News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Research

December 10, 2010

Pew report: Who’s using Twitter?

The first-ever report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project to focus solely on Twitter reveals that 8% of American adults who use the internet are Twitter users.

Some highlights from this research…

Of course, younger internet users (18-29) are especially likely to use Twitter. Also, Americans who live in urban areas are about twice as likely to use Twitter as rural dwellers.

Strikingly, Pew found that African-American and Latino internet users are are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white internet users. Also, women are slightly more likely than men to be on Twitter.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that more than 90% of all US internet users are not on Twitter—so it should not be relied on as a primary channel to directly reach a general audience.

December 28, 2010

Political/election news should go mobile, Pew research indicates

More than one in four US adults used cell phones to participate in some election-related activity during the November 2010 elections, according to the new Politics Goes Mobile report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

This research suggests some important implications for a news organization’s strategy for political and election coverage…

According to Pew, the most popular election-related mobile activities reported were:

  • 14% of all US adults used cell phones to tell others that they voted.
  • 12% used mobile phones to keep up with election or political news.
  • 10% sent text messages related to the election.

What’s striking is that none of these top activities   requires a smartphone. Text messaging, simple web browsing, e-mail, and social media are among the many communication channels available to users of “feature phones”—the less-expensive, simpler phones which lack the ability to run native apps or access wireless broadband networks.

According to Pew, only 1% of US adults used an election-related smartphone app that provided updates from candidates, parties, or groups. Undoubtedly, some of that 12% who kept up with political/election news via mobile were doing this through news apps for smartphones. (Pew did not specifically inquire about news apps in this survey.) But most mobile phones these days can access news through other channels.

Over 75% of US mobile users still rely on feature phones—and while smartphones are getting more popular, feature phones are likely to remain the majority in any mobile news audience for at least the next few years. Why? Feature phones cost far less to buy and use. They’re easily available on flat-rate, unlimited month-to-month plans (or even prepaid plans). And most models can do much more than just voice calls, texting, and photos.

Pew’s research indicates that the mobile audience for political and election news is substantial, so it’s worth having a mobile strategy for this coverage. Consider options such as:

  • Opt-in, customizable text alert services for political or election news updates.
  • Mobile-friendly (and mobile-searchable) web-based quick guides for candidates, issues, election processes, polling places, etc.
  • Promoting political and election coverage via social media.
  • Inviting crowdsourced reporting from polling places (text, audio reports, photos, social media); and promoting/distributing this via traditional and digital channels.

All of these options can reach a larger potential audience than app-focused mobile strategies, and require less expense and effort to develop.

December 31, 2010

Pew: 18% of internet users are paying (a little) for online news

Despite conventional wisdom, nearly two-thirds of internet users actually do pay for online content—even for news. If your news organization is considering selling premium content or instituting a paywall, new research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project offers useful insight…

According to Pew, “65% of internet users have paid to download or access some kind of online content from the internet—ranging from music to games to news articles.” The most popular types of content or access purchased are music, software, and apps.

Here are more details about media types that news organizations might offer:

  • 21% purchased mobile apps.
  • 18% reported paying for articles from a digital newspaper or magazine; or for journal articles or reports.
  • 16% bought videos, movies, or TV shows.
  • 11% purchased members-only premium content from a site that also offers free content.
  • 10% purchased e-books.
  • 7% purchased podcasts.

Most online content buyers spend about $10 per month; but nearly half of those surveyed reported only buying one or two types of online content. Subscription services tend to be the most popular way to purchase.

Overall, internet users aged 30-49 are the most likely to have purchased most kinds of content—which dovetails nicely with the core audience demographics for many news organizations. However, looking at the 18% of internet users who actually reported purchasing news content, users 29 and younger as well as 65 and older reported slightly more of this activity. College graduates were most likely to purchase online news, as were people earning $75,000 per year or more.

The main takeaway: While paid content appears to be more popular than is generally assumed, so far only 18% of internet users are paying for any online news—and with a typical online content budget of $10/month, they’re not paying much for any kind of digital content. Therefore, blanket paywall strategies probably would serve to kill, rather than cultivate, the revenue potential for a general-interest news outlet.

Premium content strategies do stand a chance when they’re well targeted—which is good news for niche news, special packages, or specialized informational services.

