Here’s what you need to know to build successful paid newsletters, popup newsletters, morning digests, and community newsletters

Thinking about starting your own email newsletter? A panel at ISOJ 2018 contains a wealth of advice for launching all types of editorial newsletters, from paywalled offerings to limited-run recaps tied to popular television shows to indispensable morning digests to community-creating newsletters. Continue reading “Here’s what you need to know to build successful paid newsletters, popup newsletters, morning digests, and community newsletters”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google announces a $300M ‘Google News Initiative’ (though this isn’t about giving out grants directly to newsrooms, like it does in Europe)

— Google said Tuesday it’s committing $300 million over three years towards various products and initiatives intended to help news publishers and sweeten Google’s relationships with them, as part of an umbrella initiative it’s calling the Google News Initiative.

Continue reading “Google announces a $300M ‘Google News Initiative’ (though this isn’t about giving out grants directly to newsrooms, like it does in Europe)”

What The Guardian has learned trying to build a more intelligent story format — one that knows what you know

Over the past several months, the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab has introduced a new format that we have been working on: the Smarticle. We’ve now run three Smarticle experiments, and learned a lot about how readers like the format and what topics work well in it. Most significantly, we learned that there’s an appetite for this story format: Through a combination of written feedback from users and analytics, we learned that people enjoyed consuming news in this way, and they were comfortable only receiving elements of the story that were new to them. Continue reading “What The Guardian has learned trying to build a more intelligent story format — one that knows what you know”

Can social Stories work for news organizations — without putting them on a platform?

On platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, Stories are cute — they’re perfectly designed for your phone’s screen, they can feel more narrative than disconnected posts, you can be pithy while still including more information than a regular post, and you can communicate more directly with your audience. But they also have drawbacks: the public can’t really see them after 24 hours, and they’re accessible only by users of those apps. Continue reading “Can social Stories work for news organizations — without putting them on a platform?”

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

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

The New York Times has halved its free monthly articles to 5, its most significant paywall change since 2012

The great paywall tightening of 2017 continues. The New York Times said Friday that it will cut the number of free articles available to “most” non-subscribers each month from 10 to five, Bloomberg reported. The change is the most significant one the Times has made to its pay model since 2012, when it cut the number of monthly free articles from 20 to 10. (According to Bloomberg, “The Times may eventually offer a different number of free articles to non-subscribers based on how they arrive or their reading habits.”) Continue reading “The New York Times has halved its free monthly articles to 5, its most significant paywall change since 2012”

Newsonomics: The New York Times’ Mark Thompson on regulating Facebook, global ambition, and when to stop the presses (forever)

Five years is a long time, especially in the media business. It was five years ago this week that Mark Thompson took on the top job at The New York Times Company. It was an enterprise still wobbling from the effects of the Great Recession, its new paywall only a year old. The Huffington Post was trumpeting that it had surpassed the Times in digital traffic — a recognition of Google’s market power and of Facebook’s emergence. The Times was a shrinking enterprise. It had shed revenues, profits, staff, and share price. It had also shed its previous CEO, Janet Robinson. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s pick of Thompson to replace her surprised many; despite having led the BBC’s ongoing transition to the increasingly digital world, Thompson had no publishing management experience. And he was a Brit, plucked out of London to head America’s flagship newspaper company.

Continue reading “Newsonomics: The New York Times’ Mark Thompson on regulating Facebook, global ambition, and when to stop the presses (forever)”

The Washington Post on Reddit surprises users with its non-promotional, ultra helpful presence

Democracy dies in dankness.

That’s not a typo in the Washington Post’s Reddit profile: The Washington Post account is an avid poster of some pretty good memes and gifs. It’s got jokes. It’s also a sharer of everything from polling stories to breaking national security stories to lifestyle columns to geeky features to fact-checks, and a facilitator of, and participant in, AMAs. The official publisher account has been live since April of this year, shortly after the platform began allowing public profiles, and appears to have broken through Reddit’s tough anti-brand, anti-paywall shell.

