“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.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a Slack bot for journalists

Quartz got some money from Knight last year to launch its own Bot Studio, building interactive tools/chat interfaces/general bot substrate for both itself and other newsrooms. (More here and here.) Today, Quartz announces the latest fruit of that effort — a Slack bot named Quackbot, built in collaboration with DocumentCloud:

Together we’re releasing Quackbot, which performs tasks useful to reporters, editors, and news producers right where so many of us work all day — inside Slack. In its first version, Quackbot can do a select few tricks that might prove handy in a modern newsroom…But we’re excited to collaborate with the rest of the journalism world to give Quackbot many more skills over time. Think of it as a fully hosted and friendly interface to open-source tools…

Journalist-programmers are an especially sharing lot. Sure, they’ll work night and day to scoop each other, but once the story’s published they’re happy to share how they did it — even sharing the tools they built. As a result, there are many dozens of useful tools available to programmers in newsrooms everywhere.

But there’s a catch: Not every newsroom has programmers. And even existing programmers might not have the time, skills, or resources to get a project’s code, put it on a server, and keep it working.

It’s in an early state, but a few of those launch features might still be useful to you:

1. It can take a screenshot of any webpage.

2. It will preserve any URL by telling the Internet Archive to save a copy of the page.

3. Given a topic, it can suggest some reliable sources of data.

4. If you provide Quackbot with a URL, it will identify any cringe-worthy clichés on that page.

Soon, Quackbot will also allow journalists to upload PDFs to DocumentCloud, extract text and charts from PDFs, monitor websites for changes, make quick charts, and more. We’re also inviting other journalists to bring their tools into Quackbot, making them readily available within Slack.

Once it achieves anatine maturity, “Quackbot will become a core feature of DocumentCloud, which will maintain the infrastructure and provide troubleshooting and support.”

The bot itself will be available for install this Thursday (such teases), and you can bug John Keefe about it at ONA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other publishing methods are more popular:

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

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

The Wall Street Journal tested live push notifications, with some help from the Guardian’s Mobile Lab

When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs report at the beginning of the month, news organizations unleashed their push notifications.

On Friday morning, the Wall Street Journal tested live mobile push alerts for their jobs coverage, working closely with the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab, which has been for the past year tirelessly testing a range of ideas for distributing news that make the most of people’s phone-reading preferences.

Readers who arrived at the Journal’s mobile site or its Android or iOS apps were able to read its live coverage of the jobs numbers for July — but were also alerted with preview push notifications on updates as they read the existing analysis on the page (readers could dismiss and keep reading, or jump to the update from the push alert).

Journal developers built the infrastructure for the live notifications, and its markets team reported on the event and sent the pushes. The Mobile Innovation Lab provided guidance — based on learnings from its own past experiments and user testing — throughout the process, from evaluating design prototypes for the alerts to crafting an effective survey for users who encountered the Journal’s experiment.

The Journal has its own internal live coverage tool, built ahead of the Iowa Caucuses coverage in time for last year’s elections, but hadn’t dealt with live push notifications, according to Jennifer Hicks, deputy managing editor of digital at the Journal.

“We had a highlights feature where we could pin key posts, but we couldn’t notify readers within the live reading experience,” she said.

The Guardian’s Mobile Innovation Lab had been hosting some get-togethers and roundtables with various news organizations after the November 2016 election around news notifications, and the Journal expressed interest in trying out an experiment with the Lab. Work on this project started in June.

“There were lots of experiments the Guardian group was doing, so we talked about what we could bite off and pull off in a short amount of time,” Hicks said. “For us, it was also an opportunity to change our culture and talk directly to readers about testing a new feature.” (The Journal and Mobile Lab teams had a joint Slack channel going morning of the live notifications project for potential troubleshooting in implementation.)

The Journal plans to use the live notifications feature in future live coverage (with tweaks as necessary), according to Journal mobile editor Phil Izzo: “From jobs reports to the Olympics to terrorist attacks, we use live coverage a lot, and that’s one of the reasons we really wanted to build this out, since we knew there were so many use cases for it,” he said.

Both the Guardian and Journal teams emphasized the project’s experimental nature; it’s the first partnership of this kind for both organizations. The Lab is welcoming similar partnerships with other interested outlets.