Thinking beyond story-style content may offer new revenue options. Consider targeted digital content packages that involve apps, e-books, videos, and more.

February 15, 2011

The booming data business: Report, conference explore emerging options

News organizations generally don’t think of themselves as data companies, but they are—or at least, most have the potential to develop this business alongside their news and other offerings. A new report and upcoming event from Giga Om could help news orgs figure out where data opportunities might lie, and how to capitalize on them…

>The report Big Data (available to Giga Om Pro subscribers, 7 day free trial) covers the equipment and systems needed to store and manage large databases—or especially complex ones, as might be generated from a content management system and archive of decades’ worth of news stories, or from the web analytics for a complex, dynamic site.

Better data management tools can help journalists and editors analyze or visualize complex issues, especially those buried in unstructured information. It can make your publishing efforts more scalable. And—perhaps most importantly to the news business—it can support advertisers through data, analysis, and services.

These topics and more will be discussed at GigaOm’s March 23 event in New York City, Structure: Big Data 2011. One theme of particular interest to news publishers is how businesses are spinning out separate companies built around their data. The conference is mainly geared toward CIOs and technologists, but news publishers and technology managers might gain strategic insight here.

February 28, 2011

Engaging tomorrow’s news audience today: Report

Today’s youth are (hopefully) tomorrow’s news audience; but too often the news industry has treated kids, teens, and young adults as a fairly monolithic group. New research from the Newspaper Association of America has taken a closer look at this demographic segment, and offers some lessons about how news organizations can start engaging youth now…

In a recent report, Common threads: Linking NAA Foundation research to today’s young media consumers the NAA foundation and Medill’s Media Management Center encourage the news industry to think more deeply about youth and media:

For example: “Growing older does not cause an increase in newspaper readership just because age has a relationship with newspaper readership. To put it directly, a 16-year-old female high-school student does not use media just because she is 16 or female, but more likely because of who she is and how she fits within her social context,” says the report.

The report identifies three life-stage groups of youth and young adults, and explores the potential, opportunities, and pitfalls of engaging each, with examples from real-world projects.

April 06, 2011

Social networks and communities: new report offers useful insight for journalists

Social networking—whether enabled by technology, or not—is a key tool that helps people accomplish just about anything. Understanding how social networks function also can help journalists better engage communities. A new report explores how social networks are affecting communities…

The report, Connected Citizens, was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Monitor Institute. It explores what emerging social networks mean for community change, as well as how philanthropy can support social networks that help strengthen communities or achieve positive social change.

Here’s what Knight means by “network” in this report: “A group of people who are connected through relationships. ...We are focusing on loose networks of individuals that are coproducing information, knowledge and action; integrating online and offline strategies; and, bridging differences across communities. We are looking at both networks that are place-based and those that cut across geographies.”

Although this report isn’t specifically about professional journalism or the news business, the act of sharing news is a core part of what social networks do. In that sense, learning more about how social networks function is a way to get back to the roots of journalism and news—and to spot new opportunities for the future.

Understanding how social networks create, use, and share news also can help redefine what a news hook is, especially for local media.

This Knight report offers insight that might help the next generation of journalists and other news producers get past the ingrained newsroom cliche of “If it bleeds, it leads”—an approach that succeeds in getting attention, but also tends to hurt communities if overdone.

UPCOMING WEBINAR: April 20, 2 pm EDT. Learn more about this report and ask questions. Speakers include: Mayur Patel (Knight Foundation), Diana Scearce (Monitor Institute), Conor White-Sullivan (Localocracy), and Dana Jackson (Making Connections Louisville). Register now.

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

May 20, 2011

Personalization fails to find traction for news users - study

If new research on personalization in online news is right, consumers of digital journalism remain firm wed to their human gatekeepers to decide what content to take in.

The study by news researcher Neil Thurman of the City University of London, published in the May issue of Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism, found that despite a long-standing interest in personalization among digital journalists and widespread implementation, the evidence he’s gathered suggests “actual uptake was low.”

Over two years between 2007 and 2009, Thurman researched personalization strategies and interviewed editors at 11 news organizations in the United Kingdom and United States, including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times and others. Each used from about a half-dozen to a dozen different types of personalization tools, among them RSS feeds, collaborative filters like “most read” and “most emailed,” email newsletters, home page customization, personal “my page” filtering and the like.

