you’re prompted to sign in; if you don’t, you can see a homepage but can’t read a single story. The web app will continue to exist for now, but the FT intends to move the majority of its readers over to the iOS app. (As of Monday, I couldn’t find anything on the FT’s site to alert readers to the existence of the iOS app; it was still only promoting the web app.)

The Financial Times has nearly 870,000 total paying subscribers (up 9 percent from this time last year); of those, 666,000 are digital-only subscriptions (up 13 percent from this time last year). More than 50 percent of the FT’s digital subscribers already use its apps, and with the launch of the iOS app, that percentage is expected to increase.

In 2017, the one thing every digital-native news outlet needs is a newsletter (not an app)

Newsletter > Apple News > podcast > app: In terms of how digital-native news outlets get their information out, the newsletter wins. That’s according to a digital news fact sheet from Pew Research Center, released Monday. It looks at 36 news outlets that originated online and have at least 10 million unique visitors per month (list of outlets, from 247sports.com to Vox.com, here).

Sites do not appear to be increasingly building native apps: The percentage of top digital-native news sites with an app remained steady between 2016 and 2017, at 61 percent:

This does not appear to include responsive sites: “For mobile apps, researchers searched the Google Play and iOS App Store for each site,” according to the fact sheet’s methodology.

Other publishing methods are more popular:

Fully 97 percent of these outlets offer newsletters, and 92 percent have an official presence on Apple News. Three-quarters, meanwhile, release podcasts and 61 percent allow comments on their articles.

The full fact sheet is here. Pew also released two other new fact sheets — one on public broadcasting, one on Hispanic and African American news media — on Monday. (These fact sheets, with staggered releases, have taken the place of what was once Pew’s giant annual State of the News Media report.)

The Toronto Star, “surprised by low numbers,” is shutting down Star Touch, its expensive tablet app

The Toronto Star announced on Monday that, “after much research,” it’s shutting down Star Touch, the expensive ($23 million invested!) tablet-only app it launched in 2015. The app’s shutdown is accompanied by layoffs of 29 full-time employees and one part-time employee.

“The overall numbers of readers and advertising volumes are significantly lower than what the company had forecast and than what are required to make it a commercial success,” John Boynton, president and CEO of TorStar and publisher of the Star, wrote in a memo to employees. (The previous publisher, John Cruickshank, stepped down last year after it became clear Star Touch was underperforming.)

A Star spokesman told The Globe and Mail that “the tablet’s monthly audience peaked at 80,000 unique readers, a small percentage of the Star’s monthly online readership, which hovers around 550,000 in the Greater Toronto Area alone.” It had originally aimed to be at 180,000 daily users by the end of 2016; it was at only 26,000 by March of last year.

Star Touch shuts down July 31 and will be replaced by a new universal app that, well, sounds as if it does what any news app should do now and it’s crazy the Touch app didn’t do these things: “operates both on smartphones and tablets…offers more of the features that you, our readers, have told us you want: breaking news, constant updates, more content, easy searches and navigation and the ability to share items much more easily on social media.”

“We need to simplify our business and having three downloadable apps, namely a tablet app, a mobile app and PDF, confuses consumers and is resource intensive, complex and costly. Having just two apps will simplify this,” Boynton wrote in his memo, printed in full at Canadaland along with a memo from the Star’s editor-in-chief, Michael Cooke. (The two apps will be the universal one and this print replica.)

Star Touch was supported by advertising and entirely free to readers. It was modeled on Montreal’s French-language La Presse+, which is digital-only via iPad app (and website) Monday through Friday and has a print edition on Saturdays (though that too is expected to go away later this year).

La Presse “remains, by accounts as recently as last week, a success,” editor-in-chief Cooke noted in his memo. “Throughout the diligent work before, at and after launch, Star executives and managers, and really all of us, knew there was significant risk that the Montreal experience might not translate to the [Greater Toronto Area] — arguably the toughest, most saturated media market in North America.”

Ken Doctor wrote about Star Touch’s “one time a day” model for Nieman Lab in 2015:

Star Touch, like La Presse+, won’t be a breaking news product. Readers get one edition a day, seven days a week. The breaking news function, The Star believes, remains with free smartphone and desktop web; Star Touch will link to The Star’s site for live files. Why? Research showing readers want editions — the old Economist bookends theory — and, in any event, the complexity of tablet presentation would require even more labor for a continuously produced product.

While the Star gradually built other updating features into the Touch app — a “live news” panel for real-time updates; breaking news notifications — it clearly wasn’t enough to convince readers that a tablet app updated once a day was the best way to get their news.

Canada’s Postmedia also made a bet on tablet editions which it shut down in 2015. It announced last week that it is launching new mobile apps for the National Post and the Financial Post, as well as a new digital replica of the National Post.

