News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Research

November 11, 2009

Six trends in community journalism

American University and J-Lab produce a study about how the movement to create entrepreneurial community Web sites may changing the rules of engagement with news.

American University just completed a mini-study of women news consumers and women who have created news Web sites. The research, by Assistant Professor Maria Ivancin in partnership with J-Lab, offers an intriguing glimpse of changes under way as a new ecosystem of news forms online.

Ivancin described these findings (based on focus groups and interviews):

1. Community journalism is evolving as an exercise in participation, not merely observation. “It’s not just covering community, it’s actually being the community,” Ivancin said this week at J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs summit.

2. The traditional emphasis on objectivity is giving way to a focus on broader definitions of news and the inclusion of different voices. New media site founders often felt “objectivity really is not truthful. Top down objectivity you really don’t have an understanding of what’s happening in your community. They felt objectivity can come in a different way, from participation,” she said.

3. Building community rather than simply covering community is the impetus for launching community news sites. “It’s not just looking at what’s happening. It’s doing things to change that community, help that community.”

4. Community news sites rise to fill gaps in news coverage. “There is an unfulfilled need. Whether the local paper was not covering it, or no longer covered it….  The need can be geographic, the need can be audience based or interest based,” Ivancin said. One news site creator called it a need for “a community water cooler.”

5. New media entrepreneurs are motivated by a frustration with old media’s pace of innovation and change. “New media creators saw the changes as opportunities whereas they thought traditional media saw them as threats,” Ivancin. “The competition did not look kindly at these” news startups, including one outlet that r an editorial attaching the new site.

6. News site creators and consumers express excitement and regret over changes confronting established media. People said they “miss the pleasure of reading the newspaper,” and worry that the ability to select news will mean people don’t get the fuller picture provided in the newspaper, Ivancin said.  Also, it’s more difficult to to judge credibility. New media creators are concerned about losing investigative reporting. Benefits include speed and convenience, more voices and perspectives, selectivity and ability to get depth on topics of most interest, she said.


It will be interesting and important to see whether these trends hold true as traditional media outlets shrink and new experiments come onto the field. Certainly developments in community media are important to established news organizations. The start ups change the playing field of media in many communities and they may be harbingers of new attitudes and practices that traditional journalists and news outlets will want to adopt to stay relevant and fulfill the role of town forum.

April 29, 2010

Government data: People love it, say Pew, Texas Tribune

If you want to increase traffic to your news or community site, stories aren’t enough—put up a searchable government database. That appears to be a key lesson from a new Pew report, and from the Texas Tribune’s recent experience…

This week the Pew Internet and American Life Project published Government Online, a report exploring in depth how Americans are interacting with federal, state, and local government online. In a Future Tense interview, Pew researcher and report author Aaron Smith told American Public Media’s Jon Gordon that researchers were especially surprised to find that 40% of US internet users have gone online for data about the business of government.

By Amy Gahran

“Americans are very interested in engaging with government,” Smith told Gordon. “They’re exploring data about government activities: government spending, tracking the Recovery Act, reading legislation. None of us were expecting that figure to be so large.”

Smith continued, “I think people are just interested in information about things like the stimulus bill, the healthcare bill. But if you can’t access that information easily, it’s hard to get involved. Government is now doing a better job of putting their data online—and more importantly, doing that in ways that lets other organizations take that data and put it together in new and interesting ways.”

One news venue that’s seeing direct benefits from repackaging and publishing government databases is the fledgling Texas Tribune. At a journalism event last weekend in Austin, Texas Tribune to editor Evan Smith mentioned that traffic to their site’s data pages is “about two and a half times the traffic of our narrative journalism pages.” (That’s for all of their narrative journalism, not just selected stories.)

In an e-mail interview yesterday, Smith elaborated: “We’ve put up more than 30 searchable databases on our site thus far (more than one a week), about everything from campaign spending and contributions to government employee salaries; from school rankings to red light camera data. We just added one today featuring all kinds of information on more than 160,000 Texas prison inmates. It’s perhaps our most ambitious database yet. Coming soon: everyone who’s been murdered in Juarez in recent years.

...On a personal note, I was especially intrigued by Pew’s finding that so many people are already exploring online government data, and by the Texas Tribune’s traffic experience, because among my many projects I work with Oakland Local—a community news/views site serving Oakland, CA. In a discussion about the City of Oakland’s general dearth of online transparency (which Oakland Local editor and publisher Susan Mernit has dubbed “Government 0.0”), I mentioned how Oakland Local could push for greater local government transparency. A couple of longtime residents told me not to bother, because “Most people here just aren’t interested in that.” Others disagreed, and said that if local government info was available more easily (or at all), many Oaklanders probably would find it interesting and useful.

In light of those conversations, I asked Smith whether he thought the Texas Tribune’s database traffic might indicate a previously underestimated pent-up public demand for exploring government data.

“If you build it, they will come,” Smith replied. “Most people didn’t know this data was accessible, didn’t know where to get it, didn’t know what to do with it. We did the heavy lifting—and now everyone’s addicted.”

Looking at the bigger picture for the news business, I asked Smith whether he believes their database vs. narrative news traffic statistics might indicates a strong business rationale for news orgs to publish more databases—and perhaps to encourage their readers to lobby more actively for increased access to government data.

“Yes and yes,” said Smith. “This is perhaps the best argument I can think of for more use of (and access to) more data. Data is journalism; journalism is data. It’s truly a brave new world.”

To me, this strongly illustrates why journalism must keep breaking out of the “story box.” Too often, journalists focus almost exclusively on storytelling. However, making it easier for people to access and explore information, to discover their own paths to relevance, often can be more engaging. Also, databases tend to drive more traffic over time than traditional narrative news stories—which helps any news business model.

Finally, databases are experienced more as a service, than as “content”—something to consider when it’s becoming increasingly hard to build a business mainly around publishing content.

May 25, 2010

PEJ New Media study: Good social media research, questionable claims on blogs and news

This week, Pew’s Project on Excellence in Journalism published a new study: New Media, Old Media: How blogs and social media agendas relate and differ from the traditional press. This intriguing study covers several bases, including a comparison of which types of news stories get shared most across blogs and social media (particularly YouTube and Twitter).

The report’s second paragraph illustrates the key strengths and weaknesses of this research effort: “While most original reporting still comes from traditional journalists, technology makes it increasingly possible for the actions of citizens to influence a story’s total impact.”