Yet in many cases adoption by users never got above single-digits. A writeup of the study in noted that while researching the project, a number of high-profile “my page” services shut down after little user interest. The report added that Thurman predicts new personalization services like the Washington Post‘s Trove will see tough times. “[The research is] a warning to new sites like Trove, that readers are reluctant to take on the role of editorial selection, and still enjoy serendipitous discovery,”  he told the Guardian.

Thurman did find enthusiasm for personalization among the news editors he interviewed, primarily because of a perception there was a user demand for choice, but also because of what he noted were “commercial” factors. For instance, many forms of customization automate editorial processes and so save staff labor (as the author puts it, “An algorithm is cheaper than an editor”). Personalization is also seen as allowing for more precise ad targeting.

But editors also expressed concerns about how widespread such tools could become, partly because they felt readers would view personalization as in conflict with the “trusted” editing function, or simply because it would take too much time and effort to set up.

Thurman noted how little published research exists into how well personalization actually works, and suggested further research is needed to determine, for instance, whether a higher demand exists for personalization in goal-oriented work environments, such as may have been found by He suggested there’s room for a closer look, too, at “implicit” personalization that comes with the collection of preferences via registration.

Read the study in its entirely as a PDF..


May 31, 2011

Building an iPad app? Research tells how to make it user friendly

Many news organizations have built, or are building, iPad apps to deliver their content—but sometimes these aren’t as user-friendly as they should be. A new report from the Nielsen Norman Group explains where apps and web sites are going wrong for iPad users, and how to fix these problems…

The latest report is a followup to a report that came out soon after the iPad was now introduced. In that time, both users and developers have gained considerable iPad experience. But there some common app and site design errors persist.

The report contains detailed examples, many from popular news sites and apps. Navigation was a problem for several sites. Here are a few excerpts about what NNG had to say about the iPad experience offered by some major news brands:

“Whenever users did not have a direct link to the table of contents (in apps such as The Daily or Esquire), they complained—they were annoyed to have to flip through the magazine or through the page viewer in order to find the page containing the table of contents.”

...“The problem with USA Today is twofold:

  1. the logo looks flat (and not touchable)
  2. the label on the logo has no connection with the current task (finding the news sections).

USA Today’s iPad navigation problem spanned the first full year of its app’s life: “As we were writing this report, USA Today came out with an update: an explicit button with the label ‘Sections’ has been placed above the logo in the new version. We haven’t tested this new design, but it can’t help being better than the old one which doesn’t work—as we’ve known for a full year since the data from our first study.”

Don’t forget the back button: “A lot of newspaper apps do not use back buttons. The Telegraph is one of the few newspapers that uses a back button and has a navigation bar on every page, enabling users to move between different sections without going back to a news-listing page.”

About the popular Newsy app: ”[It] uses a carousel to display news videos; users need to swipe through the videos, one at a time. [Although this is simple for users to understand, and it] may seem exciting in the beginning, swiping through a lot of videos gets tiring quickly, especially because there is not a lot of content to be read about each of them (so the users end up swiping almost continuously).”

The report also noted that some news apps (such as BBC and Wired) offer different information or navigation depending on whether the tablet is held in landscape or portrait position. This inconsistency can confuse or frustrate readers. NNG’s advice:

“When content is not available in one orientation, tell users that they may find extra information when they turn the tablet. This is exactly what The Daily does: when one of their interactive features was only available in portrait mode, they had an icon in landscape to suggest users to switch orientations. Also, The Daily does not shy away from telling users how they are supposed to interact with their feature.”

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

June 27, 2011

E-readers more popular than tablets: Pew report

Many news organizations have launched iPad apps, but few have offerings that target e-reader devices. This publishing strategy could prove to be backwards. A new Pew report finds that e-readers are more popular, and growing faster, than tablets…

The headline from the Pew Internet and American Life project reads: E-reader ownership doubles in six months: Adoption rate of e-readers surges ahead of tablet computers. Here are the key statistics:

Last winter, tablets were slightly ahead. Pew reports that at that point, 7% of U.S. adults owned a tablet computer of any kind, while only 6% owned an e-reader device. This Spring saw a surge in e-reader adoption. By May 2011, 12% of U.S. adults owned an e-reader. Meanwhile, tablet ownership expanded only to 8% of U.S. adults.

