News Leadership 3.0

August 24, 2009

Mobilizing for mobile: Are news organizations lagging?

In a guest post, Chris O’Brien analyzes key components to consider in any move to mobile content

By Chris O’Brien

The mobile computing revolution is clearly upon us, thanks to the growth of Web-friendly smartphones. It’s an area rich with opportunity for news organizations, but one that’s also vastly more complicated than the Web. Figuring out how and where to get started can quickly get overwhelming.

So let’s break down some of the issues involved and look at some ways to get started: 

1. Optimize the current site.
It’s amazing how many news sites are unnecessarily slow to load, or look broken or clunky. To look at two sites that have done this well, grab a standard smartphone and visit The New York Times or The Washington Post on the phone’s browser.

The Post just launched their re-designed site in early August. The new site was designed specifically for mobile platforms, around five basic content categories, and with more simple navigation. This last point is particularly important, because people will consume news and information on the phone in ways that are different than the Web. I use my BlackBerry to get quick updates during those in-between moments, like standing in a line. So clicking right into content is critical.

According to MediaPost, the company is also assigning two full-time editors to managing mobile Web content. The new site also was built in-house, according to MediaPost. But there are third-parties, such as MobileTech of Norway (which is working with some Cox Newspapers).

2. Buttons and Bookmarks. Several news organizations, including the Washington Post and The New York Times, have created buttons that I can put right on my BlackBerry. They are just links that open up the phone’s browser. But it’s still ultra-convenient.

3. Applications. This is the next step up the ladder, and where things start to get quite a bit more complex. There are six major mobile platforms for smartphones:

- Apple’s iPhone
- Google’s Android
- BlackBerry
- Nokia’s Symbian
- Windows Mobile
- Palm Pre

Except for the iPhone and Pre, each system appears on numerous different devices. Each platform requires separate development, and the gadgets it runs on may require further tweaks. So, already your head is pounding.

The best advice is to pick one and get started. Of course, for most folks, the starting point lately is the iPhone, given all the buzz. Don’t kid yourself that there will be huge bucks in selling an iPhone app. The App store already has more than 40,000 apps and counting.

But despite the complexity, the advantages of building an app on any platform are huge, in terms of creating additional features, functionality and engagement.

Let me point to one example that’s become my favorite mobile news application: The Wall Street Journal’s BlackBerry application. I have a BlackBerry Curve.  The Journal’s application continuously downloads summaries of every article being published. When I’m ready to read, all the headlines are there are my phone where I can scan them quickly. When I click in the headline, a summary opens. At that point, I can click to read the full article, which takes a moment to read. But by then, I know that really want to read it. The beauty of this is that when I’m ready to consume the Journal, it’s ready for me. In the mobile news experience, these few seconds I save on every click make a huge difference.

Different news organizations are also taking different approaches to developing these. The New York Times has an in-house team that built their iPhone app. The Toronto Globe and Mail worked with a Toronto-based firm Spreed to develop its iPhone app. 

4. Location-based applications.
As mobile is evolving, the real opportunity is to leverage the power of knowing where the consumer is located. More and more phones have some kind of location-aware capability, either through GPS, through accessing the cell phone towers, or using wi-fi networks (the iPhone uses all three). For users of these devices, the issue of “where” they are is crucial to the questions they are asking, the news they’re seeking, and the information they need.

I haven’t found too many news organizations that have explored this yet, with the exception of the Associated Press. When I was using the AP’s iPhone app, it would recognize my location and then served up stories from the closest publications.

But hunt around the iTunes app store and check out location-based apps from folks like Yelp. When I searched for a coffee shop, it gave me a list of results ranked by distance from where I stood.

That sort of things remains far down the road for most news organizations. But that should be a sign of how badly we’re lagging, and why every newsroom should be getting started today. 

July 07, 2009

Among ethnic groups, the digital divide narrows

In a guest post, Craig Matsuda says that among Asian Americans and English-speaking Latinos, Internet access is as high as that of whites in the United States. It’s important to think about different usage among ethnic and age groups.

imageCraig Matsuda, a longtime editor at The Los Angeles Times and now a consultant, coordinated Knight Digital Media Center’s recent conference, “Transforming Ethnic News Organizations for the Digital Now,” in partnership with New America Media and the McCormick Foundation, in Atlanta last month. In the process, Craig learned a lot about media usage by different ethnic and age groups. I have asked Craig to share what he learned in a series of guest posts that starts today.

By Craig Matsuda

Don’t underestimate the online presence of communities of color.

While concerns about the digital divide are justified, the gap is narrowing, especially among Asian Americans and English-speaking Latinos, whose Internet access at least matches that of whites in the United States.

Age, economics and geography, of course, still play huge roles in determining - and often limiting—the online participation of ethnic groups and communities of color. That means there’s a lag in net access for African Americans and Latinos whose chief language is Spanish. It’s also true for poor, rural or older people in ethnic or minority communities.

But changes in technology, particularly advances in mobile devices and Wi-Fi connectivity, are combining with other factors to give new energy and a boost to communities of color online.

I researched this issue for a presentation to ethnic media leaders last month at “Transforming Ethnic News Organizations for the Digital Now.”