Continue reading “The Washington Post on Reddit surprises users with its non-promotional, ultra helpful presence”

The Guardian Mobile Lab’s latest experiment targets public transit commuters with an offline news app

Over the summer, the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab hinted at its next experiment: improving the experience of consuming news when offline. Now it’s revealed the trial product, a news app that incorporates location sharing, content and time customizations, and user data transparency — but is only available for the next few months.

The Lab introduced LabRdr — which can apparently be pronounced like “lab reader” or “Labrador” or another general squish of consonants — on Wednesday. Designed for the public transit commuter who may lose cell service on the subway, for example, and then be left with nothing to read, the app prepares a “package” of Guardian content based on the user’s previous reads in the app and the current stories of the morning or evening. It’s delivered twice a day via push alert, at the times the user has specified they’re commuting; each package contains an amount of content that the app determines will be readable within the duration of each user’s commute.

And yep, location factors in. “We’re experimenting with making offline news reading easier and more relevant, through automatic personalizations of your reading package based on signals like your interests or, possibly in the future, your location and what’s being read nearby,” Mobile Lab editor Sasha Koren noted in the Medium announcement:

LabRdr’s approach to offline news reading is experimental, and different from existing offline news apps in a few ways: Rather than give you all current stories on every topic, it delivers only a self-contained package of Guardian articles keyed to your interests, twice a day just in time for your commute, at times you can specify.

As you use it, it learns what you like to read and delivers you content keyed to your interests. (We’re setting aside important conversations about filter bubbles for now to learn something about personalization.) In addition, we show you how we use the data you share with us, in an effort to enhance trust through transparency…

What we’re looking to learn

What makes a good content recommendation system for news? A lot of the existing work about content recommendations are around e-commerce and we’re interested in what signals are particularly good for news organizations and news reading.

We’re also looking to gauge readers’ reactions to the utility of having a short package of news defined for them for a set period of time. Without the option to read a full spectrum of articles on many topics, will they feel better informed with those they do read, or have a sense of achievement at completing a few articles in a set?

As with all our experiments, we’ll report on what we learn in follow-up posts after the app has been running for a while and we’ve collected and analyzed data and reactions.

LabRdr isn’t the first attempt at improving offline news. Way back in 2012, reading apps News.me and Instapaper both endeavored to serve the offline reader and relied on location to do so, but News.me didn’t survive a Twitter API update. Other apps like Pocket or Evernote require the readers themselves to do the legwork of saving the content for later perusing, rather than having relevant material presented to them.

Another difference is that the Mobile Lab is making an effort to share the data it collects through LabRdr. In a section of the app called the Log, you can view the tracked reading and commute patterns. “The app is a really good first step for gathering information, using it in a respectful way, and seeing how people feel about that,” said Sarah Schmalbach, co-leader of the Mobile Lab with Koren and its senior product manager. She pointed out that readers might feel different about sharing personal information with a news organization than they do about sharing it with, say, Google Maps or Amazon.

“If we can deliver news in more contextually relevant moments, then [will] that content be more valuable to the user?” wondered Connor Jennings, the app’s developer, who came up with the idea during his own frustrating experience reading offline news during his commute.

The team hopes to share its findings about reader trust, habit formation, and more with news organizations; the Mobile Lab is funded by the Knight Foundation (disclosure: Nieman Lab also receives funding from Knight) to explore solutions for the mobile news experience. But its sample will likely be restricted to those who commute using public transit, rather than people who drive, bike, or walk to work.

“It’s pretty narrow. We’re not targeting people who don’t commute; we’re not targeting people who commute by car. There’s a whole range of people we’re not gearing this toward,” Koren acknowledged.

LabRdr provides a “targeted product until we get better and deeper insights,” Schmalbach said. “We’re confident that the audience is big enough to get a big read on this content.”

Like the Mobile Lab’s other experiments — such as real-time Guardian commentary on a U.S. presidential debate via push alert; live push notifications with the Wall Street Journal — LabRdr is a temporary project. It will be removed from the App Store (it’s iPhone-only) after a couple of months.

Subway commuters by Susan Jane Golding used under a Creative Commons license.

