Publishers forge ahead with VR, even if users and advertisers lag behind

When it comes to virtual reality, few publishers are as committed as The New York Times, with its dedicated VR app and Daily 360 feature, helped by funding from tech giants Samsung and Google. All told, the Times produces one six- to 10-minute VR film a month and one one- to two-minute 360 video per day, showcasing curiosities like the inside of a fireworks factory and far-flung places. It’s finding people are watching the longer videos to the end. “We’re beyond testing and learning,” said Varun Shetty, executive director of strategy and business development at the Times.

Another early mover, USA Today, is entering its second season of its weekly VR show, “VRtually There,” which has explored extreme sports and nature, after racking up 10 million views in season one last fall, on no fewer than seven platforms. “We are absolutely still moving full steam ahead,” said Kelly Andresen, the head of USA Today’s branded content studio, Get Creative.

But outside those two publishers and a handful of others, there’s less to crow about. VR is still test-and-learn territory for most publishers. It’s a great way for publishers to inspire their newsrooms, many of which have been demoralized by budget cuts; capture the attention of jaded audiences in their crowded news feeds; and show advertisers just how innovative publishers can still be.

“Building ‘VRtually There’ has really changed the perception of our brand,” Andresen said. “If it ends up they buy high-impact Gravity ads instead, that’s OK.”

But the headsets are expensive and not used widely, and brands are unsure how to advertise on the medium, which also makes VR extremely difficult to scale from production, technology and distribution standpoints, said Mike Dossett, associate director for digital strategy at RPA, who closely follows VR and its variants.

Publishers can get more audience scale by doing 360 video, VR’s lower-tech cousin that doesn’t take a special headset to view. But 360 is less captivating, both because of its less immersive nature and because the newsroom skills haven’t caught up. That risks diluting the experience and letting down viewers who are still new to the tech.

Dossett said he’s not seeing publishers scale back, but at the same time, he’s not seeing new ones jump into the fray. “We’re not getting a new flush of activity,” he said. “VR is still in the late stages of experimentation.”

Publishers doing VR are still relying on branded content, and for a lucky few, tech company funding. But there’s no guarantee the tech dollars will last. Shetty acknowledged the VR ecosystem would be more modest if not for the tech dollars feeding it. “They play a pretty big role,” he said. When the Times’ Samsung partnership ends after a year, the publisher will likely still do 360 video, but may do them less frequently, depending on the newsroom’s other priorities.

And advertising on VR is still just the domain of a few blue-chip advertisers; USA Today’s VR advertisers have included Macy’s, Nest and Honda.

Most advertisers are so new to the medium and don’t have VR-ready ads, and most publishers are new to making VR ad content themselves, so the path to monetization is far from clear. “For brands looking to wildly stand out, we’re not relying on publishers,” Dossett said. To ease advertisers along, USA Today has offered them the ability to do simpler sponsorships, Andresen said. “People don’t have the language or knowledge of how to buy it,” she said.

Other publishers strike a more conservative tone when it comes to VR. The Wall Street Journal sees VR/360 video as a “great storytelling tool,” said Joanna Stern, deputy head of video. “We, however, only use it when it is the best way to bring the story to life.” Similar, the Financial Times said it considers VR/360 something to do only when it truly enhances a story, and has no plans to do any in the immediate future.

Some publishers are focusing on 360 or augmented reality video instead. The Washington Post is prioritizing AR this year because it’s less expensive than VR, doesn’t require a headset and advertiser demand already exists. Slate took a half step into VR by initially creating its new weekly talk show in 2-D so it could be watched on any screen and designed it to be low-cost, so its continuation wouldn’t depend on ad support.

The Economist produced three VR films by the end of last year, but its future slate of VR production depends on whether it gets the ad sponsorship to pay for it, much like the rest of its films, said David Alter, director of programs at the publisher’s Economist Films unit. “Would we make VR films on our own dollar? We don’t have any plans to do that,” he said.

That doesn’t mean The Economist isn’t halfhearted about VR, though, as an investment in March in a VR startup, Parable, suggests. “It’s still early days for us,” Alter said. “We’ve scratched the surface of what it can do.”

The post Publishers forge ahead with VR, even if users and advertisers lag behind appeared first on Digiday.

NYU Media Talk: Riding the Rollercoaster

“The lock screen will become our new home base,” said Clifford J. Levy, Deputy Managing Editor of The New York Times, in reference to his locked iPhone. It is his first source of news every morning.

I think back to my own 6:45 AM push notifications of CNN’s latest stories, media updates from POLITICO’s morning newsletter, job postings from an automatic job site e-mail, headlines from The Skimm’s daily news recap, and text messages from my family and friends. I am in total agreement. Listening to Levy and the other media thought leaders assembled for the 21stNYU Media Talk, hosted by the NYU Center for Publishing, I was struck by how drastically the distribution of content has changed. Continue reading “NYU Media Talk: Riding the Rollercoaster”

Newsonomics: The New York Times’ redesign aims to match the quality of its products to its journalism

Please sign in.

Those three words — a request as old as the web — now drive the strongest strategy of our news era: reader revenue.

Today, The New York Times announces and starts to rollout the most significant redesign in its digital history. That redesign, 18 months in the arduous making, won’t turn heads or surprise many eyes, but its underlying thinking aims to empower the Times newsroom to deliver more timely, more nuanced, and more dramatic products to its readers — and thus for the Times to get more readers to pay for more of them. With this move and others, the Times aims to provide more and more reasons for readers to log in and get a constantly improving product offering as they move from phone to desktop to tablet to audio-on-demand and, eventually, to the new TV. Though the changes may not be flashy, they represent a significant change in strategy.

The Times calls the new system Vi — pronounced “vie”, not “six.” (Times watchers will note that an earlier redesign team was called NYT5.)

“People are inundated, surrounded with information 18 hours a day, and we understand that they get it from a variety of sources. So the question is: How do we, at any given moment across the day, across the globe, present the report in the most meaningful and easily accessible way that we can?” says Kinsey Wilson, the Times’ editor for innovation and strategy and executive vice president for product and technology. “That shift from platform to reader is what I would say is emphatically the pivot that we are making here.”

2015 and 2016 were all about platform for major news publishers — social discovery, distributed content, feeding Facebook — and this return to reader-centricity happens even as Facebook finally plans more publisher-friendly, subscription-supporting features. For the most part, the money in digital news is in attracting and retaining paying subscribers. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other platforms can acquaint readers with top news brands, but it’s the on-site, on-browser, on-app experience that’s got to seal the deal.

“This year is the year for us to deliver on both our journalistic and our business ambitions,” Wilson says. “We not only have to create what we feel is one of the finest news reports in the world, but we have to deliver an experience that is the equal of the journalism.” That experience is based on product and service. It’s not the stream of news, as impressively as it has gushed this year; it’s how usable, convenient, and accessible publishers can now make it. Make no mistake, every slide from Mary Meeker, comScore and more confirm how much news reading has become a multidevice adventure. One goal here then is to make that journey more seamless.

“We know from our research that multi-platform/device subscribers retain better,” says Wilson. “A key differentiator is that readers who read broadly across a variety of subjects are more likely to subscribe and retain.”

He says the Times has overhauled its end-to-end digital publishing system “with the goal of being able to move with much greater speed, to do a better job at serving our audience, to create a systematic experience across all platforms…It lays the foundation for a much more rapid system of iterative development.”

That process includes moving the Times from running six platforms to a singular, responsive publishing system. “If I want to adjust a feature on the site today,” says Wilson, “I’ve gotta touch six different stacks of code to do that. What we’re moving to is pretty much a single stack.”

Ironically, the work, led by Wilson’s teams, should make life easier for the new product teams to be redeveloped as just-promoted COO Meredith Kopit Levien assumes responsibility for them, and Wilson leaves his position.

Readers will notice some changes — on the desktop, on the mobile app’s display, in slow-moving personalization — over time, but Wilson says that only 10 to 20 percent of the impact of what’s possible will be seen soon by readers: “This is really just a huge investment in the next couple of years of product development.”

Let’s consider how this all fits into the Times’ subscriber-first strategy — which parallels similar strategies now being pursued by big players on both sides of the Atlantic. Take, for instance, Schibsted’s major second-generation platform initiative. In offering a bevy of tailored reader benefits (touts to stories of personal, contextual usage), “we will have 100 percent logged in users,” Terje Seljeseth, Schibsted’s chief product officer, told me last month. Quid pro quo: sign up, sign in, and get more — or stay anonymous and get less.