If you’re reading, citing, or reporting on this study, it helps to understand some key context about how this research was done, and what kind of news it does and does not cover…

By Amy Gahran

PEJ’s research into how citizen actions can influence a news story’s impact looks pretty solid, and is quite interesting. Some highlights:

  • Peer sharing is a key primary news source. “44% of online news users get news at least a few times a week through e-mails, automatic updates or posts from social networking sites.”
  • People share different types of news through different channels. “Of the 29 weeks that we tracked all three social platforms, blogs, Twitter and YouTube shared the same top story just once. That was the week of June 15-19, 2009, when the protests that followed the Iranian elections led on all three.”
  • Social media attention is fleeting. “On blogs, 53% of the lead stories in a given week stay on the list no more than three days. On Twitter that is true of 72% of lead stories, and more than half (52%) are on the list for just 24 hours.


Blogs and news: PEJ’s questionable data sources.


The “Blogosphere” section of the PEJ report includes this assertion:

“Despite the unconventional agenda of bloggers, traditional media still provides the vast majority of their information. More than 99% of the stories linked to came from legacy outlets like newspapers and broadcast networks. American legacy outlets made up 75% of all items. Web-only sites, on the other hand, made up less than 1% of the links in the blogosphere.” (Emphasis added.)

This finding has led to some headlines such as Blogs depend on traditional media (The Australian), New Media Loves to Link to Old Media—Almost Exclusively (TheWrap)

This made me wonder: Which blogs was PEJ checking for this study? The report’s methodology section explains:

”...To study new and social media, PEJ wanted to be able to include as wide a range of outlets as possible. For unlike the traditional press, blogs and social media pages reach into the millions and change daily as new ones emerge and other dissolve. In exploring various options, we saw value combining the work of some sites that specialize in tracking these outlets continuously with our own coding scheme and analytics.

“Two prominent Web tracking sites, Technorati and Icerocket, monitor millions of blogs and pieces of social media, using the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. The website Tweetmeme uses a similar method to monitor the popular links on the social networking site Twitter.

“Each of these sites offers lists of the most linked-to news stories based on the number of blogs, tweets, or other pages that link to them. PEJ does not determine what constitutes a ‘news’ story (as opposed to some other topic), but rather relies on the classifications used by each of the tracking sites.

“A PEJ staff member manually captured the lists from each site every weekday between 9 and 10 am ET. From those lists, the top five linked to articles were captured for further analysis by PEJ staff.

“Through July 3, 2009, PEJ captured information about blogs from both Technorati and Icerocket. However, the relevant component of Technorati’s site stopped working in early July and has been down ever since. Therefore, the 26 NMI reports beginning the week of July 6-10 only included blog data from Icerocket.”

A close look at PEJ’s chosen resources for blog data reveal some significant potential flaws.

Technorati’s “What’s Popular” section is no longer available on that blog aggregator’s site. The most recent version of that page available from the Internet Archive shows that the “What’s Popular” section once featured “news stories people are talking about right now, ordered by new links to news sites in the last 48 hours.” Those references to “news stories” and “news sites,” and the nature of the links listed there, indicate that in this section Technorati focused specifically on blog posts that discussed or expanded upon content produced by mainstream news.

Similarly, Icerocket says its Top News Stories section showcases “Top stories posted in the blogosphere, measured by new links to Official News Sources in the last 48 hours.” In other words, this is a list of links to stories published by mainstream news outlets that are getting the most links from recent blog posts.

Icerocket’s Top News Stories differs from its Top Blog Posts section. Top Blog Posts lists “Top stories being discussed in the blogosphere right now.” When you scan this list of links, you’ll see some posts from mainstream news organizations (like Boston.com and the Wall St. Journal’s All Things D tech news site). But you’ll also see posts from sites like Google’s Adsense blog, or The Anchoress blog on First Things (a site published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life), or the Clean Techies blog.

If PEJ’s goal was to gauge the prevalence of original news reporting in the blogosphere, it might have done better to include Icerocket’s Top Blog Posts in its research base, rather than Top News Stories. Even better, they might have gathered data from Google Blogs.

PEJ apparently chose to count blog links coming mainly from a preselected portion of the blogosphere that focuses mainly on what mainstream news orgs are talking about. Given that context, it’s not surprising that they found that 99% of the outbound links from those blogs led to traditional news stories.

...But it’s probably a stretch for PEJ to make the blanket claim, based on this data, that bloggers (in general, not just those blogs in particular) rely on traditional media for the vast majority of their information. Or that “most original reporting still comes from traditional journalists.”

Both of those assertions may or may not be true; PEJ’s research simply is not sufficient to support them.

The Disconnect: What is “news”?


I suspect that part of the problem here is terminology and convention, rather than substance.

We’ve all been immersed in a culture where, for more than a century, when most people said “the news” they really meant “content produced by news organizations.” That’s an easily discernible category—but it’s circular reasoning to basically say, “news is whatever news organizations do.”

For instance, Schneier on Security (an independent blog by globally recognized security expert Bruce Schneier), frequently features quite significant original news and analysis. But it’s not generally called a “news blog.”

Resources such as Icerocket’s Top News Stories which focus on the ripple effects of mainstream media are completely appropriate if that’s what you’re trying to measure. But if you’re trying to gauge instances of original reporting across the blogosphere or social media, Icerocket’s Top Blog Posts or Google Blogs might be a more appropriate data resource.

There are all kinds of news out there, coming from all kinds of places. Many of the sources from which journalists gathered news are now publishing their own news and analysis directly. They’re not waiting to be quoted by a news organization. They’re being found and shared directly, via blogs and social media.

PEJ’s research on the impact of social media on the dissemination of news is valuable, and I recommend reading it. Just be aware that people share many kinds of news, big and small, for many reasons. Linking and sharing is clearly a fast-growing channel for news discovery, and news ventures should understand and capitalize on that mechanism.

But also, recognize that “the news” is becoming less and less defined by what news organizations produce. Traditional news orgs are still a big part of the news picture—but other news sources matter too, and they’re growing. Increasingly, news is becoming more about the “long tail” than the “top story.”

March 04, 2011

Turning local news into a service business

Increasingly, it looks like relying too heavily on advertising isn’t such a good long-term prospect for established daily local news organizations. So what’s next?

It’s always been easier and more lucrative for news organizations to sell services (primarily advertising) than content. Some new research from Pew, and the new Community Information Toolkit from the Knight Foundation, might point the way to new types of services that news organizations might help create and sell. But this would require a radical rethinking of what the local news business means…

By Amy Gahran

In his Feb. 27 post, The Publisher’s Dilemma, media consultant Frédéric Filloux offered a sobering analysis of the revenue prospects for online and print advertising for the Washington Post—and he pointed to the general challenge of running an ad-based daily print business in the digital age. Toward the end, he noted:

“As the failure of advertising-based models sinks in, the paid-for model is gaining traction. It is not likely to work on the web but it is finding its way on mobile devices where payment is (slightly) more natural and easier to implement.”