“Exceedingly generous”: Google will split revenue with publishers who use its new subscription tools

Google, an advertising giant, has been making nice with news publishers by developing a series of tools they can use to more precisely attract and target paid subscribers. (It also ended the first-click-free policy this month, allowing subscription-based publishers to choose how many articles to show to readers for free without search-ranking consequence.)

Google’s nice comes at a small business price for any publishers who might want to use the planned subscription tools, but the details are still being ironed out with publishers.

“It will obviously come down to what we think that business relationship should be, but bottom line, I think [revenue sharing] will be exceedingly generous [to news publishers],” Google’s head of news Richard Gingras told the Financial Times on Sunday. “In our ad environment, the rev shares are 70 per cent-plus. The rev shares [for publishers] will be significantly more generous than that.” (Google’s AdSense offers around a 70-30 split for publishers who use it to place ads on their sites.)

Gingras made sure to distinguish Google’s tack from Facebook’s “walled garden” approach, telling the FT that “unlike other participants in the environment, we’re not trying to own the publisher. If there are cases where we do cause the subscription to happen, we don’t want to own the customer. None of this changes the marketplace economics, people will pay for what they value.”

That “other participant in the environment” on Friday formally announced its test of news subscriptions models within its Instant Articles format, through which it won’t take any cut of the revenue from subscription signups (the subscription transaction and payment processing will take place entirely on the publishers’ site). Facebook’s subscription tests are Android-only, as it’s been wrestling with Apple over the past few months over Apple’s default 30 percent cut of “in-app sales,” Recode reported.

From Nieman Reports: The powers and perils of news personalization

A new era of personalized news products began, in earnest, as a reaction to horrific global news.

Today, a Google search for news runs through the same algorithmic filtration system as any other Google search: A person’s individual search history, geographic location, and other demographic information affects what Google shows you. Exactly how your search results differ from any other person’s is a mystery, however. Not even the computer scientists who developed the algorithm could precisely reverse engineer it, given the fact that the same result can be achieved through numerous paths, and that ranking factors — deciding which results show up first — are constantly changing, as are the algorithms themselves.

We now get our news in real time, on-demand, tailored to our interests, across multiple platforms, without knowing just how much is actually personalized. It was technology companies like Google and Facebook, not traditional newsrooms, that made it so. But news organizations are increasingly betting that offering personalized content can help them draw audiences to their sites—and keep them coming back.

Personalization extends beyond how and where news organizations meet their readers. Already, smartphone users can subscribe to push notifications for the specific coverage areas that interest them. On Facebook, users can decide — to some extent — which organizations’ stories they would like to appear in their news feeds. At the same time, devices and platforms that use machine-learning to get to know their users will increasingly play a role in shaping ultra-personalized news products. Meanwhile, voice-activated artificially intelligent devices, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, are poised to redefine the relationship between news consumers and the news.

While news personalization can help people manage information overload by making individuals’ news diets unique, it also threatens to incite filter bubbles and, in turn, bias. This “creates a bit of an echo chamber,” says Judith Donath, author of The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online and a researcher affiliated with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. “You get news that is designed to be palatable to you. It feeds into people’s appetite of expecting the news to be entertaining … [and] the desire to have news that’s reinforcing your beliefs, as opposed to teaching you about what’s happening in the world and helping you predict the future better.”

As data-tracking becomes more sophisticated, voice recognition software advances, and tech companies leverage personalization for profit, personalization will only become more acute. This is potentially alarming given the growth of websites — news-oriented and otherwise —inhabiting the political extremes, which on Facebook are easy to mistake for valid sources of news. When users can customize their news, and customize to these political and social extremes, civic discourse can suffer. “What’s important is how people use the news to have a discussion,” says Donath. “You may have friends or colleagues, and you read the same things in common. You may decide different things about it. Then you debate with those people. If you’re not even seeing the same news story, it leaves you with a much narrower set of people with whom you share that common ground. You’re losing the common ground of news.”

Keep reading at Nieman Reports →

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Elisa Labbe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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