News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Strategy

January 11, 2011

Mobile lessons for independent media from The Media Consortium

2010 was a busy digital-media year for The Media Consortium (a network of the country’s leading progressive, independent media outlets). TMC’s year-end roundup report details the results of several digital media initiatives. On the mobile front, TMC’s work produced some especially valuable lessons…

One part of TMC’s Digital Innovation Studio (a program of small-group phone conference meetings) focused on mobile media strategy. Participants arrived at several key conclusions:

  • Mobile web before apps. “For most small to mid-sized organizations, building a mobile site was more of a priority than building an expensive application.”
  • Go with the flow of mobile devices and environments. “Future mobile applications will be successful in proportion to the degree by which they incorporate community interaction and gaming mechanics that take advantage of mobile device features. Shovelware that replicates what’s on the news organization’s web or mobile site will not have the same level of impact.”
  • Apps are a lot of work. “Mobile apps require constant innovation, updates and management.”
  • Don’t delay. “Now is the time to start investing in long-term infrastructure, such as APIs, that will allow content to be readily accessed and used by many applications on many different devices.
  • More connections with mobile developers needed. “One of the biggest barriers for independent media in developing mobile strategies is the lack of a connection with programmers in the mobile space. This led to TMC’s successful Mobile Hackathon, held in Chicago last October.


Read TMC’s 2010 report for more insight into community-building, revenue models, and more for independent progressive media outlets. Much of this information applies equally well to mainstream news organizations.

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 15, 2011

Qualcomm, Opera deal could dramatically boost mobile web audience

Mobile web browsing on feature phones soon may become much easier and more fun, thanks to a just-announced deal that will make Opera Mini the default web browser on new handsets using Qualcomm’s popular BREW MP feature phone platform.

This could be a key breakthrough for news publishers’ mobile strategy…

To give an idea of the scale and speed of this deal, AT&T plans for all of its feature phones to eventually run on Brew MP. These new phones could start appearing in stores in as little as four months.

Feature phones still comprise nearly three-fourths of the US mobile market—and over 90% of feature phones come with a web browser. However, the clunky, limited, slow browsers packaged on most feature phones have been dampening web use in this market segment.

Since feature phones cost much less than smartphones to buy (and for typical monthly bills), and since feature phones are widely available on no-contract plans, they’re likely to remain popular among cost-conscious consumers for several years yet.

More people are accessing more content of all kinds on their mobile devices—but most of this is happening through mobile web browsers, not apps.

A new report from ComScore notes that “Even though applications received much more attention by the media throughout 2010, our analysis in the U.S. ...showed that by a small margin, application usage is still second to browser usage when it comes to the mobile web. For example 36 percent of mobile using Americans ...browsed the mobile web in December 2010, while application access reached 34 percent of Americans.”

It’s generally far easier and cheaper to develop offerings for the mobile web than to build native smartphone apps, with the added benefit that mobile web offerings have a much larger potential audience. The Qualcomm-Opera deal indicates that more than ever, the mobile web might be the best first place for news orgs to focus their initial mobile strategy. Apps are cool—but in a business and market sense, they’re cul-de-sacs.

March 25, 2011

Everyblock shifts direction, adds local discussion to data

Earlier this week Adrian Holovaty announced the first major redesign of his local data service Everyblock. This site is shifting from being a one-way news feed of local data, to becoming “a platform for discussion around neighborhood news.”

More about these new features…

In addition to adding a big “post” button to pages, Holovaty notes: “We’ve unveiled several new features to encourage positive community behavior. Each user contribution to our site has a ‘thank’ button next to it that lets you give positive reinforcement to the original poster for sharing information. We’ve built a lightweight neighborhood honors reputation system that rewards people for making contributions, as determined by their neighbors’ thanks and a number of other factors.”

Also, intriguingly, Everyblock now allows users to “follow” places, much the way Twitter users can follow other Twitter users.

GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram observed: “I think EveryBlock’s change of heart was a necessary one. I’ve argued in the past that whatever value local news sites have comes not from the data, but from the people at the heart of that community—which is why even poorly designed services that are built by the people in a town or neighborhood are almost always better than services that are set up by companies with a one-size-fits-all approach. History is littered with examples of well-meaning services such as Backfence and Bayosphere that never really connected with the communities they were supposed to serve.”