“In the Lab we’re working for the industry and not just for ourselves — if we were to experiment in silence for two years and not share tips and tricks that we’ve experimented with, that wouldn’t be fulfilling the mission of the Lab,” Sarah Schmalbach, the Lab’s senior product manager, said. “We have been flexing our notifications muscle, then when we felt more confident in what we’d learned, we began to host events to ask other organizations what they were doing, where we’d then make a point to say, please come talk to us if there’s anything we can do to help, any data we can provide. Maybe we can launch something together.”

“We really relied on Sarah and [Mobile Innovation Lab editor] Sasha Koren to provide expertise in terms of, how do you talk to your audience directly, how do you conduct a real-time experiment, how do you offer a survey to audiences that gets you useful and actionable feedback,” Hicks said. “We had a lot of guidance on how to set up an experiment, which is not something we’ve done regularly at the Journal.”

Data points the Journal will evaluate for this jobs report experiment center around engagement, and include time spent on the live coverage, whether readers dismissed the notifications or clicked into the post, and bounce rate during the live event.

“Another thing we’re thinking about is, does this tell us anything about experimentation at the Journal?” Izzo said. “Did we make the job reports live blog better, because we put more attention to it, and should we push to do more things like this in the newsroom in general?”

Test it before you try it: Findings from the Engaging News Project’s homepage redesign study

A study comparing redesigns of homepages for news organizations in the United States and Canada found that contemporary designs with more images and less text resonate more with readers — but noted that experimenting with the redesign and doing before-and-after testing can reveal some helpful insights.

The Engaging News Project, an initiative of the University of Texas Austin, followed an unnamed major U.S. news organization and a similarly unnamed major Canadian news organization as they revamped their sites’ homepages. In each case, “two concurrent studies occurred. The first was an online survey-based experiment and the second was a live test conducted by the news organization.”

“Our results show that an online experiment can pick up on many of the same signals as a full launch of a site redesign,” Emily Van Duyn, a research associate for the Engaging News Project, said in a statement. “We believe that doing an online experiment could provide news organizations with a relatively inexpensive way to test out a redesign before a full launch.”

In the case of the Canadian redesign, both pageviews and the time spent by readers on the page were higher on the new site than on the old site. Readers were able to remember articles more effectively, potentially aided by a greater number of photos. The new site also replaced a grouping of 20 picture-less sections with nine sections labeled by topic and their own pictures.

The U.S. organization’s redesign did not result in higher visit times, but the bounce rate did rise. There was no major difference in recall rates.

The researchers considered potential reasons for improved article recall on the Canada site and plausible explanations for the U.S. site’s data.

Canadian site:

(1) Pictures increase recall. Six articles were recalled more frequently on the new site than the old one. In 28 of 30 observations (6 articles across 5 different time periods), these articles were accompanied by a picture on the new site, but not on the old site.
(2) No differences in recall when articles equally prominent on the old and new sites. Three articles were recalled at a similar rate for both the old and new sites. In 12 out of 15 observations, the articles were equally prominent on both sites. The Trudeau article, for instance, appeared in the top third of the page, in the first column, and had a photo on both sites for all time periods analyzed.
(3) Column on the page affects recall. Three articles were recalled more frequently on the old site than the new one. It is more difficult to explain why these articles were recalled more frequently on the old site. The best explanation seems to be the column in which the story appeared. In nine of 15 instances, the old site had the article in the more prominent first column reading from left to right. In three instances, the story appeared in an equally prominent column. And in three instances, the pattern is the reverse, where the new site had the article in a more prominent column

U.S. site:

(1) Pictures affect recall. The Putin article, better recalled on the new site, appeared with an image atop both the old and new sites. On the new site, however, there were no other images in the same row as the Putin story, while there was a competing image in the same row on the old site.
(2) The amount of scrolling matters. The Yellen article, better recalled on the new site, was featured at the top of the page on the new site, but was farther down the page on the old site. The rich banker, Indian overpass, and Syria stories required less scrolling on the old site compared to the new site. They also were better recalled on the old site.
(3) Column on the page affects recall. The Trump and China Xi stories, better recalled on the old site, appeared in a more left-hand column on the old site compared to the new.
(4) No differences in recall when articles equally prominent on the old and new sites. Just as we did on the Canadian site, we found on the U.S. site that the articles with no differences in recall (Trooper wounded, Megacopter) were similarly prioritized on the old and new sites.

