News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: Research

March 20, 2012

How to build your mobile news audience? New Pew research offers insight

By Amy Gahran

Increasingly, people are turning to mobile devices to get news throughout the day. Thus, mobile was the big trend highlighted in this year’s State of the Media report from the Pew Project on Excellence in Journalism—which echoes other recent findings from comScore and elsewhere.

How can news and information publishers get ahead of the mobile wave?...

“The age of mobile, in which people are connected to the web wherever they are, arrived in earnest. More than four in ten American adults now own a smartphone. One in five owns a tablet. New cars are manufactured with internet built in. With more mobility comes deeper immersion into social networking. For news, the new era brings mixed blessings,” the PEJ report’s introduction began.

Some highlights from the mobile section of the PEJ report:

Digital news is becoming a multi-device experience. For now, desktop and laptop computers remain the most popular way that people in the U.S. access digital news venues. However, PEJ notes: “Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 23%, now get news on at least two devices: a desktop/laptop computer and smartphone, a computer and a tablet, a tablet and a smartphone, or on all three.”

Also: “For most with multiple devices, there is not a single place for news. People who acquire mobile devices appear to be using them to get news on all their devices. This also suggests they may be getting more news more often. About a third (34%) of desktop/laptop news consumers now also get news on a smartphone. About a quarter (27%) of smartphone news consumers also get news on a tablet. While this smartphone/tablet news consumer group is small—just 6% of the population overall—it is a large percentage of those who own smartphones and tablets. Fully 44% of people who own both kinds of devices use both for news.  What’s more, most of those individuals (78%) still get news on the desktop or laptop as well.”

“...Smartphone news users are now nearly split between their laptop and smartphone as their primary news platform: 46% still get most of their news on the desktop/laptop and 45% get most on their smartphone. Another 7% of these smartphone owners say they get most of their news on a tablet. Early tablet news users are moving in the same direction, but remain somewhat more reliant on the laptop or desktop computer. Of tablet owners, 47% still get most of their digital news via desktops or laptops, while a third (34%) have already transitioned to consuming most of their news on the tablet.

This echoes findings from comScore’s Digital Omnivores report last summer, which made this point: “Devices influence the way people consume content and it is important to remember that they do not exist in isolation of one another, but have a complementary relationship in consumers’ lives. ...Understanding how consumers are utilizing the full spectrum of digital devices available to them will become increasingly important to building effective digital strategies.”

Both PEJ’s and comScore’s findings indicate that in the long run, creating an integrated and relatively seamless user experience across devices will be important for retaining loyalty from mobile news users.

Site features like BostonGlobe.com’s “MySaved” (which saves stories bookmarked by an individual user in the cloud, for downloading to any device for later reading) may become crucial for a good user experience. However, such features probably will have to add more value compared to popular third-party tools like Instapaper, which support device- and reader-friendly aggregation across all websites (not just one news site at at time) and across multiple devices.

Deploying such services will be more streamlined for news and information sites that adopt responsive web design—a strategy that adapts webpage display for the type of device being used. Coupled with HTML5, which supports app-like features via the web browser, responsive design can vastly enhance the overall news experience for multiple-device users.

News brands are key for drawing mobile traffic. PEJ noted that news brands appear to drive traffic on every device, but they seems to matter most to tablet news audiences. “For all three digital platforms, the most common method for accessing digital news now is by going directly to a news website or app. And that has been helped by the advent of mobile. A third of those who get news via the laptop or desktop say they go directly to a news organization’s website ‘very often’ as do a third of smartphone news consumers and 38% of tablet news consumers.”

Keyword search is also important for mobile news discovery. According to PEJ about 70% of people who get news on a smartphone, tablet or both use keyword searches to find news at least occasionally. However PEJ’s earlier analysis of data from Nielsen indicate that much of news search traffic actually goes to the home pages of news site home pages, indicating that people may be searching quite often for news brands.

News aggregator apps are gaining mobile popularity. Just over a quarter of tablet and smartphone news consumers use aggregator apps such as Flipboard or Topix to access news stories. So it’s worth using these apps to make sure your news content displays well in this context.

Social media isn’t quite as important for mobile news discovery—yet. According to PEJ, “In total, just 9% [of digital news consumers] follow news recommendations very often from either Facebook or Twitter on any of the three devices.”

But: “This peer-to-peer sharing or recommending of news does appear to be an emerging trend, however, and may become a part—if not soon a primary part—of news consumption. If one adds to the tally those who say they follow these recommendations ‘sometimes’ to the 10% who say they do it ‘very often’ the number increases about three-fold. For both smartphones and tablets, more than a quarter (27%) follow recommendations from Facebook at least somewhat often. 9% for each device follow Twitter news recommendations at least somewhat often.  On the desktop/laptop the percentages come to 22% for Facebook and 5% for Twitter.”