Within the last year, Schibsted’s popular daily VG has seen a 27 percent increase in digital subscriptions, and the company intends its technology to glue those payers and entice more of them into the fold.

Of course, The Washington Post’s Arc platform both meets and anticipates next-generation publishing technology needs as well and can claim partial responsibility for the Post surpassing 500,000 digital-only subscribers this year. News Corp — its technology strategy now led, in part, by two former New York Times executives, Marc Frons and Rajiv Pant — likewise looks to how its technology will build on reader loyalty and payment on three continents. News Corp’s Wall Street Journal can count 1.2 million digital-only subscribers.

All these companies emphasize the greater value of getting readers logged in. Their newsletter strategies have served as the newest weapon in that offensive, with the Times noting it has 13 million subscriptions to 50 email newsletters. As I’ve dug into both the Times and Post newsletter strategies, the new value of a registered, signed-in reader has become clear. It leads to greater engagement, increases conversion to subscription, and will power efforts toward that holy grail of personalization. While the Times won’t say how many registered readers it now counts, those millions — gained by subscription, by newsletter signup and more — are the ones this redesign most wants to please. Engage ’em. Log ’em in. Engage ’em some more. Get them to subscribe. It’s the new virtuous circle.

So, what will Times’ readers notice most, and where?

The Times believes that desktop readers will see the most change. In the screenshot below, you see a representation of what some desktop readers will see beginning today.

Clearly, the new desktop design borrows from the Times’ highly successful mobile products. I was glad to greet that arrival last year here at the Lab and would love to do the same with the new desktop one — but I can’t. The Times is acting on the research-driven understanding that “our home screen effectively communicated the news of the day, but was not as effective in communicating the full breadth of content offered by The Times,” says Paul Werdel, product lead on the home screen redesign and replatforming. It’s clearly more visual, and its top-right real estate resembles the top of the phone product: Morning Briefing, “The Daily” podcast, and New York Today, replacing the large current Opinion block. (The demotion of Opinion might seem odd at this political moment, but maybe the Times’ research backs up that decision.) “Latest” — breaking news — is now emphasized.

But overall it lacks the vitality and the informality that the Times mobile product embraces, still seeming more like an artifact of the 20th century than its in-our-pocket cousin. Perhaps it will evolve over time, or perhaps — as we’ve almost proven in 20 years — no one’s yet figured out how to translate the serendipity of print (and phone) to the deadweight computer.

The phone products will benefit from the redesign, too, of course. Wilson believes the greatest difference will be seen on the Times’ apps. Its two iOS apps — for iPhone and iPad — now will exist on a common codebase. “You’ll see only subtle design changes, at first, but you should see enhanced performance — and what we really get is the ability to publish web pages into it that are beautiful and fluid and include the vast majority of the features that we’ve been developing into our story pages, but have always had difficulty getting into our apps because we had to rebuild them in our apps.”

App users have come to become more and more meaningful for the Times — and for their peer competitors. In May, the Times’ iOS and Android apps represented 27 percent of its daily active user and generated 37 percent of its overall pageviews.

As of today, the Times will have released the new mobile browser version of the redesign to about a quarter of its users, with the new app iterations deploying soon.

Perhaps no potential impact of this redesign may be as important as “personalization” — a term some in the news business complain has now lost all meaning, given both its immense possibility and vagueness. For the Times, personalization so far has meant mostly a little geolocation — tailoring newsletter and other delivery by continent and more.

Since at least the introduction of My Yahoo (which required active selection of user preferences) two decades ago, personalization’s been a fraught word in the news business. Remember the debates about “one to many” and “many to one” and “one to one”? They’re still in the air, but the technology — and the analysis of reader data — has clearly matured. Personalization — a harder or softer tailoring to signed-in readers’ preferences — is now much more doable. And it will be part of what the Times, along with those other advanced tech players in global news, will test out this year. But their caution remains.

“We have to be very careful that people don’t feel that we’re any way limiting or restricting or filtering the news report,” Wilson says. “One of the things Times readers value most is the serendipity of the Times. What they get from the Times, and the knowledge that what they see, other people are seeing, and that the judgment of Times editors is being fully applied to things. So we’re not gonna mess with that.”

Quite true — that’s part of the brand promise of the big publishers who have generated hundreds of thousands of paying digital readers.

Still, we all want a little more of what we like most. So the pages we get — over time — will reflect that, a game of percentages that I believe will be imperceptible but agreeable to most of us.

As the new desktop rolls out to 1 percent of the audience today, this redesign also marks a major departure in how the Times debuts its technology changes.

“Last year, we were still very much in the waterfall mode, where design had a high degree of control over how the redesigns were being executed — things were finished to within a pixel of their lives, and the redesign was pushed out the door to pretty much 100% of the audience,” says Wilson. Today, as that desktop audience tests out the new tech, the Times believes it can adjust to needed changes on the fly. “You get it in front of people, see how they react, get their feedback. We will notify people that they are in the test, and we’ll give them the ability to flip back to the current site. It’s the best way to do development and understand what’s really working for the audience and what’s not, rather than doing endless research and testing and trying to survey people and get stuff in front of them.”

There are a half billion other reasons for avoiding flip-the-switch changes. Says Wilson: “We now are running a $500 million digital business, and you don’t want to be making big, disruptive changes without understanding the economic consequences.”

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 Boston Globe is getting smarter about digital subscriptions — and tightening up its paywall

Earlier this month, readers were surprised to find that a popular way of skirting the site’s paywall had been quietly closed. By visiting the site in their browser’s private mode, readers were able to circumvent the site’s free article limit, letting them read more articles than they would otherwise. And that wasn’t the only major change to the site’s paywall recently: At the end of April, the Globe also cut back on the number of articles it let visitors read for free every 45 days — from five articles to a mere two.

These changes, while jarring to many readers, are part of the Globe’s ongoing strategy to “strike the right balance between giving users the opportunity to sample content and getting them to subscribe,” said Peter Doucette, chief consumer revenue officer at Boston Globe Media. “We’ve been constantly experimenting with finding that balance, because fundamentally we believe the Globe’s journalism is worth paying for.” A lot of people agree: The Globe’s digital subscriber count currently sits at roughly 84,000, up from around 65,000 a year ago. That’s the most of any local newspaper in the country.

Doucette said the Globe is happy with the early results of its latest tweaks, and has “no specific plans to restrict the paywall further.” But further changes seem inevitable considering the many changes has gone through over the years in an effort to get more people to pay. The site debuted with a hard paywall in 2011, targeting its most committed, regular web readers and offering its print subscribers an exclusive extra. (The free, ad-supported, in contrast, was aimed at a more casual audience). The Globe switched gears just three years later when it introduced a more leaky metered paywall, which The New York Times had by then shown could be a successful approach. Over time, the newspaper has continually tweaked and refined its approach, opening and closing exceptions to its paywall meter. In a recent effort, for example, the Globe has stopped counting Google AMP links towards the meter.

Tim Griggs, an independent media consultant and the former publisher of The Texas Tribune, said that the beauty of the metered paywall is that it gives news organizations plenty of flexibility to tweak how many free articles to offer readers, how often to reset the meter, what factors affect the meter, and how to message all of this to potential subscribers. If a hard paywall is a hammer, the metered paywall is a scalpel. “It’s an elegant solution when done with the right data rigor and the right user experience,” Griggs said in an email. “Many news sites aren’t so great at either of those things.” Indeed, former Globe executive and Nieman Fellow David Skok wrote for us last year about the importance of using reader data and predictive analytics to determine optimal times to raise or lower the paywall:

Imagine a reader browsing the web on their smartphone while on a train heading into work. They click on a link through Reddit and arrive on your news site where they are served a paywall. Using predictive analytics, we are quite certain that this Reddit mobile reader will not subscribe to your website. In fact, the reader may even post on Reddit just how much she despises your paywall. So, instead of wasting our time trying to get that reader to subscribe, what other kinds of value can you exchange with her that could be of mutual benefit? Perhaps it’s an email newsletter signup form that could begin an inbound marketing relationship? Perhaps it’s a video preroll ad with a high CPM to generate maximum ad revenue? Perhaps it’s a prompt for the reader to “like” you on Facebook so that they can help expand your reach?