Also, only 54 percent of participants in the Canada study knew what a hamburger menu was. (Hint: it’s the three horizontal lines that appear as a button to unleash the site’s list of section options. The question wasn’t asked on the U.S. side of the study.)

Come work for Nieman Lab

We have an opening for a staff writer here at Nieman Lab. If you’re interested, apply over here!

The job’s pretty easy to describe: You see all the stories on this website? The ones about journalism innovation — changes in how news gets reported, produced, distributed, discovered, consumed, and paid for? This job is about coming up with, reporting out, and writing those stories. There are some other duties, of course, like helping run our social media presence, but it’s a reporting job at its core. If you’ve ever thought I’d be good at writing Nieman Lab stories, I’d encourage you to apply.

This person will join our little five-person Harvard newsroom. She or he will also be joining the larger Nieman Foundation, which does a lot of exciting things for journalism and for journalists. (That’s our home, Walter Lippmann House, above; it’s nice.) For more details, see my writeup from a previous time we had an opening and, of course, the job listing.

One note about the position: To be considered for it, you’ll have to apply at the Harvard HR site linked above, where you should include a cover letter telling me why you think you’d be right for the job. (Don’t email me a resume directly; I’m not allowed to consider anyone who doesn’t go through the official HR process. But if you have specific questions about the job, feel free to drop me a line.)

People have trouble A) detecting faked images and B) identifying where they’ve been changed

I recently, shamefully fell for a photo plastered all over my timeline last week of Vladimir Putin sitting in a chair at G-20 as other world leaders, including Donald Trump, leaned in for what appeared to be an intense, whispered discussion. The photo was, as Gizmodo put it gently, totally fake.

Fake headlines of the Pope-endorsing-Trump variety are just one part of the ecosystem of fakery online. There’s faked audio to worry about. Faked video. And of course, faked images.

It turns out people aren’t very good at identifying manipulated images, according to new research published Tuesday in the journal Cognitive Research by researchers Sophie J. Nightingale, Kimberley A. Wade, and Derrick G. Watson from the University of Warwick.

Participants were slightly better than random at picking out untouched versus manipulated photos, classifying 62 percent of the images in the study correctly. Participants also weren’t great at picking out where exactly a photo had been changed, even when they did accurately identify a photo as manipulated: they were able to identify an average of 45 percent of manipulations presented.

The study first tested participants on whether or not they could identify a manipulated image by showing them images of people in real-world scenes taken from a Google search, and manipulated versions of those images. In a second experiment, the researchers tested whether participants could pinpoint the region of the photo that had been changed.

People don’t necessarily appear to be better at pinpointing “implausible” manipulations (such as a shadow in the wrong place) than “plausible” ones (such as removal or addition of something into the photo), the researchers found:

Recall that we looked at two categories of manipulations — implausible and plausible — and we predicted that people would perform better on implausible manipulations because these scenes provide additional evidence that people can use to determine if a photo has been manipulated. Yet the story was not so simple. In Experiment 1, subjects correctly detected more of the implausible photo manipulations than the plausible photo manipulations, but in Experiment 2, the opposite was true. Further, even when subjects correctly identified the implausible photo manipulations, they did not necessarily go on to accurately locate the manipulation. It is clear that people find it difficult to detect and locate manipulations in real-world photos, regardless of whether those manipulations lead to physically plausible or implausible scenes.

They concluded:

Future research might also investigate potential ways to improve people’s ability to spot manipulated photos. However, our findings suggest that this is not going to be a straightforward task. We did not find any strong evidence to suggest there are individual factors that improve people’s ability to detect or locate manipulations. That said, our findings do highlight various possibilities that warrant further consideration, such as training people to make better use of the physical laws of the world, varying how long people have to judge the veracity of a photo, and encouraging a more careful and considered approach to detecting manipulations. What our findings have shown is that a more careful search of a scene, at the very least, may encourage people to be skeptical about the veracity of photos. Of course, increased skepticism is not perfect because it comes with an associated cost: a loss of faith in authentic photos. Yet, until we know more about how to improve people’s ability to distinguish between real and fake photos, a skeptical approach might be wise, especially in contexts such as law, scientific publication, and photojournalism where even a small manipulation can have ethically significant consequences.

In its own writeup of the study, the Washington Post, made a fun quiz based on the images used in Nightingale’s experiment, which, if you’re curious about your own abilities, you can take here.

It’s time to apply for a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowship

How would you finish this sentence? Journalism has never been more _______.