That said, it’s generally a mistake to view social media primarily as a tool to broadcast links to your content in order to drive traffic to your site. Social media’s key value is for two-way engagement with your community—a way to discover what interests them, amplify their voices, and build credibility by being part of the public conversation. This in turn can influence the content you produce for any platform, to make it more compelling to your community across the board.

Mobile apps get used more frequently, but care is warranted. PEJ examined data from Localytics, a company that provides an analytics platform for advertising through mobile apps. According to PEJ, this data indicates: “People spend more time per session with news on mobile devices than they do on computers, and read more articles per session and more articles per month. Comparing this data to data collected on news website behavior suggests on average that users return to news apps more than five times as often over the course of the month and spend a minute longer per session.”

While PEJ did not speculate on what drives this trend, it’s possible that the ability of apps to provide “push notifications” may increase the frequency of app use. Increasing engagement through apps is crucial, since last year Localytics found that only one fourth of all apps get opened more than 10 times.

Platform-specific mobile apps generally require more resources to develop and maintain, and require more action from news consumers, than mobile websites. Also, apps don’t always automatically open in response to inbound links on a mobile device. So if you decide to deploy mobile news apps, make sure you also have a strong mobile web presence, and offer optional push notifications. Also offering an array of SMS text message alerts can help boost mobile traffic for both websites and apps.

...To put all of this research in context, it’s important to recognize that very soon your digital audience will soon be accessing your content mostly via mobile devices. Last September analysts at IDC predicted: “By 2015, more U.S. Internet users will access the internet through mobile devices than through PCs or other wireline devices.”

In other words, your news and information audience is going mobile fast. Building a strong brand and a good mobile experience for your users can help build your business. This may especially give brand new sites and advantage, since they aren’t hindered by legacy publishing systems that can’t easily accommodate responsive design and other new opportunities for mobile media.

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.

April 17, 2012

Local news enthusiasts: Pew research hints at opportunities for ethnic, community media

By Amy Gahran

The vast majority of U.S. adults are really into local news, Pew research shows. How might ethnic and community media outlets capitalize on this as more media goes digital and mobile?...

Over a year ago, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 72% of U.S. adults say they follow local news closely most of the time, whether or not some important local news is happening. Today, a new Pew report takes a closer look at this group of “local news enthusiasts.”

According to Pew, local news enthusiasts are more likely to be female, age 65 or older, and retired. “Politically, they tend to be conservative in their outlook (although they do not differ from others in party identification) and they also attend religious services more frequently than others. They do not differ from other adults in terms of household income, but are less likely to be college graduates.”

In terms of ethnicity, the vast majority (69%) of local news enthusiasts are white, Pew found. Black and Hispanic adults each comprise 13% of local news enthusiasts—roughly equivalent to the representation of these ethnic groups among the U.S. population at large.

Interestingly, adults with the lowest annual household income ($30,000 or less) were by far most likely to be keen on local news: 32% describe themselves as local news enthusiasts, compared to 22% in the highest income bracket (over $75,000). People with $$50,000-$74,999 annual household income had the lowest representation among local news enthusiasts (12%).

This finding indicates that ethnic and community news and media might be especially likely to gain traction in poorer communities and low-income demographics within communities—a point that might interest local advertisers and sponsors wishing to reach those communities.

Local news enthusiasts don’t all have gray hair. Fully one fourth are age 18-24. However, according to Pew this is the only age group where “other adults” outnumber local news enthusiasts—by almost two to one. This hints that right now is probably a crucial time to engage younger people in local news and information.

Digital media, including mobile and social media, might be particularly valuable in engaging younger people in local news and information. Pew noted: “91% of younger local news followers are internet users, compared with 71% of local news followers age 40 and older, and 82% of adults who do not follow local news closely.”

For contrast, another recent Pew study found that 20% of U.S. adults—mostly those over age 50—still don’t use the internet at all.

Also according to Pew, 73% of younger local news enthusiasts use some kind of social networking service (such as Facebook), compared with 35% of older local news followers and 53% of adults who do not follow local news closely. Twitter is not quite as popular—only 16% of younger local news followers use Twitter, but that’s far more than older local news enthusiasts or other adults. This indicates that using social media to complement your local news and information offerings on the web and in other media might be an especially effective tool for engaging younger community members.