Star Touch closing notice from this tweet.

Bloomberg Businessweek gets a two-tiered paywall, a substantial price increase, and a new look

Bloomberg Businessweek has a big new interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook — and it would really like you to pay to read it. Businessweek launched a two-tiered metered paywall (and a resdesigned site, app, and weekly print magazine) Thursday. There’s also “a new regionalized email newsletter,” Daily IQ, only for subscribers.

Here are the paywall details from Bloomberg’s announcement post:

Bloomberg Businessweek is shifting to a two-tiered membership model: Digital Only, which includes access to the app, Daily IQ, unlimited access to Businessweek content online, and 6-8 special print issues a year; and All Access, which grants all digital benefits plus the weekly print magazine, quarterly conference calls, and live-streams of key events. A metered paywall is now in effect for Businessweek content online and readers without membership will have access to four free stories per month.

The digital-only access costs $12 for the first 12 weeks, and $15 per 12 weeks thereafter (so, $65 a year). The full package is $12 for the first 12 weeks and $25 per 12 weeks thereafter, about $108 a year.

Businessweek appears to be taking pages from the playbook of some digital outlets. The Information also offers conference calls and exclusive events to its subscribers, who pay $399 a year, and also focuses on affluent professionals who can pay (there are student rates as well). Axios wants to reach a similar audience and is thinking about a subscription tier as high as $10,000, though it’s entirely free for now. The difference between The Information/Axios and Bloomberg is that Businessweek is also saddled/blessed with a print publication.

The Financial Times reports:

The new pricing is a substantial increase from the average $40 per year that Businessweek charges for the print magazine. [Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith] said the aim was to position the title at “the premium end of the market.” As a result, the magazine has cut its rate base — circulation promised to advertisers — from 1m in January to 600,000, phasing out bulk subscriptions and what Mr. Smith called “the lowest value subscribers.”

“We’ve tried to focus on smart, clever people who have more money than time on their hands,” John Micklethwait, Bloomberg editor-in-chief, told the FT. (Micklethwait used be at The Economist, which could have made a similar value proposition.) “We know that from the terminal, from what Bloomberg has achieved, [the goal] is to find people who are willing to pay money to get very high-quality information and journalism. That’s what we’re trying to replicate.”

Scribd says it has over 500,000 subscribers paying $8.99/month for ebooks, audiobooks, and now news

Scribd’s $8.99/month subscription service started out with only ebooks. Over time, it’s expanded to audiobooks, sheet music, documents, magazines — and, as of Tuesday, newspapers. “Select articles” from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian, as well as some archival content from the Financial Times, will now be available to Scribd subscribers.

And Scribd says there are quite a lot of subscribers: The service now has over half a million paying subscribers, paying $8.99 a month, and the company is profitable. I was so surprised by the subscriber number that I asked CEO Trip Adler to repeat himself; it’s true, he said: “We have a $50 million revenue run rate.” The San Francisco–based company now has more than 110 employees.

Newspaper content was a “natural addition” for Scribd, Adler said. The most popular forms of the content on the service are, in order, ebooks, audiobooks, and documents. Magazines were added last fall. Scribd used to also include comic books and graphic novels in its service, but stopped including them because there wasn’t enough reader interest. It also switched from a completely unlimited content model to one that offers access to three ebooks and one audiobook per month. (Documents, magazines, and newspapers are unlimited.)

Judging by Scribd’s stated membership numbers, the switch in business model appears to have worked. The numbers seem impressive and are not something that I would have predicted a couple years ago when the ebook subscription site Oyster shut down — especially considering that Amazon keeps adding more reading offerings to Prime.

Scribd won’t be focusing on breaking news from the papers it partners with. Instead, it’s looking for longer, more evergreen content that “fits in with a book kind of experience,” Adler said. “We’re going for the longer-form content that might actually take a few minutes to read, has a longer shelf life, and will be interesting beyond the first day it comes out.” The newspaper content — along with Scribd’s other content — is organized by interest.

Each of the newspapers is making a fixed number of articles available to Scribd; Scribd editors choose which ones to include on the service. Some of the publishers are being paid a flat licensing fee; others are paid by the read.

“People have been talking for a long time about how to monetize journalism and we think we’ve come up with a really interesting answer,” Adler said. The newspapers included for now are the big names that aren’t having as much trouble monetizing as smaller papers, but Scribd may include more papers in the future. “We think, if we can offer all these different newspapers together for one subscription price, we can return more money to journalists that way.”

More European newspapers are charging for content online (but there are differences by country)

“A lot of people in the market are talking about paywalls or free traffic very much from an angle from what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes people think there is only one strategy: theirs,” Christian Röpke, the CEO of German newsweekly Die Zeit’s online presence Zeit Online, recently told my colleague Joseph Lichterman. As Zeit Online tries to attract a younger audience that might ultimately pay for its product, it’s trying a number of different strategies, from live events to new types of editorial content.