If you answered essential or exciting or precarious or imperiled — and have ideas for how to make it more of the first two or less of the last — you may be a candidate to join our next group of Knight Visiting Nieman Fellows. We are looking for ideas to advance journalism — ideas that would be helped by up to 12 weeks of project work here on Harvard’s campus. We’ll be accepting applications through September 29, which you can submit online.

In nearly six years of supporting visiting fellows, we’ve embraced an exciting array of innovative ideas and journalism influencers. We’ve welcomed editors and academics, reporters and developers, veterans and junior practitioners. Fellows have come from the U.S. and abroad, including India, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico, and throughout Europe. Recent fellows have included:

  • Sandra Barrón Ramirez, product designer at Borde Político and Transparencia Mexicana, who worked on constructing a central index for the disappeared and missing in Mexico, data that will help journalists.
  • Trushar Barot, London-based mobile editor for the BBC World Service, who researched AI assistants, a project that included a convening of news and tech industry leaders to share developments in voice AI.
  • David Barboza, a reporter for The New York Times, who is creating a business and financial database of Chinese companies to aid investigative journalism in China.
  • His colleague Nina Lassam, director of ad product at the Times, who studied how to foster greater participation in comments and distributed news content, with a focus on more engagement among female readers.
  • Raheel Khursheed, Twitter’s head of news partnerships for India and Southeast Asia, who examined micropayments for news content.

Many of our visiting fellows’ have made their resulting work public, which we hope further encourages innovation in journalism. Futurist Amy Webb published a Nieman ebook on her proposal for rewriting the future for journalism schools. Jack Riley came as a visiting fellow from The Huffington Post U.K. to study the future for news on wearables, and wrote about his findings for Nieman Lab. Tara Pixley, an independent photojournalist and photo editor, authored this cover story for Nieman Reports about the importance of diversifying news imagery and the ranks of visual journalists, the subject of her visiting fellowship.

Along with her excellent report on an alternative vision for public radio membership, visiting fellow Melody Kramer created something even more valuable for visiting fellowship applicants: a short video about her proposal, her application, her interview, and how she approached her eight weeks at Harvard. In reflecting on her advice, one additional question to consider is whether your goals would be best met by this project-based fellowship or by our year-long Nieman Fellowship, an opportunity for broader inquiry and professional development. A couple of visiting fellows discovered that their ambitions were grander than their brief time on campus allowed and wished they had applied for the full academic year. (Applications for that fellowship are due December 1 for international journalists and January 31 for U.S. applicants.)

I recently met with Nieman colleagues to review the status of the visiting fellowships and they all underscored the importance of two fundamentals: first, a focused project is better than a broad one; second, plan ahead. Whether you come to campus for two weeks or 12, the time will go quickly. You are unlikely to complete your interviews and research if you don’t narrow them to what’s achievable and identify important campus and Cambridge-area resources before arriving — including those at the Nieman Foundation.

We’re bullish on journalism at Nieman, and know its future depends on innovation. These visiting fellowships are one way we invest in that future. If you have questions, please contact us at nieman_applications@harvard.edu. We’re eager to read your proposals.

Ann Marie Lipinski is curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

The Wall Street Journal shutters eight blogs: “The tools for telling” stories have changed

On the heels of ending its news digest app and fine-tuning its push notification strategy, The Wall Street Journal shut down eight blogs on Monday. Their topics ranged from legal news to the Chinese economy to arts, culture, and entertainment. The shutterings were another condensation of platforms in the Wall Street Journal’s digital strategy, folding coverage of the topic areas into the Wall Street Journal’s homepage.

One of the Wall Street Journal’s oldest blogs, the Law Blog launched in January 2006 with a “simple name but a novel approach to legal news in the pre-Twitter era,” the paper’s law bureau chief Ashby Jones wrote in the blog’s farewell note:

Law Blog was the first of its kind at the WSJ and was an immediate hit, attracting readers from all corners of the legal world. Its success helped usher in a sort of Golden Age for blogs at WSJ and encourage the growth of a wider, legal blogosphere.

China Real Time, launched before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and India Real Time, which came along in 2010, chronicled life in the growing economies for both local readers and an international audience. Beijing-based reporter Josh Chin noted the changing times in his blog’s farewell letter:

When this site was born, China’s GDP growth was in double digits, Beijing building toward the triumph of the Olympics and China-themed blogs were proliferating across the internet. Nine years later, China’s government is struggling to keep the economy growing above 6%, the Olympics are a fading memory and many a China blog has fallen silent.