Mobile devices represent a huge opportunity for ethnic and community media. Overall, 84% of local news enthusiasts have a cell phone, and 7% have a tablet computer—slightly less than penetration among all other adults. Also, Pew found the highest penetration of both types of mobile devices is among the youngest local news enthusiasts (under age 40).

This Pew report did not explore how many local news enthusiasts currently use smartphones. However, this year marks the tipping point when smartphones take over as the majority of U.S. handsets in use. Also, most simpler, cheaper “feature phones” are capable of browsing the web and accessing e-mail—and virtually all cell phones can send and receive text messages.

This means that a robust, inclusive mobile strategy (ideally one that includes text messaging alerts or interactivity) can help any local or niche news outlet connect with its community via the devices that most people already carry with them everywhere they go. Also, since social media is one of the most popular things that younger people do on their cell phones, social media can help jumpstart your mobile strategy.

Online media is definitely not the leading source of local news for local news enthusiasts—which may put online-only ethnic or community news and info outlets at a bit of a comparative disadvantage. According to Pew, enthusiasts’ most popular sources of local news are broadcast TV (80%), word of mouth (57%), radio (52%) and print (48%). In contrast, 41% of local news enthusiasts use search engines to find local news, 23% turn to the websites of local newspapers (TV stations sites, 20%), and 12% get their local news from social networking sites.

This points out an opportunity to leverage partnerships for cross-media promotion. For instance, online-only ethnic or community news outlets might provide some articles or other content to run in local newspapers, in exchange for the print outlet providing information about how to find the ethnic/community news site or do other cross-promotion. Similarly, providing simple, short, broadcast-quality audio or video news segments or community updates to local radio or TV stations could help broaden your audience. Many local stations are eager to run such content.

Finally, ethnic and community news sites with a strong mission to improve local communities may be encouraged by this Pew finding: “Slightly more local news enthusiasts than others think they can have a big impact on making their community a better place to live (33% vs. 27%).”

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 11, 2012

How RJI’s mobile news research could expand to benefit community news

By Amy Gahran

This summer, Roger Fidler of the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute has been releasing the results of his detailed research into how people are using mobile devices to access news.

This is an excellent resource for major national and metro news organizations. Here are a few thoughts on how this kind of research might be extended to also benefit community and niche news outlets—an important emerging part of the digital news landscape…

From January through March, RJI staff interviewed more than 1,000 people contacted via randomly selected phone numbers. More than half were cell phone numbers. The results were published in three parts:


This was an appreciable undertaking, and the results are useful, especially to large news outlets. But to benefit smaller community news outlets, more examination of nuance would be helpful. If this research project is to be continued or extended, RJI might consider adding questions to explore three vital topics:

1. Distinguish between national/metro vs. community/local news. According to RJI’s survey, 63% of mobile device owners use these devices to “keep up with the news”—and these people spend an average of five hours per week doing this.

However, RJI apparently did not distinguish between national, global, state, and metro area news vs. community or hyperlocal news. Asking specifically about how people use mobile devices to access community news might be revealing.

This could complement the excellent September 2011 Pew Internet report, How People Learn About Their Local Community. It included a section on the role of mobile devices and social networks, which noted that 25% of all adults said they use mobile devices to get news about their local community.

2. Ask about text alerts. A simple text message is more like “lean media” than “rich media.” RJI’s research focused on mobile media devices—a key characteristic of which was that they “are designed primarily for consuming and interacting with mixed-media content.”

This definition left feature phones and texting out of the picture. But according to comScore’s latest estimate, over half of U.S. mobile handsets in use still are feature phones.

Aside from the fact that feature phones remain popular in many communities (particularly for low-income households and seniors), and that many models now come with web browsers, virtually every mobile phone can send and receive text messages. And aside from voice calls, texting is the most popular thing that mobile users in all demographics do with their phones—even on smartphones.

Opt-in text alerts can be a powerful tool to drive mobile users to mobile news—mixed, rich, or otherwise. And they can be particularly useful for community news publishers.

3. Ask about sharing or posting photos or video. People use their phones (even feature phones) to take and share photos or videos of what they see around them. This is an inherently local activity, usually with far greater relevance to local publishers and communities than mass media news outlets.

RJI’s survey inquired about “creating and managing content” which they defined as “creating, editing or managing non-work or education-related content such as documents, photos, videos, music.” This is valuable, but within that large category it’s photos and videos which are most likely to have specific news value or community relevance. Understanding more about mobile users’ propensity to create or enhance news coverage, as well as consume news, would benefit all news outlets—but probably especially community news publishers.

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

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