Grow the pie: Podcast revenue seems to be growing fast enough for everyone to get a slice

To absolutely no one’s surprise, I agree with this. Kafka articulated something I’ve been trying to say whenever I’ve written about the related issue of programmatic podcast advertising — but obviously, a whole lot better than I ever could — which is to essentially point out that rapid growth, as well as the implementation of technology and practices that push hard for rapid growth, often come at the expense of quality and general thoughtfulness of a space.

I’ve come to feel about podcasting the way I’ve long felt about a certain up-and-coming city in the American inter-mountain west (which will remain nameless for reasons that will become clear): I love it a whole ton, and I love that loads more people are beginning to love it too, but maybe we should start shit-talking the place before the tourists get here and drive the market out of whack. Continue reading “Grow the pie: Podcast revenue seems to be growing fast enough for everyone to get a slice”

European news sites are among the worst offenders when it comes to third-party cookies and content

The forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation on May 25 is pushing publishers to take a hard look at just how dependent their outlets have become on cookies third-party trackers they load on their own sites in order to collect data from their visitors.

News sites actually load more third-party content and set more third-party cookies than other top websites, according to a new study of websites across seven European countries from the Reuters Institute. Continue reading “European news sites are among the worst offenders when it comes to third-party cookies and content”

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?”

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.

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.

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.

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?”

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.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