So right now, the e-reader audience is considerably larger than the tablet audience. This trend is likely to continue, and the gap should widen considerably—for good reason: E-readers are far cheaper than tablets.

Right now you can buy the least expensive Kindle brand new for $114 (with sponsored screensaver ads), and Amazon has hinted that they may start giving away the Kindle for free at some point. And on the high end, the top-of-the-line Nook Color e-reader starts at $249.

In contrast, the most basic (16GB, wifi only) current models of the iPad, Android tablets, and the BlackBerry Playbook all start at $499—and considerably more if you want to add 3G or 4G wireless data network access.

Blurring the tablet/e-reader line. Tablet and e-reader technology exist along a spectrum. Most notably, all tablets can read e-books—although the e-book format each accommodates varies by device and available apps. So: If you have a tablet, you also have an e-book reader.

Flipping that around: The Nook Color is really a modified Android tablet. In fact, it’s possible to hack the Nook Color to turn it into the cheapest full Android tablet now on the market.

It’s likely that in the future more e-readers will adopt tablet-esque hardware. But since low cost is a key part of the e-reader’s consumer appeal, it’s also likely that many lower-tech (and thus lower cost) models will remain on offer.

How news orgs can tap the e-reader market

The most basic approach is to sell e-reader subscriptions to your periodical content. Kindle, Nook, Sony, and most other e-bookstores have “newsstand” sections. This requires some initial investment in setup and testing, but after that the sales, publishing, and distribution processes are automated. Furthermore most e-bookstores don’t take nearly as big a percentage of subscription revenues as Apple does.

The New York Times recently reported that magazine sales on the Nook Color rival, and in some cases surpass, iPad subscriptions. Similarly, leading consumer magazine publisher Meredith Corp. has an aggressive strategy to “go wide on e-readers, narrow on iPad,” according to EmediaVitals.

Like any subscription business, e-reader subscriptions require active marketing. So if your news organization promotes e-reader subscriptions via your print, web, mobile, and social media channels, your e-reader subscriptions will likely increase. But if you expect e-reader users to find this option entirely on their own, then curb your revenue outlook.

Most e-readers in consumer’s hands today use black-and-white e-ink displays. these devices offer a relatively clunky experience of reading a periodical such as a newspaper or magazine. However, all e-readers (regardless of hardware) excel at displaying books. This is yet another reason why news orgs should consider repurposing content as e-books.

Earlier I wrote about this emerging revenue option, with tips from BookBrewer founder Dan Pacheco on how to turn news/feature content into sellable e-books.

If your news org is currently investing in (or considering) tablet offerings,  it makes sense to also explore your options in the larger and faster-growing e-reader market. It may be less glamorous than a fancy iPad app, but it might be better business.

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

June 28, 2011

Chicago sites too isolated for a healthy news ecosystem, report finds

Links make the web go round—and they also define (and can make or break) an emerging news ecosystem. A new report has found that the components of Chicago’s news ecosystem may be too isolated to keep local communities adequately informed…

Linking Audiences to News: A Network Analysis of Chicago Websites was just released by the Chicago Community Trust. It’s the outcome of an effort to understand a local news ecosystem by using webcrawler software to analyze how over 400 Chicago-area local news and info sites interconnect via hyperlinks.

CCT found that “almost 80% of the sites studied received few if any links from other sites—so that no matter how good their content, they are unlikely to be found by users unfamiliar with those sites.”

Furthermore: “Websites operated by traditional media, in particular, are unlikely to link to content on other local websites.”

How to encourage more links between sites to improve the health of the local news ecosystem? The report suggests that CCT or other orgs could:

  • Offer incentives to encourage cross-links
  • Promote link-sharing initiatives between legacy news orgs and local sites
  • Support sites in the network that are especially good at linking
  • Aggregate and distribute headlines across the ecosystem

Update: In her June 30 News Leadership 3.0 post Michele McLellan of [email protected] offered her analysis and insight on this study and its findings.

This research project is part of CCT’s Community News Matters initiative. The network study was funded jointly by CCT, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

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

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