The question is, what kind of news would mobile users pay for? Paywalls have been an almost-total failure for general-interest news, especially at the local level. And while the jury’s still out on paid news apps for smartphones and tablets, or subscription-based offerings such as News Corp’s iPad-only The Daily, I’m skeptical of their revenue potential.

Meanwhile, newer ventures have taken a different approach to providing local news and context: rather than paying journalists to report and write news stories, they automatically collect and present geographically relevant local public data (example: Everyblock), or they aggregate local headlines, blog posts, and social media updates (examples: Outside.in and Fwix).

Today, a ReadWriteWeb post is pretty down on tech-based local info services—calling them “lightweight” and “uninspired.” I think that’s a matter of taste. Also, compared to mainstream news venues, the far shorter history of tech-based local ventures is amply peppered with premature obituaries.

But against this backdrop, this week in Miami, at its Media Learning Seminar, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the first draft of the Knight Commission’s Community Information Toolkit.

This document outlines how community members can assess the quality and availability of local information, build an information scorecard against which they can benchmark progress, and create an action plan to improve local information and civic engagement. This process seems to have more in common with how services like Everyblock work than with how news organizations have traditionally functioned—although it isn’t quite like either.

Also this week, the Pew Internet Project debuted a new report, How the Public Perceives Community Information Systems. Here are a few of the report’s findings that should interest news organizations:

  • Print and broadcast news organizations still get the highest marks for being people’s most important source of local information.
  • “Those who are avid news consumers are more likely than others to be civically active.”
  • “Broadband users and library patrons are more likely than others to feel good about their ability to gather information to meet their needs. Those who have found helpful government information online feel better than others about their own ability to make their communities better.”
  • “Broadband users are sometimes less satisfied than others with community life. That raises the possibility that upgrades in a local information system might produce more critical, activist citizens.”


In addition, Pew noted: “Many of the local leaders who attended community workshops for this research initiative argued there was another variable that mattered in understanding the effectiveness of local information systems. That variable related to the flow of information—to citizens’ capacities to search for, aggregate, process, and act on information that is relevant to their needs. The community leaders reported that it was often the case that their stakeholders were not aware of the most useful information in the community and not certain how to act effectively on the information they did have. They also noted there were times when local governments were not effectively communicating to residents what information was available.”

To me, that sounds like a market opportunity—especially if you have a strong brand in a community.

All of this got me thinking: News organizations often are the major trusted brand for community information, and in many cities the local governments and agencies are not doing a stellar job of making local information available and useful (what we call in Oakland, CA, for instance: “Government 0.0”). So maybe there might be room for local news organizations to focus less on stories and ads, and more on making information useful, relevant, findable, and actionable through services for the mobile devices almost everyone has in their hands right now.

These services could be delivered on the freemium model—basic info for everyone, and more specialized premium services targeted at people who are especially engaged on local issues. The goal would be to help people understand what they need to do to help their communities. This is a natural fit for mobile media, which people approach with a generally active mindset.

Would this model support a newsroom of hundreds in big office buildings, as in the golden days of the daily news business? Certainly not. But if you weren’t paying for daily (or any) print or broadcast production, that could make better economic sense—and better serve communities. And if people came to see these trusted brands as active, useful partners in their efforts to improve thei communities (rather than detached observers), then they might be willing to pay for these services.

This requires a radical change of mindset. Honestly, I don’t think most news organizations could manage that. But some might.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

May 12, 2011

Lessons from traffic to news giants: New Pew research

If you spend time thinking about how to serve your online news audience, think again. You probably have several online news audiences, not just one—and each warrants its own strategy to support your news business. That’s the advice of a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism…

By Amy Gahran

For Navigating News Online, PEJ analyzed detailed data from the Nielsen Company for traffic to the 25 most popular news sites for US web users. This set included sites associated with specific general-interest legacy news brands such as NYTimes.com ABCnews.com, as well as major online-only news sites like HuffingtonPost.com, and news aggregators such as Google News.

The report noted: “There is not one group of news consumers online but several, each of which behaves differently. These differences call for news organizations to develop separate strategies to serve and make money from each audience.

“...News organizations might need a layered and complex strategy for serving audiences and also for monetizing them. They may need, for instance, to develop one way to serve casual users and another way for power users. They may decide it makes sense to try to convert some of those in the middle to visit more often. Or they may try to make some of their loyal audience stay longer by creating special content. Advertising may help monetize some groups, while subscriptions will work for others. And the strategy that works best for each site may differ.

“What’s more, with the development of mobile, these layers will almost certainly multiply.”

Some interesting findings:

Casual visitors are by far the norm. News sites often strive to encourage repeat visits—but the PEJ study indicates that vast majority of traffic (77% on average) to the top news sites visit only once or twice a month. “Power users” are defined as people who visit a site ten times per month or more. Across the top 25 news sites, on average only 7% of visitors were power users; and only six of these sites had more than 10% power users.

Facebook drives traffic; Twitter, not so much. “Social media, and Facebook in particular, are emerging as a powerful news referring source. At five of the top sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic. Twitter, on the other hand, barely registers as a referring source. ...If a large portion of users are going to Facebook after leaving a site, that may indicate the site’s content is easy to share and viewed as worth distributing to friends.”

Also: “The addition of social networking ‘share’ tools to the margins of nearly every news story seems to have paid off. Facebook shows up among the top destinations for every site studied. ...While these are technically clicks away from the site, they are positive clicks away, likely multiplying additional traffic to that story.”

Online ads perform poorly at major news sites. PEJ also examined where visitors went to after leaving the news site. “The data also offers some suggestions about the impact of advertising. Not a single consumer product site appears in the mix of destination pages for these news sites. That means that in no case did five people click on the same ad on a news site in the months studied. This comports with industry measurements of click-through-rate for ads (CTR) as well as with PEJ survey data from 2010 that found consumers quite adept at ignoring peripheral ads. In that survey, 79% said they never clicked on an ad on a news website.”

It’s worth noting that the webs sites of huge national (or global) news sites tend to attract ads from major consumer brands as well as generic ads from ad networks. The ad mix might vary considerably at smallers news sites, which could yield different results.

PEJ did not suggest which types of business models and strategies would allow news orgs to better capitalize on these and other trends spotted in the Nielsen data.

However, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of news sites do not operate on the scale of CNN.com, AOL News, or Google News. These huge sites tend to attract a very different advertising and audience base than, say, a mid-sized daily paper, a local radio station, or a startup community news site. News organizations should not assume that these results would—or should—apply to their own operations. Rather, this is simply context on how things work for the current online news industry giants.

Still, this report does indicate the kind of analysis that news orgs could apply to their own traffic data, in order to identify different audience types and business opportunities.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

July 26, 2011

How YouTube can help the news biz: Insights from Pew, Old Spice Guy

With great difficulty, I’m tearing myself away from today’s YouTube competition, Mano a Mano in El Baño (a face-off between “Old Spice Guy” Isaiah Mustafa and male supermodel Fabio) to read over the latest Pew report on video sharing sites.

According to Pew, 71% of U.S. adult internet users now watch videos via a video sharing site such as YouTube or Vimeo. Furthermore on any given day, 28% of U.S. internet users said they had used such sites within the last day.

It’s yet another reason why news organizations should be using popular video sharing services to engage audiences and drive traffic. Here are some out-of-the ordinary ideas for making this work, ideally without creating too much extra work…

By Amy Gahran

First, some highlights from the Pew report:

  • Gender. While 71% of both men and women reported using video sharing sites, men may be using them more frequently.
  • Age. A whopping 92% of Americans aged 18-29 (a demographic most news organizations would love to attract) use video sharing sites, and 47% of this age group used such a site “yesterday.” If you’d like increase your brand awareness and market share with younger adults, that makes video sharing a good bet.
  • Ethnicity. Hispanic and African Americans (79%) lead whites (69%) in their use of video sharing services. This tracks with earlier Pew findings that these ethnic groups appear most enthusiastic about adopting mobile technology. It may help explain the strong role that YouTube played in sparking outrage in the African American community over the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting in Oakland, Calif., and similar events.
  • Income is not a strong predictor of video sharing site use. For instance, 81% of U.S. internet users earning $75,000 or more per year visit such sites—but that’s a mere 10 percentage points above the rate for those earning $30,000 per year or less. The most likely frequent users come from households earning $30,000-$49,999 per year.
  • Rural is catching up. In the past year, 68% of rural internet users visited video sharing sites—a 21% increase over the previous year, significantly outpacing the growth from urbanites and suburbanites.
  • Parents (81%) are far more likely than non-parents (61%) to use video sharing sites.
  • Amateur-produced content is a key driver of the growth of video sharing sites.


Earlier I explained how news organizations that produce online video can prepare to capitalize on viral video potential by introducing some standard steps for cross-promotion between produced videos and their web site. This includes setting up your own branded YouTube channel, as well as displaying visible short URLs (permanent redirects) in your video, supporting those links with access to updates or related coverage on your site, and keeping an eye on your YouTube statistics.

Those are the basics from a publishing perspective. But here are a few additional content strategy ideas geared toward using video sharing for audience engagement.

1. More video, more often. Increasingly news organizations have branded channels on YouTube, Vimeo, and similar services—but many only publish there once or twice a month, if that. Video sharing sites (especially YouTube) are excellent channels for discoverability: the more you post there, the more people will find you there.

So consider how to make shared video a regular part of your publishing process, so you can post at least once or twice a week. This is especially useful for your most popular stories, or for topics of special interest to the demographics that Pew noted as being particularly into video sharing sites.

2. Use simple, engaging formats. When news organizations create video, typically it’s in a narrative story format, like this recent video from InsideBayArea on a Bhutanese immigrant community celebration. That’s great—but it’s perhaps the most labor- and time-intensive kind of video to make.

Consider short formats that require few cuts and little editing: Clips from an interview with a single subject, commentaries, teasers from a longer video project in process, and more.

Also consider partnerships with popular or prolific local videobloggers. For instance, SFgate.com regularly features the work of Zennie Abraham, a master of videoblogging in the Bay Area.

3. Frame for the small screen. Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are a big driver in the popularity of online video. This is especially true for YouTube, which has an app that works well on the iPhone and iPad even though Apple’s iOS mobile operating system does not natively accommodate Flash video.

So when shooting video, go for closeups more than long shots. Make the audio a bit louder and crisper than you would for TV, to compensate for tinny little phone speakers. Also, bumping up the contrast a bit can help for viewing video on small mobile screens in daylight.

4. Showcase videos from the audience and elsewhere. Video sharing services are mainly about sharing. People embed shared videos on their own sites, post comments, shoot and upload their own video responses, post them to Facebook and other social media, and more.

News organizations can—and should—embrace this by embedding great videos from others (especially people in your coverage area) on their site, with full credit and a link to the creator’s site or YouTube channel of course. Your community engagement manager (you do have one, right?) also can selectively “like” and comment on other videos, create and publish playlists, and use other strategies to engage and curate at the same time.

This kind of demonstration of interest in and goodwill towards other video publishers tends to pay off in more socially-driven traffic to your videos and your site.

5. Collaborative public storytelling projects. Most video sharing sites allow you to create contests or collaborative projects: People create and post their own videos and tag them so they can easily be discovered and added to a playlist or other aggregation mechanism.

The classic example of this is Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, where public figures and everyday people encourage LGBT youth who are enduring tough times to hang in there.

Pick a topic that your community cares about—especially one where people can act together to encourage each other, solve problems, or have fun—and try a similar project format.

6. Have fun. Most news videos are pretty serious and deadpan, even when they’re upbeat. But if we’ve learned anything from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it’s that fun is a powerful way to engage people’s interest in the news.

If you have a columnist or reporter with a gift for wit and a penchant for video, let them loose.

For instance, WSJ reporter Andy Jordan’s Tech Diary video podcast is a lot of fun. Alternatively, you might focus on simple animations rather than video—like Slate.com’s Dear Prudence advice column.

If you want to go whole hog in terms of YouTube sophistication, try having a contest where viewers choose winners by rating videos which in turn are responding in almost real time to what people are tweeting or commenting. Yeah, that’s terribly “meta,” but as Mano a Mano proves, it can be fun, addictive, and incredibly viral.

Hmmm… who might play your news organization’s equivalent of the Old Spice Guy?....


The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 18, 2011

How people use cell phones should shape mobile news strategies

If you want to serve a mobile audience, it helps to know how people use their cell phones. A new Pew Internet and American Life report examines mobile phone use, and offers some insights that may be directly and indirectly useful to news publishers…

According to Pew, 83% of U.S. adults own a cell phone of some kind. That’s something over 200 million people nationwide, extrapolating from the latest comScore mobile market statistics.