There’s a lot of evidence news organizations are getting more nuanced with their approaches — and that over time has resulted in paywalls with fewer holes, not more. The Wall Street Journal, which has put most stories behind a hard paywall since the 1990s, recently closed a feature that let visitors skirt restrictions by pasting a story’s headline in Google. It also recently killed of a secret (yet surprisingly well-known) free login popular among those in media circles. With the moves, it joined The Washington Post, which has been testing efforts to close loopholes that let visitors access its content for free.

Premium news organizations in 2017 are in a constant process of opening and closing paywall loopholes, depending on their goals. Griggs illustrated how the early parts of this process worked at The New York Times, which from 2011 to 2013 evaluated how to handle and respond to “avoidance behaviors” such as cookie deletion. One finding was that people who deleted cookies to avoid the Times’ paywall were also more likely to subscribe than people who did not delete cookies — likely because those cookie deleters were also some of the most frequent readers. When news organizations recognize this kind of behavior, they’re able to try new ways of reaching those readers, such as targeting them with specific soft messaging. News organizations can repeat this process for each of the various workarounds, all of which necessitate their own specific approaches.

Griggs agreed that, as publishers get smarter about understanding reader behavior, their paywalls tend to get less leaky. “When you’re talking about a relatively new line of business, there’s a lot to study and learn, there’s a lot to test, and there’s a marketplace shift happening at the same time,” he said. “So you can understand and act on things you previously didn’t know.” (The Times, for example, designed its paywall to be comparatively porous at first in an effort to collect as much data as possible.)

Doucette said that publishers are “now entering a second generation of digital models.” In the first generation, publishers were just trying to prove out the concept that consumers would pay up. With that accomplished, many are now focused on optimizing and building on that model. “We’ve learned a lot in five years about what the levers are, how we can pull them and what are the tradeoffs,” Doucette said. “We understand a lot of things better than we used to. The changes are the natural evolution of that understanding.”

Photo of a brick wall by Kingy used under a Creative Commons license.

Newsonomics: In Norway, a newspaper’s digital video startup is now generating more revenue than print

— Yes, there’s even a Trump Bump in Oslo.

Take 56 million, the number of views VGTV has gotten so far on its “satirical masterpiece” of “tupéfabrikk”, the company’s discovery of Donald Trump’s secret wig field in Tromsø, Norway’s Arctic Circle city. But that bump is just a collateral benefit of VGTV’s innovation engine.

In the three and a half years since its founding, VGTV has become a global model, with its leaders speaking at numerous media forums.

This spring, the latest spun-off Schibsted division passed an important milestone: VGTV, the video operation of the leading Norwegian daily VG, now produces more monthly revenue than does VG’s seven-day print product. VG, like many dailies, is losing double digit percentages of print revenue each year, but that revenue loss is being made up by the video operation. Of course, the new money is not nearly as profitable as the old — but for Schibsted, it’s all about the all-in bet on the longer-term digital future.

“What I hear [from journalists at conferences] is that people get inspired…that we are optimistic of the fact that we think we are going to manage to monetize video,” explains Helje Solberg, VGTV’s CEO and editor. Solberg moved over to VGTV more than three years ago, after serving for nine years as VG’s executive managing editor.

In 2016, VGTV pulled in 83 million Norwegian kroner, or about $10 million in total revenue. Into early 2017, it’s now seeing a steep ramp in growth, with a 51 percent increase year over year in the first quarter.

It’s not simply a maturing of the market — it’s audience growth. Year over year, VGTV grew audience 29 percent, accounting for 420,000 daily unique users in the first quarter. It can count more than 25 million video streams started per month, or almost a million a day.

That’s a good number given the sparsely populated northern terrain — Norway’s only got 5 million people.

Given that small, well-read population, why do so many publishers buttonhole Solberg at media events?

First and foremost, it’s the unique story of Schibsted’s serial and widening innovation. Schibsted is the biggest publisher most other publishers have never heard about. Based in Oslo, with strong newspaper publishing positions in both its home country and Sweden, Schibsted has become a Top 10 global company in revenue among legacy news providers, with operations in 30 countries and three continents, employing almost 7,000 people. As one executive of the now hyper-innovative Washington Post recently told me: “We like Schibsted. Some smart people there.”

Today, Schibsted’s media houses (publishing) contribute about 25 percent of its overall revenues, with the company’s marketplace/classifieds business and “growth” divisions still generating good growth. (We’ve chronicled Schibsted here at the Lab for years.)

It’s the innovation at Schibsted’s media houses that compels attention — for its early impact, its restructuring, and its results, with VGTV only the latest installment. The most recent critical result: Schibsted’s Norwegian news businesses now show small growth. In the first quarter, revenues were up 4 percent, with earnings (EBITDA) up 8 percent.

Overall, for VG (a popular Oslo daily, which operates alongside Aftenposten, Schibsted’s “quality” daily), the numbers show that investments in innovation are paying off. In the first quarter, VG saw 27 percent growth in digital subscribers (to 108,000) and a 28 percent growth in digital advertising, a good amount of that attributable to VGTV. Another good print-to-digital crossover number: Operating expenses were down 7 percent.

As it crosses over, the video strategy fits well with Schibsted’s vision of a next-generation platform vision. That plan emphasizes a signed-in engagement that seeks to compete against the always-signed-in world of Facebook.

For innovation watchers, the short story of the Schibsted model is clear: Transforming the news business means separate and reintegrate, separate and reintegrate. That’s what Schibsted did in 1999 when, ahead of its peers, it funded a separate — and competitive to print for audience — digital operation. Later, it did the same with mobile.

Then, in late October 2013, it applied the successful model once again, to video and VGTV. Both “digital” and “mobile” have been folded back into the VG mothership. Solberg says she expects that VGTV will be soon as well. Once innovation is well enough established, resourced, and acculturated, it folds back into a bigger, smarter, and now digital savvy newsroom and company.

Today, VGTV includes a staff of 65. They remain organizationally separate from VG, though the operation is housed in the VG offices and works often as if the two are one — which is the point.

When I first wrote about VGTV three years ago, then-VG CEO and editor Torry Pedersen told me of this and other Schibsted forays: “Make sure you lose money for at least three years.” In fact, VGTV first became profitable in April, a few months past its three-year anniversary, says Solberg, though she doesn’t expect 2017 to be in the black overall.

It’s telling that both Solberg and Pedersen have held both top editorial and business-side titles simultaneously. The Schibsted model seems to recognize and promote shapers, and some of those shapers should come from the editorial side of the business as well. Earlier this year, Pedersen, well known and respected in the broader media world, became head of Schibsted’s media house businesses in Norway overall.

Live news, and the challenge of a Facebook-like integrated experience

In those three years, Solberg, a long-time VG news executive, has learned lots about what works and what doesn’t in digital video. She’s now intent on better integrating the VGTV experience into VG’s wider news delivery, and wants to apply lessons from its Snapchat and Facebook tests.

She’s had to make ongoing decisions about the kinds of video VGTV emphasizes. The site offers a lively mix — its offerings translate fairly well with Google Translate — of news, interviews, and popular culture. News and sports lead viewing time, with a variety of other programming, created and licensed, filling out the picture.

Given VG’s overall pre-eminence as a breaking news site, VGTV prizes its advances in live programming. “In the terrorist attack in Belgium last year, it was the first time we documented a major breaking news story with live images before still images,” she says. “Now, that happens again and again. On U.S. election day, more people followed our live coverage than read the most-read article on”

For global coverage, VGTV uses both wire services and its own correspondents, transmitting live images from the news spot. Its anchors also host news programs.

“We don’t necessarily go live every day,” says Solberg. “It’s very important for us to go live if there is news that we have to report. All we need to go live is a journalist and an iPhone. The technology works with us. It’s easier and easier to go live.” By the numbers, viewers responded, with “live” viewing more than quadrupling in 2016 over 2015.

At this point, somewhat surprisingly, more viewers watch VGTV on their desktops than on mobile, though in April, mobile topped desktop. Why is desktop so strong? Solberg believes getting the mobile user experience right is one of her greatest challenges. A prime goal: “integrated native video.”

“We need to integrate video much better into the news journey. I used to say that you have peer-based video, [where] users go to the platform to watch video, [and] push-based video. Users go to the platforms again to get updated. Both are served video seamlessly like Facebook. For us, the big question is: Is it possible to challenge the peer-based platforms such as YouTube, that established play channels on time spent? We think we need a different approach. Facebook did some smart moves — it’s muted, it goes very fast, it has no ads interrupting the content — while we have a click-to-play model and interrupting ads.”