Die Zeit just launched a new metered paywall in March, and it certainly isn’t alone: Though their strategies vary, European publishers are moving away from offering all of their content online for free, according to a factsheet released Wednesday by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The factsheet looks at the different kinds of paid content (freemium, metered paywalls, hard paywallsc) across 171 different news organizations in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Finland, and Poland.

Among the findings:

— Across the countries, 66 percent of the newspapers and 71 percent of weekly newspapers and news magazines had some kind of pay model. Freemium models were most common, followed by metered paywalls. Of digital-native sites, 97 percent offered their content for free; the only one in Reuters’ study that didn’t was France’s MediaPart (there’s also De Correspondent in The Netherlands, El Diario in Spain, and Zetland in Denmark, but this report didn’t look at those countries).

— For news organizations that did have a pay model, the average monthly subscription price was €13.64 (USD $15.19). But there are a lot of regional differences; the U.K., though it “has the lowest percentage of newspapers and weeklies with pay models,” had the highest average monthly subscription prices (in part because high-priced business newspapers like the Financial Times were included in Reuters’ sample).

— Not surprisingly, a lack of competition (either in terms of geography or language) makes it more likely that a newspaper will charge for content:

A much larger share of newspapers and news weeklies in Finland (87%), France (95%), and Poland (90%) have adopted pay models. These are markets that are either dominated by a limited number of very strong incumbents (like Finland) or markets where the digital display advertising market is very small (like Poland).

In Germany, a more competitive market, “almost half (48%) of newspapers and weeklies in our sample offer free access to news.” A 2016 Reuters report found that only 6 percent of Germans had paid anything for online news in the past year, compared to 20 percent of Poles and 15 percent of Finns.

The factsheet is here.

Vice News Issues takes a “homepage-isn’t-dead” approach to big topics (first up: populism)

Is it possible to take a step back and go deep on a topic on the Internet? It should be, but the busy, crazy news cycle of the last few months has made it difficult to focus on anything for more than a few minutes.

A new project, Vice News Issues, is a digital magazine-y concept that’s trying to address the issue. On Tuesday, Vice News’ homepage is taken over with a package of stories on one topic: populism.

“The push on the web these days is toward individual articles. Homepages are dying. We wanted to try to bring a little more energy back to our homepage and really act like a main magazine for a day,” said Ryan McCarthy, editor-in-chief of Vice News.

Our first topic is populism, which, depending on who you ask, is either a dangerous, anti-democratic movement sweeping the globe or the force that’s going to reclaim power for millions of citizens. To find out, we sent a novelist to the Philippines to investigate why the country supports an admitted murderer; spent time with Polish skinheads in Europe’s most homogenous country; talked with minorities in France after its historic election; figured out how populists talk; and created our own fake but arguably politically viable American Populist Party.

The package includes both long articles and video. Vice News has the ambitious plan of doing these packages “a few times a quarter” (several months of work went into this one), and future issues will integrate with Vice’s series on HBO. The ideal topics for the packages will focus on big ideas; one possible upcoming one is “future of news.”

“A lot of people will enter this from social, but we’re hoping that the visual language of design will get them to keep reading,” said Simone Landon, Vice News features editor. “There are different pieces and different styles for people to engage with across the board. We’ll also promote the package as a unit, as you would if you were a magazine doing a special issue.” People might also save the package to a service like Instapaper to read on the weekend, she suggested.

I asked McCarthy and Landon how they’d thought about general interest news magazines — which for the most part have struggled terribly in the Internet age — when they were putting their package together. The idea of an online magazine certainly isn’t new, and it can be difficult to sustain readers’ interest across multiple stories or get them to remember to come back to something on a read-it-later service.

“Magazines, traditionally, are really good at unifying on a certain topic, bringing you from one story to another, and giving you an overall aesthetic,” said McCarthy. “The web traditionally has been pretty bad at that and I think to some extent readers are underserved by it. This package has the same tone and feel of a classic magazine, but was built for the Internet era and built to be distributed individually. We’ll see if it works.”

The Christian Science Monitor’s new paid, daily product is aiming for 10,000 subscribers in a year

“If the Monitor were to vanish, what would the world lose, really?”

That’s the first line of a column will appear in next week’s print issue of The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, the 109-year-old print magazine. The question is what has driven the team at the Monitor to think over the last 18 months about how to replace its website with a different kind of core digital product that would (a) make clearer the publication’s focus on “a completely different way of seeing the news,” (b) get readers to pay for that news, and (c) abandon outmoded ways of arranging content.