How can news publishers serve this large audience?...

By Amy Gahran

Be useful—and fast. For mobile users, “news you can use”—especially if published in fact sheets, dashboards, or other formats besides narrative stories—might help attract and retain mobile audiences.

Pew noted: “Cell phones are useful for quick information retrieval—so much so that their absence can cause problems. Half of all adult cell owners (51%) had used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away. One quarter (27%) said that they experienced a situation in the previous month in which they had trouble doing something because they did not have their phone at hand.”

So don’t underestimate the value of non-story-format info such as sports scores, local weather, event listings, resource guides, restaurant reviews and more. For mobile audiences, useful info presented well (and quickly) might be a significant draw.

Also, consider giving users of your mobile web site and apps ways to bookmark specific stories on your site, making them easier to find quickly later on mobile devices. Don’t make them waste time searching again for what they’ve already found. (Searching in mobile sites or apps is generally pretty cumbersome for mobile users.)

Be fun. According to Pew, 42% of all cell owners (including 70% of those 18-29 years old) turn to their phone for entertainment when bored. To capitalize on this, make it easy for mobile users to find your fun content.

This doesn’t mean news orgs should create more “light” or “weird” news, at the expense of serious news. It just means if you make obvious whatever is entertaining about your news, and make it easy to find this content, you’ll probably attract more mobile users.

Also, consider adding fun layers to your news content via contest such as “caption this photo,” news-related games, and more. And, of course, make sure your mobile sites and apps make it easy for mobile users to share your content via social media—something many people consider “fun.”

Offer text messaging services. Pew found that 73% of all cell phone owners send or receive text messages. So offering a variety of opt-in text alerts (both ongoing and special-purpose) can be a vital tool for keeping your news brand on the radar of mobile users.

Accept user-contributed images. Similarly, 73% of mobile users take photos with their cell phones, and 22% have posted photos or videos online from their phone. So consider ways that you might put user-contributed imagery to use. This could be done via MMS (multimedia messaging, available to all types of phones), a mobile-friendly web form, or a feature of your mobile app. This could be part of contests, games, or campaigns.

Serve both smartphones and feature phones

Earlier this year Pew estimated that 35% of U.S. mobile phones currently in use are smartphones. This means that simpler, less costly feature phones still comprise the vast majority of the U.S. mobile market.

Despite the smartphone hype, feature phones probably won’t vanish anytime soon since they’re cheaper to get, and they offer more affordable and flexible carrier plan options. So news organizations should consider both types of mobile users in their offerings.

Smartphone and feature phone users do tend to use their phones differently.

Smartphone apps currently are the primary focus for most news orgs’ mobile strategies. Pew did find that 69% of smartphone users have downloaded apps. But: This means that over 30% of smartphone owners have not downloaded apps. That group probably includes a lot of BlackBerry users (overall a less robust platform for both apps and the mobile web).

Also, Pew found that 84% of smartphone owners (84%) access the Internet from their phones—significantly more than the 69% who download apps.

In contrast, 15% of feature phone users currently get online from their phones. However, going by comScore’s numbers that’s probably somewhere around 20 million feature phone users—a substantial existing audience for the mobile web.

These statistics underscore the core value of the mobile web: this single offering can serve huge numbers of mobile users well, largely irrespective of platform or device type.

So before investing too heavily in app development for specific smartphone or tablet platforms, news organizations probably should first make sure they have a good mobile web site that works for both full and limited mobile browsers. Doing so might grow your share of the feature phone audience well beyond 15%, and attract larger numbers of smartphone users as well (especially via inbound links to your site).

Intriguingly, 4% of feature phone users have downloaded apps. (Yes, most feature phones can and do run simple apps, and popular apps stores like GetJar and Snaptu serve this market.)

Many online publishers interpret small-sounding statistics like this to dismiss the need to offer content in formats friendly to feature phones. However, this seemingly tiny market segment comprises about 6 million people—and it has substantial room to grow. It’s possible that as feature phones continue to get “smarter” this segment of the mobile media landscape will grow to the point that it becomes a more attractive channel for news publishers. So it’s worth keeping an eye on.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

September 23, 2011

Quick survey for local mobile market research

By Amy Gahran

At the recent bootcamp for this year’s Knight Community Information Challenge projects, I discussed how new digital media projects serving local community needs can go mobile in useful ways. A good way to start is to do some local mobile market research…

Local is always a key aspect of mobile media, since the characteristics of wireless networks and mobile users can vary substantially from one community to the next.

Some towns, or some parts of town, may have better or worse access to faster wireless networks. Similarly, some people in certain demographics or neighborhoods might be more or less likely to have the latest smartphones. Also, people often are influenced by local peers in their preferences for how they use their cell phones.

If your mission is to serve your entire community, going mobile is essential. Gartner has predicted that in the next couple of years, most internet access in the U.S. will occur on mobile devices.

“Going mobile” means offering content or engagement through a variety of channels supported by cell phones. Native smartphone apps are only part of this picture. Some of the most popular mobile media channels are SMS text messaging, e-mail, the mobile web (using the phone’s web browser), multimedia messaging (photos and video), and social media.

The point of going mobile generally is not to try to deliver the full value of your venue. Rather, mobile tends to complement your larger online presence by building awareness, enhancing your timeliness and relevance, and encouraging engagement and sharing.

Last year for Oakland Local (a community news/view site I helped found), I conducted some basic mobile market research. Based on that experience, below is a rough outline for the kinds of questions a community news/info publisher or service provider might want to ask in a survey, to suss out which mobile offerings might work best in their community. I’ve tried to explain how each question yields actionable info for a mobile strategy.

How to conduct this survey

I strongly recommend going out into the field to talk to people face to face,  in the situations where they use their mobile phones. Look for people who are using their phone for something other than talking. Also look for people who are representative of the locations and demographics you most want to reach or serve. Don’t just poll people who already know your news/community site—part of the point here is to use mobile to grow beyond your current audience.

Surveying strangers in the field is more work, and perhaps more daunting, than polling people you know or via online channels. However, it’s really worth the effort. You’ll get to see firsthand what types of phones people have—and how, when, and where they use them. If you ask, people will generally show you what they like or don’t like about their phone.

Bring some gift cards for popular local stores or eateries—a $3 gift card seemed to be sufficient to convince people to spend a few minutes talking about their phone. Wearing a t-shirt or badge advertising your news venue can make it easier to approach potential participants.