So, Solberg’s team studies Facebook, and its new partner, Snapchat. VGTV began producing VG’s first-in-Norway Snapchat Discover channel in January. “Snapchat is a good place to learn and experiment what makes a good video on the mobile phone. We really like it as a place to publish stories. It’s also a good carrier of advertising. It remains to be seen, however, how easy or how difficult this will be to monetize. It’s still an investment case for us. The test period for six months was sold out within two weeks.”

Steady, above-web digital ad rates

In its short history, VGTV has managed to gain healthy ad rate for its video ads — a CPM of 180 kroner, or a little more than $20. That’s better than VG’s average non-video digital ad yield, says Solberg.

Digital video ads come out of digital ad budgets, she says, so in this arena, VG is up against Facebook and Google. Together, the two dominate Nordic digital advertising, with a two-thirds share of the market.

At this point, 15-second pre-rolls predominate, but VGTV is experimenting with shorter forms less than 10 seconds.

“It is possible to tell a story, even in six seconds,” she says. Storytelling is key: It’s noteworthy that, along with VGTV’s increased ad revenues, it’s branded content that has also helped make up for print losses. Initiatives such as The New York Times’ T Brand Studio have found that combination of branded storytelling and video, the virtuous mating of two post-display ad formats.

Solberg hopes to find other ad rhythms that work, just as VGTV is doing editorially. “We saw two years ago most of the clips were, like, two and a half to three minutes. Now they are less — about one minute. But the time spent on VGTV has increased. So we make shorter news videos, but people spend more time with us. We also have a higher completion rate,” says Solberg. “We make the short videos and then we make the longer videos and documentaries and programs.”

“It’s possible to tell a smart story in 43 seconds,” says the former political journalist. She shows me one video — a quick-moving, graphics-centric piece, one that indeed tells its story well in less than a minute.

Very short, or longer and explanatory. The web isn’t a medium medium.

One goal: The digital news leadership

For long-time print journalists like Solberg and Pedersen, “TV” learnings have opened unexpected doors. Yet, all the efforts remain focused on a singular goal, which Solberg puts simply: “If VG is to keep and strengthen our No. 1 position as Norway’s largest online news site, we need to succeed with video.”

As it strategizes, VG also makes interesting use of old-fashioned linear TV. VGTV runs several channels on cable and satellite and gets payments from companies for carriage. Solberg is quite clear that Oslo’s two major TV news providers — commercial TV 2, and public broadcaster NRK — will remain the near-term linear TV choice of consumers. As strong as VG is for breaking digital news, consumers haven’t transferred that habit to old-fashioned TV. “What we learned was that, when there is big news happening, people go to VG, digitally, and to established TV channels. That didn’t turn out — that people would also watch us on linear TV,” says Solberg.

How likely is that to change? “I don’t think that’s possible to change,” acknowledges Solberg. “We have said from the very beginning with the linear TV channel, that everything we do has to gain us digitally. Our core strategy is digital.”

And that strategy includes ad revenue that is now “broadcast,” even if current VGTV revenues largely are bought out of the digital bucket.

“Traditional TV is still very strong in Norway,” says Solberg. “Norwegians like TV and watch almost three hours a day on linear TV. I think it’s just a matter of time before this shift [to digital video] in consumption will pay off.”

Put it all together and linear TV is a means to VG’s digital end. Those cable and satellite distribution payments represent the majority of linear TV revenue, with advertising a secondary source there.

After testing news on linear TV, VGTV now runs largely documentaries on the channel around the clock. “It’s about six to eight documentaries a day,” says Solberg. “Some news — a news loop and a sports loop.”

Intriguingly, it is these same documentaries — about 20 were produced last year — that have now moved behind a digital paywall. Documentaries such as “Stuck,” a series on human trafficking, used to be largely free via the web; now they support that significant digital subscription growth. And yet they remain free on VGTV’s linear channel. Consumer confusion? Not really — just a different distribution channel.

As VG and Schibsted’s other dailies in Norway and Stockholm work through the possible delivery channels of 2020, they have to deal with the economics of 2017. How well is that big overall strategy going — the establishment of VG, a brand established out of the ashes of World War II, as a digital brand of today and tomorrow.

In 2017’s first quarter, digital revenues — including VGTV’s — totaled 48 percent of all VG income. That’s close to a real crossover, and the highest percentage of any daily-based operation of which I’ve heard.

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.

Facebook paid pubs to use Live. Here’s what happened at the Times.

THE NUMBER OF LIVE VIDEOS posted to The New York Times’ main Facebook page has consistently surpassed regular videos in the 12 months since Facebook began paying select media partners to use its nascent streaming platform—yet viewing figures for Facebook Live lag far behind. The Times is one of about 140 media companies and celebrities the platform giant enticed to produce content for Facebook Live through deals totalling a reported $50 million last year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the 12-month deal signed by the Times was worth $3.03 million, a figure surpassed only by the $3.05 million Facebook paid to BuzzFeed.

“The first year of Facebook Live epitomizes why social platforms are centerstage in the existential crisis around journalism. Despite the fact publishers are fighting a losing battle for digital advertising revenue, most feel unable to disregard the eye-watering scale social platforms can deliver. In the case of Live, publishers create content that not only directs users to Facebook but keeps them there, further strengthening Facebook’s hand with advertisers—all, presumably, in the hope that they will eventually benefit from a share of the spoils. Yet it remains a relationship premised on potential: the promise of jam tomorrow”

Mixed reality, computer vision, and brain–machine interfaces: Here’s the future The New York Times’ reborn R&D lab sees

When it comes to emerging technologies, there’s a lot to keep newsrooms busy. Virtual reality has promise, and so do chatbots. Ditto, too, for connected cars and connected homes. In fact, the challenge for most newsrooms isn’t figuring out potential new platforms for experimentation but rather determining which new technologies are worth prioritizing most.

At The New York Times, anticipating and preparing for the future is a job that falls to Story[X], the newsroom-based research and development it launched last May. A “rebirth” of the R&D Lab the Times launched in 2006, Story[X] was created to look beyond current product cycles to how the the Times can get ahead of developments in new technology. (The previous R&D Labs’ Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie landed just fine, taking high positions at Axios.)

Heading up the unit, which will total six people when fully staffed, is Marc Lavallee, the Times’ former head of interactive news. Lavallee said that while Story[X] will always ask how practical new technologies are, the group is more likely to err on the side of the speculative than the safe — a mental model that isn’t always easy to adopt in newsrooms full of people trained to ask pointed questions like: “Is this even real?”

While that skeptical lens is helpful, “we want to have a sense that, even if we feel like something isn’t ready today, if we feel like there’s some sense of inevitability, we want be thinking about it and experimenting,” Lavallee said. A lot of these developments will be outside the Times’ control, but if Story[x] does its job properly, there will be “fewer fire drills induced by some keynote from some tech company that changes the game and requires us to play catchup.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Lavallee and I spoke about how the Times evaluates new technologies, which areas he believes are most ripe for expermentation, and what technology news organizations aren’t paying enough attention to. Here’s an edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.

Lavallee: With VR, we’re doing a lot of experimenting around telling individual stories that bring readers to another place. There’s a rich vein of exploration to be done there. I don’t think we’ve even fully explored that. That’s a good place to be working while we wait to see what the adoption of the current and next generation of these devices is.

The reason why I’m fixated on whether there are non-linear stories for us in VR is that that, to me, feels like the thing that’s actually going to drive wider adoption. Social experiences and gaming to me feel like the way that we’ll see this become more of a mass experience, I think. And I’m not sure that there’s necessarily a thing for us to do there. We have to keep doing what were doing and wait for other parts of the ecosystem to flesh out.

I do think that there is a tremendous potential for us in the AR space. That’s where we can do things that are more utility-driven, which is where we’re seeing today’s pickup through, for example, being able to place a virtual IKEA couch in your living room to see if it would fit.

Bilton: We haven’t talked too much about advertising, which is also a part of the mandate at Story[x]. What are the potential innovations there?

Lavallee: There are a couple of ways we’re working through it. I’m of the opinion that the full scope of the potential for the The New York Times in the 21st century is incredibly broad, because we have this brand flexibility. It’s something that is basically with you all day every day and helping guide every decision you make and being that trusted ally in your life.

We’re not going to do that alone. It does require a different kind of partnership with a bunch of different kinds of companies. The tech space is the easiest to find those kinds of opportunities. I would say the partnership with Samsung is the first of a genre of partnership that we’ll see much more of over the next couple of years, where neither of us would be able to do something like that 360 video of that scale alone. But together, we can each play our part in speeding the evolution of the technology and content in parallel, as opposed to waiting for one to happen and then doing the other.