My sources include Arbitron, the Florida State University Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication, the National Ad Council, the Pew Internet and American Life Project and Scarborough. (For links to research articles, see below.)

For starters, it’s key to know that, in general:

- African Americans are a big population with a growing gray segment and with age- and economic-differences in technology use

- Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups, one which skews young and in which economics, language (mostly English- or Spanish-speaking) and assimilation are key tech considerations.
- Asian Americans are a fast growing group, which also skews young and which works particularly well with technology

More than 70 percent of English speaking Latinos, Asians and African Americans told FSU researchers in 2008 that they have higher-cost high-speed access; just under 50 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinos said they do. Those rates match those of majority populations surveyed.

Meantime, Latinos, as group, have turned to cell phones and rely on them very heavily to: surf the web for information, text message, download and find and listen to music and watch videos, studies show.

Asian Americans, who also are heavy cell phone users, are on-the-go online folks, too, in a different way: They rely more than other ethnic groups on laptops and Wi-Fi for cyber connection.

While two-thirds of African Americans asked said they own a cell phone, they don’t use them as much as Latinos or Asians do for web connection, text messaging and downloading.

Latinos, both those who speak mostly English and those whose principle language is Spanish, have become enthusiastic web site owners and bloggers, as have Asian Americans. More than 35% of Spanish-speaking Latinos said in one study that they own a web site; one in five Asians and Latinos said they blog. Those of the immigrant generation, researchers say, likely are using these tools to share lives online with distant families.

Asian Americans, Latinos and African Americans also are big buyers and users of digital cameras and video cameras, especially when those tools come aboard cell phones.

All three groups, at rates higher even than majority populations, participate regularly on social media.

As mentioned, there are not only differences in technology use among members of the various group by language facility, economics and degree of assimilation, age also is a discernible factor: more than half of the Latinos on the net are younger than 35 (versus 35% of the general population; in African Americans, lower net access and application occurs among the older and poorer.

Still, to get a clue about the potential of these groups, which are often ignored if not shunned by traditional media, consider this: In an elite marketing segment of those with high affluence and highest tech savvy—a niche of young, urban, educated young men—there’s a disproportionate representation of Asians and English-speaking Latinos.

Part 2: Ethnic news leaders embrace online media.
Part 3: Ethnic media organizations face formidable challenges

To read more and to see where elements of this post came from, here are research links:

- “Online Technology Ownership 2008,” Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University

- “The Brave New World of an Emerging Diverse Online Majority,” Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication at Florida State University

- “The Multicultural World of Social Media Marketing,” HispanicOnlineMarketing.com

- “Internet Usage Among Minorities and Low-income Communities,” (See Lee Rainey, Gretchen Livingston presentations for National Ad Council)

- “Home Broadband Adoption 2008,” Pew Internet

- “Mobile Access to Data and Information,” March 2008, Pew Internet

- “Adults and social network websites,” Pew Internet

- “Hispanic Fact Pack: 2008 Annual Guide to Hispanic Marketing and Media,” Ad Age

- “Hispanic Radio Today (2008),” “Black Radio Today (2008),”Urban Radio (2007),” “Black Consumer Study (2006),” Abritron

- “The Power of the Hispanic Consumer Online (2008),” Scarborough

- “Understanding the Digital Savvy Consumer (2008),” Scarborough

June 11, 2009

Social media essentials: Join the networks, be mobile, be human

Amy Gahran offers advice to traditional news organizations as they adopt social media

What are three critical ingredients of successful social media projects for traditional news organizations? I’ve asked faculty of Knight Digital Media’s “Using Social Media to Build Audience” class to offer their lists.

Here’s Amy Gahran:

- Get onto the networks. “Figure out which parts of your community use social media and where they hang out. And go where they are and listen to them,” Gahran says. “You need to become a presence in their community on their terms first.” Follow their lead.

- Make yourself mobile friendly. “Mobile and social media are very deeply intertwined because a lot of lot of people use social media via their cell phones and far more people have cell phones than are at computers.” And don’t forget to enable text messaging and make it easy for people to respond to you by sms. 

- Be human. The authoritative mindset “definitely doesn’t fly in social media,” Gahran says. Instead, it’s important to be transparent, receptive and grateful. “And especially to laugh at yourself. Humor and humility really work in social media.” She cites recommends checking out @coloneltribune on Twitter for an example of humor at work for the Chicago Tribune.

Here’s a full podcast of Amy Gahran’s remarks with more discussion of mobile opportunities. I posted Paul Gillin’s list of essentials here. I’ll have an additional installment from JD Lasica next week.

What’s on your list of critical ingredients for creating communities online? Please share your ideas in the comments.

May 19, 2009

How tech-savvy is your newsroom?

If the White House, the Vatican, Major League Baseball and, yes, even the FBI, are going tech, should your organization be far behind?

Mark Luckie at 10,000words puts the spotlight on four traditional organizations that are spiffing up their Web presence with photo galleries, podcasts, YouTube offerings, iPhone apps, Twiiter feeds and more. Compare your efforts to Luckie’s four examples.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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