When I first did local mobile market research for Oakland Local last summer, I made this process much harder than it needed to be—primarily by asking too many questions. When a survey is complex, it’s harder to get people to participate and it’s harder to clean useful answers from the data. So I’ve pared down my question list below to the bare minimum, to yield the data that will probably be most directly useful.

How many people should you poll? A good goal is about 50, as long as you’re really hitting a fairly representative sample. But 25 is a decent start. This is basic market research, not a scientific investigation. Also, this research should be iterative—done every 6-12 months. Mobile changes very fast.


RECOMMENDED LOCAL MOBILE MARKET RESEARCH SURVEY QUESTIONS:

1. What kind of phone do you have? Manufacturer and model.

It’s a bad idea to ask people whether they own a smartphone—people commonly answer that incorrectly. For example, many owners of simple BlackBerry phones don’t realize they have a smartphone. Conversely, many feature phone owners mistakenly think they have a smartphone because their phone has a web browser and/or a touchscreen.

If you’re doing this survey in person, as I recommended, you can look at the phone and jot down the manufacturer and model. This will also tell you what kinds of networks the phone can access (3G, 4G, etc.) so you won’t have to ask about that separately. (But if the person has an iPhone, ask what generation it is. That info might not be immediately obvious from looking at the device.)

A true smartphone uses an operating system that can run native applications (software designed to run on a specific platform). And that’s all you’re trying to discover with this question: whether it’s worthwhile for you to develop a native smartphone app (a considerable investment).

At this point, the only smartphone platforms that are important to app developers are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. In the future, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry QNX might also become more viable for app publishers.

Stick to cell phones. Tablets and e-readers offer a very different, more immersive user experience—so while those devices are portable, they’re not really “mobile” media tools. If tablets and e-readers are common in your community, they probably warrant a separate strategy. (The exception is the iPod Touch, which many people use as a cheap wifi-only iPhone without the phone.)


2. How do you pay for your phone?

Answer options:

  • Two-year carrier contract
  • No contract (monthly bill or prepaid)
  • Don’t know / I don’t pay the bill


Knowing how people pay for their phone today can indicate which kind of phone they’re likely to have in a year or two. This can help you plan what kinds of mobile offerings to develop.

People who have a two-year carrier contract probably already have a smartphone or will get one very soon.

People who are on no-contract plans (monthly flat rate, or prepaid) are more likely to own a simpler, less costly feature phones. Unless highly affordable smartphones ($100 or less up front, with monthly costs of about $70 or less) start becoming very common on no-contract plans in the U.S., expect that for the next year or two at least these people will probably remain mostly on feature phones.

If the overall or local economy improves markedly and quickly, smartphones might take over sooner and this question might become less relevant. But if the economic recovery continues to crawl or stalls, expect smartphones to remain the minority in most communities (except highly affluent towns, or college towns) for some time.

This means non-app options (especially the mobile web, e-mail, and SMS) probably should form the core of your mobile strategy for now, since they’ll reach the widest possible audience.


3. Which of these features do you use on your phone, and how often?

Record this answer in a grid. For each, indicate one of these options: Most days, sometimes, rarely, never/not available

  • Text messaging (send or receive messages to other people)
  • Text alerts (sign up to get news or alerts via text message—from your bank, your favorite sports team, etc.)
  • Take photos or video
  • Share (or post online) photos or video that you took with your phone
  • E-mail (send or receive)
  • Access web sites or search the web
  • Social media (peruse or post by any mobile means: apps, web, SMS, etc.)
  • Watch videos (YouTube, TV shows, anything)
  • Subscribe to or download audio or video podcasts
  • Download and install new apps


This question will reveal which mobile channels most people in your community are already using for any reason (not necessarily related to news). Whatever is most popular—make sure you include that in your mobile strategy!

This question also indirectly indicates the answer to another question—which inbound mobile channels you should offer to allow people to contribute content, comments, or ideas for your venture. For instance, if lots of people in your community share photos from their phone, then maybe you might want to set up an e-mail address or phone number at which you could easily accept community photo contributions.

Definitely do not ask how people get “news” or “community info” on their phones. It’s more important to focus on device usage preferences than content preferences. People often tend to pigeonhole “the news”—and you want to become part of their overall life.

In another year or two it’ll be worth asking whether people are using location-based services to discover important, interesting, useful, or fun stuff nearby. But for now—given the difficulty with properly geotagging news/info content and integrating it with popular locative services such as Foursquare or Yelp—it’s probably too early for that information to be actionable.


4. When people you know send you links or other stuff to check out (via text messaging, photo messaging, e-mail, social media, etc.), do you tend to check it out on your phone—or wait until you’re at a computer?

Answer options:

  • Usually I will check it out from my phone.
  • Sometimes I’ll check it out from my phone.
  • I rarely or never check out links or recommendations on my phone.


As new Gallup research indicates, recommendations that people receive through their personal social networks are perhaps the most powerful tool to increase and enhance brand awareness and loyalty.

Absolutely everyone who uses any digital communication channel gets recommendations from their social networks—everything from cute cat pictures to huge breaking news stories. Most people also share links or other recommendations with their social circles via digital media.

On most mobile devices it’s a somewhat simpler task to follow a link (read a forwarded e-mail, etc.) that you receive from someone else, rather than send or post a link, picture, etc. for others to check out. So it’s sufficient to simply ask whether people follow links they get on their mobile device.

The more common it is for people in your community to use their cell phone to check out links, content, or recommendations that they receive from people they know, the more important it is for your mobile web site to display reasonably well on a simple mobile web browser—specifically the browsers that come installed on feature phones.

Even if your primary audience mostly uses smartphones, chances are good that they’re also sharing links or content with their networks—and it’s likely that plenty of people in their networks are using feature phones. You want those recommendations to work, because that can help grow your audience.


5. Which digital services do you tend to use most to communicate with GROUPS of people (not just individuals)—whether from your phone, computer, or any other device? (Includes posting, commenting, and reading/viewing)

Record this answer in a grid. Customize this list according to what’s appropriate for your community. For each, indicate one of these options: Most days, sometimes, rarely, never/not available

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • MySpace
  • Tumblr
  • Foursquare
  • LinkedIn
  • Flickr
  • E-mail discussion lists
  • Group texting (GroupMe, etc.)
  • Group instant messaging (via BlackBerry Messenger, AOL IM, etc.)
  • Other (describe)


Social media is one of the most popular mobile non-voice activities, after e-mail and texting. It’s also one of the most powerful channels for community engagement and personal recommendations. Any local news or community site must have a strong presence in the social media that are most relevant to your community.