Bilton: We’ve talked about a lot of different potential areas of innovation. Is there one that you don’t hear as much chatter about that you think has a lot of promise?

Lavallee: There’s a cluster of ideas that combine what’s happening in the quantified self movement and what’s happening in your brain at any point in time. That leads to the kind of brain-machine interface stuff that Facebook was demoing last month. They’re saying that within two years they’ll have a skull cap that will let you think at 100 words per minute.

I see that as technology that will let us understand how much attention you’re paying while reading or listening to something, what you retained, what you perk up at, and how the content experience can adapt and understand what kind of learner you are. I think there is tremendous potential to do that so the content is more tailored to your level of interest. That’s something that I’m not aware of media organizations diving into yet, but I think it’s a huge frontier for us. Over the next few years we’re going to be thinking a lot more about what’s going on inside readers’ heads.

Photo of Google Cardboard VR by Othree 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.

This is how The New York Times is using bots to create more one-to-one experiences with readers

So here’s one of them: This is Sam Manchester. He’s a deputy sports editor. I don’t know if anyone had the chance to see this — it was a relatively small experiment — but Sam was one of a lot of journalists who went to the Rio Olympics, and we actually asked Sam to text with people, anyone who would sign up, his personal observations from the games. You know, not breaking news, not headlines that you can get anywhere else, but to talk to people the way he might send texts to a friend, right?

It’s a pretty familiar interface. And I think what’s really powerful about this is, now all of a sudden, The New York Times (or at least NYT Sam) is saying “Hey.” When is the last time The New York Times said hey to you? For a big old news organization like The New York Times, that’s a pretty big deal.

And now suddenly The New York Times is appearing next to your mom, your friend, your significant other in a very kind of personal and familiar space.

This is one of the texts that really was a crowd pleaser: Sam’s observation that no one was in the athletes’ village for food. They all went to McDonald’s. All these athletes went to McDonald’s — it’s that crazy. I thought that was amazing.

And we really had to draw this out of him, right? Here as a trained sports editor, you know, first of all who’s not used to being a reporter — in fact, we had to take his photo because we couldn’t find a single one — but also who just wasn’t used to writing in the first person about what he was observing and really making it personal. And it was texts like these — observations that only he saw, that no one else could get anywhere else — that I think really brought this to life.

We knew we had succeeded — this is sort of the ultimate sign of success when thefatjewish rips off someone who rips off Sam’s text marriage. I think this is the first text message to go viral — he was commenting on the world’s most pointless job.

So what’s funny is people at the office would be like: “Great job on the bot, loving the bot. I’ve got some feedback, some thoughts on the bot. How come the bot doesn’t say this or that more often?” And we’d always be like: It’s not a bot. This is this is a real human person with, like, flesh and a brain sending you texts. There’s nothing automated about this. This was an effort in sort of radical humanity.

But for some reason it was hard for people — it didn’t really stick. And I think it was hard for readers to understand sometimes — these were some of the responses we get. “Am I supposed to text back?” “Didn’t realize I’d get a response to a question — best part.” I think people we’re trying to understand how they should interact with this person. They’re almost like: Are you sure it’s a real guy? Are you messing with us? They don’t quite trust us. People had very personal emotional reactions: “If I had a friend at the Olympics who texted me 6 times the first week, I would end our friendship” — so that’s somebody who did understand that it was a person. But the overwhelming majority of responses was something like this.

“Can Sam continue texting me when the Olympics end and keep me current during the work day in his succinct interesting way about the whole world?” Well, the answer is no, because we only have one Sam.

Some data to give you a sense of it. So he sent 70 mass texts out to the audience. Thirty thousand replies came in, and he did his best to actually answer them individually. In fact, there was a Monday, sort of a down day in between events in Rio, where we did like sort of the equivalent of Ask Me Anything, where we promised that if you send him a text, Sam will answer your question. And he did it not 100 percent succeed. And so we actually had 3,500 people tell us, like, this is an amazing feat of journalism and this is so cool. We had a lot of other people saying “why doesn’t this guy ever write me back?” Including people inside the building, unfortunately, because we forgot to put their numbers in.

The point is: Sam doesn’t scale. So it got us thinking: Well, how do we scale a human? How do we bring more of these one-to-one experiences to a wide playing field?

That led to this experiment: So that’s Nick Confessore, one of the great politics reporters who was covering the Trump campaign during the election. We created a Facebook Messenger bot — it was called NYT Politics Bot — and the idea was to combine the intimacy and charm of a human with the utility of a bot.

So on the human side, Nick would actually script conversations every morning, choose-your-own-adventure style — and this is the important part — that reflected his point of view about the campaign from his unique vantage point. This wasn’t the voice of The New York Times. This wasn’t a quote-unquote “objective” experience. And people really, really reacted — they really liked this experience. We got a quarter of a million people to have some sort of an interaction with Nick Confessore that they thought was personal and sort of unique to them.

On the automated side, we actually sent out daily alerts with the election forecasts. As you can see: “With 22 days until the election, Hillary Clinton has a 90 percent chance to win. Donald Trump has a 10 percent chance.” So there were some bugs that we were not able to work out in time. But the point is that we were able to give people real utility, not just the humanity.

This is Gilbert Cruz, our television editor. He is a walking IMDb, he has every television show and movie in his head. And Gil is a great guy to be friends with if you’ve just finished binging on a show and you need a new show — because you can ask him what you should watch and he’ll give you the perfect recommendation. It’s a real privilege to be able to ask him that.

But he doesn’t just spit out a recommendation. He usually responds with a question — he’ll say, “Well, what’s something you watched recently that you really liked?” And then you’ll say I watched such-and-such a show. And then say, “OK, what’s another show that you watched recently that you liked?” And you’ll answer. And what he’s basically doing is like establishing the common metadata of those shows in his mind to come up with a recommendation — and people love his recommendations.

So we did this hack week where we brought him into the lab and we basically recorded him talking to people about what shows that he thought they should watch.

And then we realized: This is structured data. Like, this guy taking this curated subset of IMDb, effectively, with his point of view built in, is basically creating structured data. We could make that a bot! So we did — we called it Gilbot.

That’s just a joke, actually — we did not create Gilbot, because somebody else beat us to the market. If you haven’t seen it, it’s called And Chill — it’s a texting service. It’s actually very clever; it’s very well done, and it’s very similar. So, you know, I think this demonstrates that there’s real value for people.

Finally, I don’t know if you guys have heard the new podcast from the Times, The Daily. It’s hosted by Michael Barbaro, an accomplished reporter and just a bright funny guy. And actually we have a similar thing with Michael in that you can you know get texts from him every day, sort of like Sam did in Rio.

What’s fascinating about audio is, as a lot of people who might have worked in audio know, it’s a very intimate, very personal medium. And Michael’s very good because he talks to you like a person. And when we talk about bots, we end up talking about something other than bots very quickly, which is making journalism more accessible, more conversational, more friendly, more real. The most common feedback that’s caught my eye, at least, is people write us to say Michael feels like a friend. You know — “this feels personal for me.”

And it really came home for me when my brother — this is my little bro Dave — texted me out of the blue. And he’s not he’s not like a podcast guy, or really a news guy. And he wrote “you guys do such a great job on The Daily — I want to be Michael’s friend.

That got me wondering: Well, could we make Michael your friend?

This sounds like I’m winding up to a big demo — unfortunately, I’m not, because it’s not ready. But we’re playing with the idea of creating a voice model of Michael Barbaro’s voice, similar to Alexa so that maybe you actually could interact and maybe even be friends with Michael Barbaro.

It raises the question of whether that’s something people want. If we actually want to enter this uncanny valley of too human or not human enough. And I think that’s just a question that we don’t have the answer to. But the point I want to drive home is that I’m not worried about this technology driving the humanity out of journalism. I’m really excited about the promise of technology bringing more humanity to journalism and creating more one-to-one experiences with more people that otherwise might not have been possible.

Photo illustration based on robot photo by Michael Dain used under a Creative Commons license.

Newsonomics: Lydia Polgreen’s ambitious HuffPost remake aims for “solidarity” among readers

Make no mistake: Lydia Polgreen understands she has her work cut out for her. Named The Huffington Post’s editor-in-chief in December, Polgreen brings to the job an enviable reputation as a journalist, as a colleague, and as someone who cares passionately about the issues of our time.