The China story has changed, and so have the the tools for telling it. Regretfully, the time has come for China Real Time to end its run. We plan to transfer the same energy and insight that animated the blog to covering China on WSJ’s other platforms, including the main English and Chinese websites.

Wall Street Journal spokesperson Steve Severinghaus said that a total of eight verticals have been shuttered as part of the WSJ 2020 project, an internal operations review launched in October 2016. The other affected blogs are arts/culture/entertainment blog Speakeasy (last updated in March), Off Duty Daily (last updated in May 2016), breaking news hub Dispatch, sports blog The Daily Fix, and data review blog the Numbers (last updated in July 2016). “We’ll continue to cover these areas robustly through other storytelling formats and our digital platforms,” Severinghaus said in an email.

The statement sounds similar to things that New York Times staffers said around the shutdown of the City Room blog (2007–2015). “If it were 100 years ago, this would have lasted for 50 years, but the way technology changes and the way reader nature changes every five years now, its lifespan was just so much shorter,” New York Times metro editor Wendell Jamieson said at the time. “That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an important bridge, but it’s a different industry than it was when City Room launched. It’s truly the post-blog era, and I barely had time to get into the blog era.”

While the Wall Street Journal’s China and India bureaus and lead legal writers won’t be posting to the blogs anymore, the sites will remain live as archives. The social media accounts for the blogs will continue to be updated with relevant content from the Journal’s reporters, according to the blog posts announcing the closures. But for some followers, that’s not enough.

The corporate decision to shutter these blogs is another streamlining of the Journal’s platforms, days after the What’s News digest app ceased publication. Mobile editor Phil Izzo told my colleague Joseph Lichterman that the Wall Street Journal is aiming for flexibility with platforms while still maintaining autonomy over their content.

“What we’re trying to do is set up a place where we can make changes. We’re never going to be a tech company. We’re never going to be Google or Facebook. But what we can do is have more control over our product and more control over what we put out,” Izzo said last month.

As South Asia deputy bureau chief Eric Bellman said in the note announcing Real Time India’s end, the content will keep coming — just not on the blogs.

India Real Time started in 2010 as the first attempt by a global newspaper to offer a news product for Indian readers through the internet. Seven years and crores of clicks later, The Wall Street Journal is winding down the successful blog. We will continue to offer the content Indian readers want through the more popular paths of distribution: WSJ subscriptions, apps and social media.

The Wall Street Journal will continue to maintain some blogs, such as Real Time Economics, MoneyBeat, and the Health Blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Felix Ro used under a Creative Commons license.

You can now use social audio app Anchor to publish podcasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Touch closing notice from this tweet.

Trying to write a killer headline for social? Here are some of the most (and least) effective phrases

Jostling for readers for your listicle on Facebook? Aim for the number “10” in your headline.

Trying to promote a story on Twitter? Emotion-based appeals popular on Facebook don’t translate to Twitter.

Findings from a BuzzSumo trigram analysis of 100 million headlines published between March and May of this year confirms a lot about the clickbait-y, competitive publishing environment of social media.

The analysis reveals nothing particularly surprising, for instance, about the headline phrases that generated the most likes, shares, and comments: “Will make you” was by far the most successful phrase, and emotion-based appeals like “melt your heart” and “make you cry” also do well. (Also, we reported that 10 was the most common number for a BuzzFeed list way back in 2013.)

Publishers beware though: Facebook says its algorithm is cracking down again on clickbait in its News Feed.

Phrases that performed poorly on Facebook? “Control of your,” “work for you,” or “on a budget”— which apparently works well on Pinterest. Phrases that performed well on Facebook don’t work as well in Twitter headlines, where phrases that emphasize immediacy and analysis do best — “what we know,” “things to know,” “this is what.”

On Facebook, it’s also important to hit just the right headline length. Super short or super long headlines don’t appear to be effective. Posts between 12 and 18 words — and between 80 to 95 characters — get the most shares on Facebook.

This particular study draws its insights from some of the most shared stories on Facebook and Twitter, which include articles from major publishers like HuffPost and BuzzFeed; it’ll release separate headlines analysis for sharing business-to-business stories later in the year. You can read the entire post here.

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