“We had felt like we were trying to do three different things at the same time,” said Mark Sappenfield, the Christian Science Monitor’s editor, who just replaced Marshall Ingwerson in March. “We were trying to keep our core product going, build our verticals, and play the pageview game.”

“We’d been marching through these business lines and not really feeling that successful in any one of them,” said David Grant, associate publisher. “The long-term sustainability wasn’t there. What we landed on was trying to build a much deeper relationship with our readers. That’s landed us on this journey of going all in on digital subscription. The Daily is really in the service of this mission of making people more thoughtful, less neurotic, more calm, and seeing the world through the lens of progress.”

On Monday, the Monitor launched Monitor Daily, a daily news digest of five pieces of content (stories, videos, graphics), plus one editorial and “one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight often related to the news,” that will be emailed to subscribers each weekday at 6 p.m. Boston time. Each article can either be read in “30 Sec. Read” form — a summary that still has a clear beginning, middle, and end — or expanded to a full edition that is estimated to take about 50 minutes to read. The Daily is also on the Monitor’s website and available as audio (read by Monitor staff) to stream or download.

“We’re bringing the whole organization into focus around this task,” said Sappenfield.

The Monitor Daily, which has no ads, is free for a month. After that, it will cost $11 per month or $110 a year, or $9 a month/$90 a year for subscribers to the print weekly. That price, the team believes, is competitive. While the Monitor’s website will still run some free content — namely evergreen Monitor stories that are one or two months old — “our mission is really to get you to sample this thing, and eventually get you to become one of our subscribers,” said Grant. The homepage has been completely redesigned around the daily. In general, Sappenfield said, when it comes to the Daily coverage, users will get to see the package for free one time before they’re required to subscribe.

In months of “constant sprints,” the Monitor’s team tested beta editions of editorial products. “The key question is always, ‘How disappointed would you be if this didn’t exist, on a scale of 1 to 10?’” said Dave Scott, chief product manager. “If we weren’t getting 8 and above, we’d go back in and do some more work. We got to the point where we were getting 8 and above and decided to go forward.”

In the last two weeks, of the 4,000-plus unique readers who looked at a version of the package, 74 percent read past its fourth item and 44 percent made it to the bottom of the package. Twenty-six percent of beta readers expanded an article while they were reading.

“The fact that we’re not sending readers someplace else to read the content, and letting them read only what matters to them, is paying dividends in letting them read more,” Grant said.

The team’s goal is to reach 10,000 paying Daily subscribers by a year from now, which seems extremely ambitious. Slate Plus, which is $5 a month or $49 a year, was able to draw 9,000 paying subscribers in its first year, but Slate is bigger than the Monitor. “It’s not an easy goal,” Grant acknowledged. “But when we show up to work every day, that’s what we folks on the business team are thinking about: How do we get to 10,000 subscribers?”

Photo of The Christian Science Monitor building in Boston by Sarah Nichols used under a Creative Commons license.

The New York Times just had a pretty stellar first quarter, thanks to The Wirecutter and a ton of new digital subs

The failing New York Times actually had a pretty amazing first quarter, adding more subscriptions than at any other point in its history (308,000 net new digital subscriptions!). Despite continued declines in print advertising, the company was able to make up enough from digital advertising, subscriptions, and brand-spanking-new affiliate revenue from its Wirecutter/Sweethome acquisition to actually grow revenues overall: They were up 5 percent for the quarter, to $398.8 million.

Unpacking the release a bit:

— The New York Times now has 2.2 million digital-only subscriptions, up 62.2 percent compared to this time last year. It added 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the quarter, “making Q1 the single best quarter for subscriber growth in our history,” CEO Mark Thompson said in the release. 40,000 people subscribed to the crossword product during the quarter.

— “Circulation revenue from the Company’s digital-only subscriptions (which includes news product and Crossword product subscriptions) was up 40 percent over this time in 2016, to $75.8 million. $72.9 million of that came from subscriptions to news products, meaning that the Crossword product subscriptions are pulling in around $3 million a year.

— Digital advertising revenue was up 19 percent, to $49.7 million, while print advertising fell by 17.9 percent. Digital now makes up 38.2 percent of the company’s total advertising revenues, an 8.3 percent increase compared to this time last year.

— The acquisition of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome is paying off. The Times made $26.4 million in “other” revenues in the first quarter, a 20.9 percent increase compared to this time in 2016. According to the release, this was “largely due to affiliate revenue associated with the product review and recommendation websites, The Wirecutter and The Sweethome, which the Company acquired in October 2016.” If the Times indeed made $5 million in affiliate revenue in a quarter, the reported $30 million that the company paid for the sites now seems like a total bargain.

We’ll be on the conference call at 11 a.m. ET.

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