At 41, she left a 15-year career at The New York Times to become only the second editor of a publication that can seem a bit of a puzzle in 2017. In replacing eponymous founding editor Arianna Huffington, she takes over a big global news organization of 600 that’s won a huge U.S. and international audience over the years. But at 12 years old, it feels like the older, less-hip relative of the BuzzFeeds, Voxes, Business Insiders, and Mics. And it has a bit of a reputation; as John Oliver extolled the craft of journalism last year, he knew his audience would get the jab he threw at The Huffington Post. Clearly, as it has struggled with both its raison d’être and audience growth, the site demanded an update.

Phase One of that updating launches today. The Huffington Post — now renamed HuffPost — gets a new look, which Shan Wang explains in more depth here. It’s a modernization that looks sharper; the scowls of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are more reigned in and better packaged. What’s most compelling, though, is what’s to come, and the rebranding/redesign doesn’t tell us much about that thinking.

As I’ve talked with Lydia Polgreen over the last two weeks, it’s that next stage that’s most intriguing. To that extent, this redesign, as necessary as it is, serves mostly as a platform for her vision of journalism.

Many of the news stories about her appointment focused on her individual identity: “Huffington Post welcomes Lydia Polgreen, a queer woman of color, as their new editor-in-chief!” Yet this granddaughter of an Ethiopian farmer seems much more interested in whatever it is that’s so badly dividing the country. She’s all about reaching out, journalistically, and that will make the next iteration of The Huffington Post essential to watch.

In our talks over the last couple of weeks, combined and lightly edited here for clarity, we focused on her evolving editorial vision and that hope to transcend divisions. Is it blue and red? Is it have and have not? Is it something more culturally deep that’s seemingly split the U.S?

A globalist — last year helping lead its Spanish-language edition and setting the stage for more international Times launches — she values the 17 outposts that HuffPost has set up around the world. Her big opportunity: creating more journalistic collaboration between staffs worldwide.

Though long a Top 10 website in traffic, The Huffington Post has slowed down a bit, as we’ve seen the revenge of the legacies, especially the Times and The Washington Post over the last two years. HuffPost ranks seventh in overall audience, having lost more than 30 million monthly unique users over the past two years. It now reaches 89 million a month in the U.S., according to comScore. More than half of its total audience is international, Huffington Post says.

As she re-revs that engine, she’ll do so within the friendly confines of a distinctly un-journalistic owner. Verizon, striving mightily to be a “content company” as competitors like Comcast bulk up, has now made two medium-sized bets. First, it bought AOL/HuffPost two years ago. It hopes to close, finally, on its Yahoo acquisition in June. And it’s brought the two together in an oddly named new division, Oath. On one hand, Verizon does provide deep pockets and an earnest attempt to understand a business it has no legacy in. On the other, in short: It’s not The New York Times, where journalism is in the DNA.

Further, as the Times and the Post, once widely derided as the old dreaded MSM (remember that?) have become much more in-your-face with their reporting and presentation, HuffPost must restate for its readers what it now offers differently than others.

Even as Verizon was buying AOL, the fit of a lefty site — founded in 2005 as an antidote to Fox News, launched after George W. Bush had won re-election — in a telco seemed strange. Now we’re not sure what kind of Oath Verizon is taking or making. Against all that background, Polgreen seems greatly energized by the challenge.

Ken Doctor: The new site looks different. Is there any content change we should know about?
Lydia Polgreen: Right now, it’s presentation and redesign, but as we announced about a month ago, we’re in the middle of recruiting an entirely new leadership team. So stay tuned for some pretty significant new hires and content changes as well.
Doctor: In a sense, then, this is giving you a new platform upon which you’re building the next Huffington Post, right?
Polgreen: Exactly.
Doctor: So what do you like most about what this platform can do for you in building that new Huffington Post?
Polgreen: It really delivers on our goal, which is to be the most compelling news destination in the world, to be telling stories in a way that captures the drama, the emotion, but also the humor, the outrage, the sense of the “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening” that seems to encapsulate the Trump era. So I feel like this way of being able to display stories and send them out across all platforms is going to really deliver on that sense of edge that we’re looking for.
Doctor: I’m thinking about our friend John Oliver, who in the pre-Polgreen era memorably called the site “Arianna Huffington’s Blockquote Junction and Book Excerpt Clearinghouse.” What would you hope John Oliver would say when he looked at the new design?
Polgreen: I hope that’d he’d find inspiration for his show. I hope that he’d find really compelling and interesting angles on the news that would inspire him to put together really funny and insightful segments for his show.
Doctor: We’ve got this weird time in our American life. There has been a predictability, I think — real or imagined — about what people can expect from The Huffington Post. Even progressives may say, “I may not learn as much as I want, because its predictable.” Is this partly an attempt to shake that up and to say, “You’re going to get some different kind of stuff from us”?

Polgreen: Oh, absolutely. I would disagree that we’re predictable — I think that we always have something surprising and fun and interesting, and we cover a whole range of different things.

But I talk quite a bit about how I feel that we’re living in this profoundly non-ideological moment, where the old sort of categories of red and blue feel inadequate to capture the polarization. We’re really living in a time of haves and have-nots. Or have-some and have-nots. If you think of left-right as being an x-axis, I’m much more interested in what’s going on in the haves-to-have-nots y-axis.

Doctor: I don’t know what kind of data you have, but The Huffington Post, I’d think, is a blue state read. Is that right?
Polgreen: I think what you’ll find is that it really varies. We certainly have a strong progressive audience for our political coverage. I think that audiences for some of our other verticals, like around parenting or around entertainment and lifestyle, is ideologically much more mixed.
Doctor: Tell me more about your have/have-nots world view.

Polgreen: So on that y-axis, up here you’ve got the Times, Wall Street Journal, the FT — you’ve got a bunch of really great quality players, right? Who are charging consumers money directly to have access to their great content.

What’s happening to these organizations though — we always thought that the big risk in journalism was that our content would be overly influenced by advertisers. And that was going to be fundamentally corrupting. There’s another risk that I think many of us, including myself, did not anticipate, which is that as you focus on reader revenue, you start to think and build your product for…

Doctor: For an elite?
Polgreen: A reader who’s going to pay, right? And so in lots of ways, large and small, you start to speak to a narrower and narrower audience. Now, the Times still has a huge audience, right? But they send signals — all of these organizations send signals, right? Wall Street Journal: “Mansion.” “FT: How To Spend It.” Right?
Doctor: Hey, let me ask you a question on this. Go back 20 years. Pre-digital essentially. These were all paid publications then too. The Times now has 3 million paid subscribers, roughly twice what it had in print at its height, around 1.5 million. Were the journalists back then writing for a small group of people too?

Polgreen: I think that they were…but, I think that part of the old model was mass. It was still those 1.5 million people, but you needed to appeal to a broad spectrum. And you also were dealing with a country that was much less unequal, right? The spread of people who would be in the category of paying $175, or however much it was, for a subscription for The New York Times was much less broad.

So now go down to the other end of the y-axis, right. You have a mix of players, right? There’s free digital — and that varies widely in quality, right? And then you have the stuff you get by paying for cable, because almost everybody pays for cable. So you get CNN, you get Fox, you get MSNBC. And you also have talk radio. So this is the media ecosystem for the have-nots, right?

Doctor: Well, and the haves.

Polgreen: And the haves, yeah. Right, everybody’s here. Talk radio maybe not so much.

So I see us as playing down here in this space and having a really really important role to play in increasing the quality. The thing that we are replacing that was down here, that kind of no longer exists, is the tabloid.

Doctor: Ah, the tabloid. I saw you were talking about Mike Royko, the great sometimes-tabloid columnist in Chicago. I think that’s really interesting.

But I want to go back — I want to go to that point in a minute. There’s another line. This is like four-dimensional chess, right? We can only see part of it: the cultural line. So you talked about the Obama voters who became Trump voters. Do we have any idea how many people there are, and who they are?

Polgreen: I want to say it was like 12 percent. It was enough to flip the election, I know that.

What I believe is that the people who are in this bucket down here, it’s not that they can’t afford to pay $175 a year, right? Because they’re paying for cable every month, right? Which is a lot more than $175 a year.