I’m defining “social media” very broadly here, as: any channel or service that allows people to communicate publicly or privately with a defined group on an ongoing basis. That’s because the point is to figure out how to build awareness and engagement within groups—not just to get the most Facebook friends.

Whichever social media channels are most popular with people in your community, make sure you have a strong presence there. If most local people are on Twitter or MySpace or Foursquare, you need to be there—actively conversing with people, not just broadcasting. If e-mail lists, group texting, or other more closed channels are popular, you need to be there too (though that’ll take more bridge building to gain access and trust).

And of course, every link that you post on social media should lead to a page that works well on simpler mobile browsers. If it’s a kind of content that simply won’t display well on a feature phone browser (such as an interactive data visualization, a pdf file, a large video, or a Soundslides presentation), indicate the content type in your post so mobile users can decide whether to click. Preventing their frustration is key. Mobile users remember when someone frustrates them.


...These five questions are a very basic starting point. They won’t tell you absolutely everything about your local mobile market—but they’ll probably give you enough information to make better choices as you start experimenting with mobile offerings.

These questions also can be a great starting point for community conversations. After you’ve run through the quick survey, you can ask, “So what do you you really love to do with your phone? Or what really bugs you? Could you show me?” That can lead to some fun and intriguing conversations.

People tend to have very strong emotional connections to their cell phones—positive and negative. The more you understand that connection, the easier it will be to engage with them via the phones in their hands.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

October 04, 2011

Ethan Zuckerman: News organizations, activism, and the media ecosystem

This month, noted media and technology scholar Ethan Zuckerman takes over as the director the MIT Center for Civic Media. “I have no idea what civic media is, and that’s a weird place to be as director of the Center,” he said. “This is a new field.”

In a [email protected] interview, Zuckerman outlined how the Center is defining and exploring the possibilities for civic media around the world—something that should interest news organizations, activists, and all other significant players in the ever-shifting digital media ecosystem.

By Amy Gahran

The MIT Center for Civic Media began life in 2007 as the Center for Future Civic Media—a project funded by a $5 million Knight News Challenge grant. Since then, it’s evolved into a joint effort between the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program—with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

In a recent presentation to MIT students, Zuckerman included a slide showing overlapping circles representing how participatory media (the “read/write web”) is intersecting with civic life.

“There’s a whole lot of participatory media that’s purely personal,” said Zuckerman. “Lots of what we do online—interacting with friends, sharing pictures with family—doesn’t have civic implications. But there’s a complicated subset of online activity which does have civic implications. This can be as explicit as political blog or newsletter, or more subtle like fiction or art that challenges stereotypes or addresses issues.”

(In his talk at the 2008 O’Reilly ETech conference, Zuckerman explored this theme in his talk on the Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism.)

In addition to being the Center’s new director, Zuckerman’s other title there is principal investigator—a role he shares with MIT professor and mediamaker Sasha Costanza-Chock.

In their discussions of where to take the Center, Zuckerman and Costanza-Chock have mapped out four organizing principles:

1. Media is an ecosystem

“Getting people to speak up via participatory media isn’t the hard part,” said Zuckerman. “Getting heard and having influence, that’s the hard part. To accomplish that, you need to think about the relationship between participatory media and mass media.”

He described his recent meeting with a Boston-based civic action group focused on stopping local home foreclosures. This group conducts about three or four actions per week: protests outside banks, sit-ins at homes when the sheriff comes to foreclose, etc. They document all this in photos and video, and they share that media and engage with various constituencies via social media.

“They actually have relatively few Facebook friends, not a massive social media presence,” said Zuckerman. “But because they create all that content, they get mainstream media coverage, because that’s a massive resource that provides hooks for news coverage. Understanding those kinds of relationships in the media ecosystem is the key to producing media that’s effective. I’m trying to map those out so we can utilize them better.”

2. For media to be “civic,” it must lead somehow lead people toward participation

Says Zuckerman, “When something has civic impact, that means it makes you do something, take action. Simply informing you doesn’t go far enough.”

That argument is likely to make many traditional journalists (who venerate “objectivity” and eschew “advocacy”) squirm.

Acknowledging this friction, Zuckerman noted: “I think this is something we have to reconsider as people who take journalism seriously: Is telling people how to take action always bad? I think participation changes your behavior as a media consumer. I’m very worried that we often report on stories that mainly piss people off and then don’t give them anything they can do about it.”

For example, he noted coverage of an ongoing international crisis: refugees fleeing conflict and famine in Somalia. “In most news outlets, if you read their coverage, you don’t know what to do about it. Finding out what you can do takes independent effort and resources—which is more than most media consumers will do. So the net effect is that this problem just appears intractable, hopeless, there’s nothing you can do can fix it. That just encourages people to move on to pay attention where they can be more influential.

“I think understanding how to build media that teaches people to participate ultimately creates better media consumers.”

3. Inclusion

Prior projects of both Zuckerman (Global Voices Online) and Costanza-Chock (VozMob) have led them to think carefully about who does—and doesn’t—get to speak and be heard.

“We want to ensure that at the Center we’re not just handing out more microphones, but more and better amplifiers,” said Zuckerman. “We have to find ways to help people reach audiences.”

So among the Center’s efforts will be projects focusing on services for translation, cultural bridging, contextualization, and filtering.

4. Co-design

“This is the idea that you never want to invent a cool technology and drop it into community to let them use it. You’ll never get a useful result that way,” said Zuckerman.

“We think the smart way to develop media tools is to work closely with communities up front to understand their needs and jointly design something with them. Then we roll it out together.”

The co-design approach greatly enhanced the development and deployment of VozMob, a platform for immigrant and and low-wage workers in Los Angeles to create stories about their lives and communities directly from cell phones—something Zuckerman discussed in his June blog post, Visions of Civic Media.

The MIT Center: What’s in it for news orgs?

So far, it’s unclear how exactly news organizations might learn from and constructively engage with the work at the MIT Center—but Zuckerman says the’re open to hearing news organizations’ reactions to their projects and ideas.

A good window into their work is through the Center’s blog. You can also follow @civicMIT on Twitter, and their Facebook page.

But some projects may be of special interest to news orgs.

For instance, the Newsflow project is “a dynamic, real-time map of news reporting, which displays both the latest top stories as well as the news organizations which covered them in the last few minutes. Viewing such data in real time offers a chance to see how journalists shape national attention as stories unfolds.”

Zuckerman also mentioned their Media RDI project, which is in its early stages: “Take the idea of nutritional information labels and apply that to news production. Can we assess a news outlet for period of time and produce summary information about its news? What’s different for the Boston Globe and New York Times during a given period? How could you track your personal media consumption over a period of time?”