It seems to me that Everyblock might want to try to integrate more fully with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, and Flickr, since those services are where so much discussion about community happens. But it would be hard to do that in an automated way. Once a service moves toward hosting public discussion, it really seems to need the hand of a community manager to get the posts flowing, and to keep the flames down. Everyblock will also have to guard against inevitable spamming of its system.

Because of the need of human staff effort to support thriving community engagement services, I’m skeptical whether these new discussion features will last at Everyblock.  But a strategy more based on curating conversations that happen on other sites and bringing that content into Everyblock might be at least partially automatable and thus more sustainable. And there’s room for Everyblock to move in that direction.

Of all these new Everyblock features, I think the most promising is the ability to follow places, and to receive that information as a feed or via e-mail. I live in Oakland, CA—which is just across the bay from San Francisco. SF is an Everyblock city; Oakland is not. But Oakland does have the lovely Oakland Crimespotting interactive map by Stamen Design. I would love to be able to “follow” a neighborhood or area on that map and have it update me with new incidents.

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

December 05, 2011

Digital First moves forward with MediaNews Group strategy

Since the September announcement that a new Journal-Register Co. spinoff called Digital First Media was taking over management of all MediaNews Group papers, the news industry has been waiting to see what this might actually mean.

In a Dec. 1 blog post, JRC/DF chief John Paton revealed more about how this operational change is unfolding. Some highlights…

According to Paton, Digital First is consolidating non-local content production, digital product and sales development, sales support and information technology. This will allow local MNG papers to focus on “the creation of local content, the growth of local audience and engagement and the monetization of that growth.”

He also added more names to Digital First’s new executive editorial and sales lineup.

Digital First also is extending Journal Register Company’s ideaLab initiative to include MediaNews Group employees.

Paton explained that this Google-like program will “equip 25 MediaNews Group employees with the latest tools and give them the time and money to experiment with them. Each member of the ideaLab will be equipped, initially, with a Smartphone, tablet and laptop.

“The company will carve out 10 hours a week from their regular jobs to allow them time to experiment with these tools and report back on how we can change our business for the better. And we will add an extra $500 per month to their pay. Other than that—there are no rules.”

As of this morning, Paton tweeted that more than 200 MediaNewsGroup staffers have applied to join idealab. Employees can apply either by leaving a comment on Paton’s post or by sending an e-mail to Paton.

...Of course, such sweeping changes from the top can run aground on the entrenched culture and management still in place at some papers.

For instance, Nieman Journalism Lab recently tweeted about a Reuters story: “Media execs of a certain age say they’re too busy, private, old, to tweet.”

To which Paton retorted: “Bullshit - 54 here and a tweeter!”

Yet some people in the new Digital First leadership lineup clearly have not embraced social media. For instance, Dave Butler—who is overseeing all DF/MNG newsgathering operations in California, and who was a key focus of the recent CJR feature The Newspaper That Almost Seized the Future—has so far tweeted only once and has just 31 Twitter followers.

Bosses who are inexperienced with or resistant to social media, community engagement, or more open or innovative approaches to journalism could become an impediment to MNG idealab projects and other initiatives. As one commenter to Paton’s post observed:

“Quite surprised to see that you have 200+ applications already, but almost none through this post. Quite different than the first test with JRC.”

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

January 25, 2012

Pew: Young adults especially interested in web blackout news

The past week saw several major news stories, from the Italian shipwreck to coverage of the Republican presidential primaries to Eastman Kodak’s bankruptcy. But Pew found that U.S. adults under 30 were especially likely to follow news of the Jan. 18 widespread blackouts of several popular websites to protest two bills aimed at stopping online piracy…

In its latest weekly News Interest Index survey, conducted Jan. 19-22, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found: “Nearly one quarter (23%) of those younger than 30 say they followed news about the online piracy fight most closely. That is about the same as the percentage [within that age group] following the 2012 elections most closely (21%). Among the public as a whole, just 7% say they followed news about the web protests ...more closely than any other story.”