It’s not that most of them can’t afford to pay for The New York Times. Of course, they can — it’s not that much money. They’re paying for cable because cable isn’t just news right? It’s sports, it’s entertainment, it’s a whole bunch of things. It’s probably how they get their Internet. So they get this other bundle of stuff, right? Now, they are also probably listening to talk radio. Maybe if they’re super right wing, maybe they read Breitbart. But these are people who are, I would call them, passive consumers of news.

Doctor: I’m having problems understanding how Huffington Post approaches that those kinds of readers.

Polgreen: Did you read de Tocqueville in college? So de Tocqueville talks about how what makes American democracy possible is this idea of ever-expanding opportunity and optimism, right? And the fact that our optimism is built on the premise that you could in one generation go from — take my story. My mother was born a daughter of a coffee farmer in Ethiopia. One generation and here I am running this big news organization, right?

So mobility is a crucial factor in our identity. I believe that sort of fundamental optimism of American identity is running out of gas. And that we are facing a time in which there is a level of inequality and a lack of opportunity and a kind of immobility. That fundamentally shifts our national character. And I think that those white people that you’re talking about are essentially finding themselves in the same circumstance that large numbers of people who have never really enjoyed any kind of privilege have found themselves in for a very long time.

So I think about solidarity. Right? So what is a journalism that enables us to find a sense of solidarity.

Doctor: Solidarity meaning?
Polgreen: Meaning that if I’m a poor, rural, white person, I am actually more dependent on the government than an urban, black person who lives in public housing, right?
Doctor: How do you do that?
Polgreen: Is there a way? Maybe it’s sociological storytelling. Maybe it’s a kind of journalism that enables people who see this — because they’ve been manipulated by talk radio, by Fox News, by Breitbart — as a zero-sum game. Solidarity is such a sort of kumbaya, old-fashioned word, but it keeps coming up again.

A focus on engagement and loyalty

Doctor: Do you know how your demographics run now ? I looked at this a while back, but I haven’t looked at it recently. I would expect BuzzFeed, for instance, would have a higher percentage of millennials than Huffington Post. While very strong among millennials, you would be a little more spread out with older generations too — is that true?
Polgreen: That’s certainly true. I think because we have been around since 2005, we’ve got a very strong Gen X audience. For a long time, we had our post-50 vertical and we think we have a very strong Baby Boomer audience. We have a really big audience, so we tend to attract a lot of folks from different generations.
Doctor: What about audience growth? Huffington Post had tremendous growth and at one point was putting out press releases saying “we are bigger than The New York Times” in terms of digital audience. And clearly the Times, partly to your credit, the Times and the Post have had an amazing run in the last two years. Huffington Post has been, when I looked at the numbers, essentially flat in terms of audience. Now, flat’s not bad, because it’s a big audience. Is this rebranding a bid to restart the growth engine of digital audience?

Polgreen: Well, I think that the conversation about the metrics that matter has really shifted over the last couple of years. When I worked for The New York Times, we were super focused on engagement. There was a brief period when everyone after the Innovation Report where everyone was fretting about our traffic being cannibalized by people who were smarter at racking up pageviews. Look, pageviews are important, having a big audience is great, and it’s important in and of itself. But I think that as the business model’s evolved, news organizations are taking a hard look at what analytics and metrics are telling them — what analytics are telling them and what metrics really matter.

So I think for me it’s less about the gross size of the audience and really focusing on getting people to be more loyal and engaged, and to deepen their relationship with us. Part of the goal of this redesign is to really try and get people to be more engaged, so it’s not just one splash — you’ve got a few different splash stories and it’s more visual.

Mixing tabloid and digital thinking

Doctor: So let me take apart a couple of those things. I like the look of the design. So first of all, it is now HuffPost rather than Huffington Post, right?
Polgreen: I think that in a way, it’s really just going with what our audience is. Our audience has always called us “HuffPost.” It’s shorter, and I think it works better for our international audiences. But I think it also signals that we’re changing, and we’re moving forward and this is a new era. So we’re keeping much of the spirit, but updating and refreshing.
Doctor: So is that in part a reflection that Arianna has left and that Huffington, the whole name, doesn’t need to be there — that it has become its own brand with her gone?
Polgreen: Well, I think that Arianna herself would say that Huffington Post even when she was here transcended her own identity. I think she herself called it HuffPost most of the time.
Doctor: Are you moving away more from a newspaper/print metaphor to more of a purely digital metaphor?

Polgreen: I think that when Arianna started HuffPost, there was a kind of tongue-in-cheek nature to sort of aping the style of a traditional news organization. I think we’re both in some ways trying to move into the digital future while also kind of holding onto, through this kind of tabloid-like typeface, hold onto that what I think really expresses the DNA of the past.

In this new iteration, we wanted to really lean into that big headline splash style and also reflect the future of where we’re headed by incorporating sort of little hints of digital culture with the slashes that you see on either side of the new logo.

And then there’s also the fact that the splash is our most important billboard, much like a tabloid’s front page would be a billboard and now will automatically travel with the story anywhere it goes. It becomes an almost meme-like artifact that could travel across the Internet and hopefully have the chance to go viral. We’re known for our clever headlines and photo pairing.

Doctor: I like the splash, which now travels with a given URL across social media. Where did it come from?

Polgreen: Well, the splash has always been kind of our central defining thing, right? HuffPost is unique in the digital publishing world in the sense that most of our competitors are really distributed plays, and they don’t get very much and probably don’t even really try to get very much homepage traffic. Some like Quartz famously didn’t even really have a homepage.

So because we started before the age of distribution, we’ve retained some of that ability to — and, in fact, it’s even been increasing slightly — to draw people directly to our platform. I think one of the big draws is that splash. In a moment, you can get a snapshot of our take on whatever the big story is of the moment, and that feels very core to our DNA.

It’s not just “here’s what the news is,” it’s “here’s the news with a dollop of humor, a dollop of outrage, a dollop of emotion.” That feels so core to our storytelling, so we wanted to make that something that could travel with it anywhere. The splash just becomes the automatic default image when you share something.

Doctor: And it provides a continuum between the destination publishing and the platforms.
Polgreen: Exactly, and I think that for us, again we really deeply value the fact that we remain a destination for news. There really aren’t other purely digital news organizations that can say that, so this is a way of kind of having our cake and eating it too.
Photo of Polgreen by Damon Dahlen of The Huffington Post.

The New York Times brings its (even briefer) morning briefings to Snapchat Discover

The New York Times, which started publishing on Snapchat Discover on Monday after a couple of years of sending out updates through the regular app, sees a couple of audiences for the new product.

One is Snapchat’s native audience. The other is the olds who, like me, might have spent several minutes Monday morning trying to figure out how to fill out the Times’ mini crossword on Snapchat Discover: For them, there is a Times Insider explainer to how to find the Times on Snapchat Discover, how to tap through its offerings, and how to fill out the crossword. For these people, there are even video how-tos. The explainer post’s slug is don't-worry-you're-not-the-last-person-on-snapchat.

The Times is aiming for a bit of a “morning briefing,” commute-friendly feel with its Discover edition, and it sees a separate mission there from the Snapchat Stories it’s been publishing for the past two years or so. With Discover — where it joins newspapers The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Daily Mail, as well as dozens of other publishers — it hopes it can capture some of the success it’s seen with its Morning Briefing emails (which now have 1.3 million subscribers; plenty of others read on the web or in the app) and its The Daily podcast (which had over 20 million listens in its first two months); you can see a similar goal in the paper’s redesigned pages A2–A3. “We will never pander to the audience,” said Talya Minsberg, Times social strategy editor. “One thing we’ve heard loud and clear is that even though Snapchat pulls a much younger audience, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn the news or see powerful photography.”

The New York Times will publish to Snapchat Discover every weekday morning. A team of about 20 worked on the launch for a couple months; that’s now down to around 10 people who will work on the Discover edition each day, some full time. Monday’s edition included a three-snap version of Mike Isaacs’ story on Uber’s risk-taking; a vertical video story about the fighting in Mosul; a one-snap update on France’s election; a five-item Monday briefing; a condensed version of Bill McKibben’s Sunday editorial on climate change; a “that should be a word” (“bagriculture)”; a three-snap version of a Times Magazine story on Lorde; and a mini crossword (but not the one that ran in the Times’ own app, site, and page A3 on Monday) that you fill in by scribbling with your finger. Minsberg sees the mini crossword as a possible conversion point to the Times’ paid product: Maybe a user gets hooked on it in Snapchat Discover, then gets a digital crossword subscription (less than a dollar a week!), then maybe one day decides to get a digital subscription to the paper too.