The Center is also working on tools that can help people in news outlets closely examine what they are and are not covering. This could become an analytics tool for figuring out on where your organization or outlets fits into the media ecosystem—and whether you’re fitting in the way you think you are.

“Let’s be clear about the Center’s role,” said Zuckerman. “I think Knight is funding us with the notion that this program is about long bets. Knight has funded a lot of other work connected to schools and newsrooms—but that’s not what we’ve been challenged to do.

“Our job is not to serve news organizations, but rather to develop bigger ideas and paradigms. I suspect that being able to look at the media ecosystem analytically will be profoundly helpful to many parts of that ecosystem—including news organizations.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

December 14, 2011

Where do people get local business info? Pew report, plus 10 ideas for publishers

The holiday shopping season is generally a revenue-booster for ad-supported news venues—but new Pew research indicates that more people are turning to the internet than newspapers when seeking info about local businesses.

How might this insight help local news publishers update their revenue strategies for the coming year?...

By Amy Gahran

Where people get information about restaurants and other local businesses is a just-published report compiled by Pew’s Project on Excellence in Journalism and the Internet and American Life Project, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

A few highlights from the Pew report:

Local restaurants, bars, and clubs. 55% of U.S. adults say they get news and information about local dining and nightlife—and just over half (51%) go online to get this information. In contrast, a total of 31% turn to printed newspapers (26%) and news sites (5%) for this info—even though news venues tend to publish local event calendars, dining/nightlife guides, and annual local “best of” ratings.

“Specialty websites” (probably such as Yelp, although the report does not name any specific sites) are a more popular source of local dining and nightlife info: 38% of adults use them. Furthermore, 23% rely on word of mouth, 8% turn to on local TV, and only 3% use social networking services.

Other local businesses. According to Pew, 60% of adults say they get news and information about local businesses besides restaurants and bars. Here the internet is still the most popular resource, but not quite as popular (47%). Specialty sites (again, think Yelp) are less popular here, cited as a resource by just 16% of adults. And social media is used by only 1%.

For the local general business sector, newspapers are the next most popular resource—29% of people look to printed copies for this info, but only 2% turn to news websites. Word of mouth: 22%. Local TV: 8%. Local radio: 5%.

Demographics. The Pew report contains charts showing the demographics of people who seek each type of local business information. In general, these consumers tend to be wealthier and more upscale.

But there are some differences between the sectors. Pew notes: “The 55% of adults who get information about restaurants, bars, and clubs are more likely to be women, young adults, urban, and technology adopters. The 60% of adults who get information about other local businesses are also more likely to be tech users.”

Local news “junkies” are especially likely to want info about local businesses. According to Pew: “Heavy local news junkies are considerably more likely than others to get material about local restaurants. ...When it comes to restaurant information, 71% of those who used at least six platforms monthly got news and information about local restaurants—compared with 34% of those who relied on just one or two sources.”

Also: “72% of those who used at least six [local news/info] platforms monthly got news and information about [other] local businesses, compared with 39% of those who relied on just one or two sources.”

This kind of data could be a reason for local businesses to advertise in local news venues, compared to search advertising or other marketing.

Mobile has become a leading way for people to get local news and info. This could have profound implications for local advertising.

Pew noted that 47% of U.S. adults get local news and information on their cell phones. “These mobile consumers, who were younger and more upscale in terms of their household income and educational levels, were even more likely than others to get material about local restaurants: 62% of mobile local news consumers got information [about local bars and restaurants], compared with 48% of others.”

Also: “65% of mobile local news consumers got information about other local businesses, compared with 55% of others.”

LESSONS AND IDEAS FOR NEWS VENUES

1. Make local business information easy to find, especially to search for, on your website, in your mobile offerings (mobile site as well as apps) and through your print or broadcast offerings. The staggeringly low number of people who currently turn to news sites for local business information indicates that this info either isn’t there, or it can’t be easily or reliably accessed.

2. Search-friendly repurposing. If you publish a local business directory, “best of” ratings, or an event calendar that lists venues, explore ways to surface this information in general searches of your site. Ideally, each listing could become a basic mobile-friendly landing page. This could be a simple database, and it might be seeded by scraping data from regular search engine queries for local business info. (An upsell service might allow business owners to update or expand their own listings, at will.)

3. Realize who your competition is: paid search ads. SearchEngineLand reported on a recent study which found that paid search drives $6 in local sales for every $1 in online sales. News publishers will have to work hard to demonstrate that their ads can compete with—or at least complement—that performance. So…

4. Create links between your content, ads, and local business info. This could be a key advantage of news publishers, and it should be multidirectional. If you maintain a database of local businesses and events, you might be able to automatically augment each listing with links to stories and upcoming events which mention that business, as well as current ads that business may be running in your site or paper. Then you may be able to adapt your content management system to link stories and ads back to your database listings, making it easier for people to get more info, context, and targeted exposure to advertising.

5. Sell USEFUL local mobile advertising units. Position mobile ads as an actionable information service that adds value, rather than just space to display a banner. Recently SearchEngineLand published a good guide mobile marketing guide for local businesses, as well as an overview of social-local-mobile marketing, and a guide to small business advertising planning for 2012. Read these, and consider how your venue could fit into this picture—from the local advertiser’s perspective.

6. Geocode local business info and ads with latitude/longitude and street address data. This can support “search nearby” functionality, which you can add to your main site search engine, and possibly even support via GPS in mobile devices.

7. Support user bookmarking, sharing, ratings, and comments/tips of local business info on your site. These features can either be a matter of personalization for registered users (visible only to individual users), or a source of additional public content or context for your site. For bookmarking, an option to forward a business name, address, and phone number to your cell phone via SMS text message might be especially useful—especially for the majority of mobile users who still use feature phones.

8. Monitor search requests for local info on your site, and user activity (such as bookmarking, sharing, link clickthroughs, click-to call phone numbers), to spot opportunities to fill in information gaps or meet emerging local market needs. This can be used as feedback to advertisers, or as selling points for prospective advertisers or upsells.

9. Regularly publicize in your print or broadcast channels all the options you offer for finding local business information, and explain how people can use them—and benefit from them. Consider this an ongoing marketing/education effort, and dedicate space and time to it. Don’t just expect people to find these services on their own.

10. If you cannot feasibly build or maintain your own database of local businesses, and connect that to your content management system and ad delivery tool, then consider partnering with (or at least linking to) relevant local business listings in places like Yelp, Google+ brand pages, public Facebook pages, and Bing.

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Digital Media Center at USC is a partnership with the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The Center is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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