For the most part, the Snapchat team is working with editorial staff to repurpose content for the Discover edition — “people on the Snapchat team are going in and editing, rewriting, and reframing content specifically for Snapchat,” Minsberg said. Content from the Opinion pages, however, is an exception. In Discover, it’s explicitly presented as Opinion (unlike the other content in the edition, which isn’t identified as coming from any one section), and it’s never touched by anybody on the Snapchat team. Somebody on the Opinion desk edited down McKibben’s editorial for Discover, and most of the time, there will be no Snapchat-specific edits to Opinion content at all.

The five-item briefing is written by senior staff editor Sean Alfano, who had previously worked on NYT Now and the Times’ longer morning briefing before shifting focus to do the Snapchat briefing. “Five things is pretty limited, compared to the briefings as they exist elsewhere,” he said. “But we don’t have any expectation that we can hold onto you for more than 300 words if you’re 20 years old.” The items in Monday’s edition: Barack Obama’s return from his post-presidential vacation; Trump’s agenda this week; Congress’s return to work; Ann Coulter’s vow to speak at Berkeley this week despite the university administration’s decision to cancel her event; and the Cassini spacecraft’s exploration of Saturn.

It will take time to settle on the right mix of content for Discover; the team will be watching the analytics provided by Snap to see what people are sticking around for and where they’re spending most of their time. “We’re not starting every day thinking we need X number of stories or X number of snaps,” Minsberg said. “There may be times when we have 10 stories across 12 snaps. There may be times when we have 3 stories across 12 snaps.”

As for the actual five-item briefing, “our thinking is that it needs to be as quick and as matter-of-fact as necessary,” said Alfano. “We’re gonna roll with that for the first couple weeks and see what the response is. We’re absolutely open to going with what our audience seems to gravitate to.”

The New York Times launches a Facebook group to discuss podcasts (and learn to make better ones)

At the Times, a Podcast Club. Last Wednesday, The New York Times published a fascinating interactive titled “9 Podcast Episodes Worth Discussing,” which served as a tiny door into a much broader enterprise: a digital listening club, one that’s being largely conducted over a moderated Facebook group where new podcast episodes of concern are posted every Monday for members to discuss in long, threaded comments sections. It’s open to the public, and at this writing, the group is fast approaching 10,000 members.

Samantha Henig, the Times’ editorial director for audio, tells me that the club isn’t part of any broader New York Times Facebook group strategy; rather, it’s an extension of something that had organically formed within the organization. “When we first announced that we were starting an audio team at The New York Times” — that was last March, by the way — “pretty much everyone I ran into at work started gushing to me about how excited they were and how much they love podcasts,” Henig told me. Some, she said, had even been running their own personal podcast clubs, and so she figured, what if they made a company-wide version of that?

“My main goal was to harness all that energy and enthusiasm in the building around podcasts, and get a bunch of smart and engaged people in a room together,” she said. “And, selfishly, I thought it would help me and our growing audio team be smarter about our own programming if we’re in regular discussion about what’s working best or falling flat in other shows.”

And so they did. The club eventually drew a varied mix of attendees from throughout the organization, from reporters to developers to data analysts to whatever you call those people working in business development, and Henig describes a wide age range — she notes a higher representation of young folks than what one might usually expect from the Times, while also singling out Ben Weiser, “a Metro reporter who has been one of the most loyal and enthusiastic members but is very much not a millennial” — as well as a variety in taste.

When I asked about the decision to bring the club out into the wild, Henig said: “The Podcast Club has always felt like a very special thing, in part because it scratches an itch that no doubt exists beyond the office. There are lots of people listening to podcasts and eager to discuss what they’re in the middle of or to hear recommendations for what to try next. So [executive producer of audio] Lisa Tobin and I have been thinking for a while about how to go bigger with it.”

Here’s the Facebook Group, and the supporting RadioPublic playlist.

How The New York Times, CNN, and The Huffington Post approach publishing on platforms

Publishing used to be relatively simple. You published a newspaper once a day or produced a nightly newscast. Even with the advent of the Internet things were fairly straightforward: You had a website and posted your coverage there. But as platforms — from Facebook and Snapchat to messaging platforms such as Kik and Line — become more ubiquitous, news organizations now have to decide where they want to publish and how they want to present their coverage on these platforms.

A study out this week from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University examines how platforms have changed journalism, and while the entire 25,455-word report is worth reading, one particularly interesting section looks at how news outlets are choosing to publish (or not publish) across a variety of platforms.

The report compares how The New York Times, CNN, and The Huffington Post utilized platforms during a week in early February. In that span, each outlet posted to about 10 different platforms. The Times and HuffPo each posted about 1,660 times across the various platforms. CNN, however, published more than 2,800 stories, about 40 percent more than the other two.

The Tow report defines two primary different types of platform-based content: native and networked. Native content includes entities such as Snapchat Discover and Stories, Facebook Instant Articles, or Apple News. These formats live entirely within the walled gardens of the platforms. Networked content, meanwhile, links back to the news organizations’ own sites.

The study examined 14 publishers and found that during the week of Feb. 6, they posted 12,341 pieces of networked content and 11,481 pieces of native content.

“While publishers all need to have a presence across a broad range of platforms, how they distribute their content — and, in particular, the amount they ‘give away’ to platforms in the form of native content — differs considerably,” the study said.

During the week of February 6, two-thirds of The Huffington Post’s distributed content was posted in native formats. That includes 695 stories on Apple News and 305 Facebook posts, which include Instant Articles, Live Video, and other formats. “These native Facebook posts also represent 98 percent of Huffington Post’s total Facebook posts,” the study found.

CNN similarly posted 59 percent of its content natively. That included 1,016 Apple News Articles, 948 tweets, and 278 YouTube videos. The report also noted that “CNN’s concerted effort to reach younger audiences is also evident in its Snapchat Discover channel, on which we saw a shift away from scrollable articles repurposed from to more bitesize news cards, and its ongoing commitment to chat app LINE.”

Meanwhile, only 16 percent of the Times’ posts were native. The Times was one of a handful of news organizations that Facebook launched Instant Articles with in 2015, but the paper has since stopped publishing on Instant Articles. During the week that Tow measured the posts, just 19 percent of the Times’ 406 Facebook posts were native to the platform. The paper also posted 74 stories on Apple News.

Unlike The Huffington Post and CNN, the Times is focused on digital subscriptions and its main goal is to drive users back to its own platforms, which explains its reluctance to use native posts.

In a speech at a conference last year, Lydia Polgreen, who was then the editorial director of the Times’ global expansion effort and is now the editor of The Huffington Post, explained how the Times’ approach to platforms is different than other publishers.

Social platforms, especially Facebook, allow us to target our journalism to those most likely to want to pay for it. I believe that we are better off as Facebook’s happy customer than as its outgunned competitor in a David and Goliath fight for advertising dollars.

Yes, Facebook will try mightily to keep news consumers inside its platforms, via features like Instant Articles. Our job is to create experiences that will draw our most loyal users back, again and again, to our own products. So far, we seem to be succeeding at this. We will never be as big or financially successful as Facebook, but I believe we can run a thriving media company that can afford a lavishly funded news operation, as well as return value to our shareholders.

Many of the people the study’s authors — Emily Bell and Taylor Owen — interviewed reiterated that business models often determine how news organizations approach publishing on the platforms:

Jim Brady, founder and CEO of Billy Penn, a Philadelphia mobile news platform, said that when it came to Instant Articles, “I can afford to be a little bit more agnostic about it than someone whose revenue is tied to where the page view lies.” Gabe Dance, former managing editor of the not-for-profit news organization the Marshall Project said their resources were focused on “impact” because that’s what funders care about. And, after an unsuccessful experiment with NPR to host audio natively on the platform, Wright Bryan, senior editor for engagement, walked away wondering, “Does audio really fit a format like Facebook?”

One example of this is that the study showed that publishers’ attitudes toward Instant Articles in particular varied greatly. Outlets such as The Washington Post, Vox, and BuzzFeed News all posted more than 90 percent of their links as Instant Articles during the week of February 6. Meanwhile, Vice, Vice News, and Tronc papers the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times aren’t using Instant Articles at all.

“I think because there’s a continuous debate as to the very question: ‘What do you need to control, and what things do you not,’” Sterling Proffer, head of business strategy and development at Vice, told the study’s authors. “Going all in, solely on the platform to support your entire ecosystem in every way, is a big gamble.”

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