This isn’t necessarily surprising, but it does underscore the fact that coverage of this high-profile example of digital activism achieved notable traction with younger news consumers. And this story isn’t over yet—the struggle in Congress over online piracy legislation continues to unfold.

Consequently, news publishers who seek to expand their reach among younger news consumers might do well to emphasize ongoing coverage of online piracy legislation and related activism in their mobile offerings—which includes the mobile web, smartphone and tablet apps, and social media.

Last summer, Pew found that over half of U.S. adults aged 29 and under own a smartphone. Nearly 95% of these Americans go online from their phones, and over 80% do so daily. Also, social media (where people often share or discuss news) is one of the most popular things people do with their cell phones.

Your mobile strategy is as much about content choices as technology and design choices. Understanding which stories appeal to younger news consumers—as well as other key avidly mobile demographics, such as U.S. Hispanics—can help you choose which stories to promote most through mobile channels. Your story lineup need not be identical from one media channel to the next.

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

April 10, 2012

To grow your mobile audience, focus on mobile web, not apps, says NPR

“Here’s the truth: If your app is the only component of your mobile strategy, you’re missing the boat. Mobile-optimized web pages are rapidly becoming the most important way to grow your online audience,” NPR’s Steve Mulder and Keith Hopper recently wrote.

That’s why NPR is building a prototype mobile-optimized site for affiliate stations…

Mulder is director of user experience and analytics, and Hopper is director of product strategy and development, for NPR Digital Services. So they’re always watching the numbers. In their post on the NPR blog, they noted:

“When we look at the numbers for 50+ NPR stations across the country that are using Digital Services’ Core Publisher content management systems, the trend is clear. Last July, 9% of traffic to station web sites came from mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). As of March, it’s already up to 14%.

“We see the same thing for NPR.org traffic. Mobile now represents 17% of the unique visitors to NPR.org. (That’s mobile site traffic, not including all the NPR apps.) And it’s rising quickly.

Other recent research bears this out. This year’s State of the News Media report from Pew’s Project on Excellence in Journalism found that nearly one in four U.S. adults now get news on at least two digital media devices (computer, tablet, and/or smartphone).

Also, a recent survey conducted by Roger Fidler of the Digital Publishing Alliance at the Reynolds School of Journalism (Univ. Mo.-Columbia) found that more than twice as many mobile users prefer the mobile websites of new outlets compared to their apps.

News apps are still important, but “not a silver bullet” Mulder and Hopper observe.

“For all their success, the benefits of having an app (especially as an engine for capturing new audience) are starting to plateau. ...Research is showing that apps attract the particularly loyal segment of your audience who is already consuming a lot more news. ...But of course, stations want to reach a wider audience of casual users as well. And for this larger segment of casual users, mobile-optimized web pages are the preferred way to access your content.”

They offer three reasons why NPR stations (and probably any news outlet) should focus on enhancing their mobile web offerings and experience even if their apps appear successful:

  1. The mobile web is where the audience is. (They offer ample data to back this up.)
  2. The mobile web user experience has greatly improved in the last couple of years.
  3. Mobile web offerings are easier and less expensive to build.


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

August 23, 2012

What “mobile first” means to BreakingNews.com

Reaching mobile audiences takes thoughtful strategy and execution. Community and niche outlets, or any news startup, might take a page from how one national news curation site delivers mobile news.

BreakingNews.com focuses on curating in real time the top breaking news stories from around the world. The bare-bones website and mobile apps are intended for quick glances—but they have a strong presence in all of the most popular social media (especially @breakingnews on Twitter).

This week, in a blog post, general manager Cory Bergman observed: “While social media gets lots of the attention, the explosion in smartphones and tablets is reinventing the way we consume and interact with content.  We’ve seen it firsthand here at Breaking News: traffic from devices surpassed desktop traffic back in January, doubled it in June and the gap continues to grow.”

He shared these insights and lessons:

  1. “Mobile first” is a mindset. “The key is to start envisioning a product optimized for devices, and work backwards to the desktop web.”
  2. Aim to solve problems. “Leverage the unique form and features of devices to solve problems for people. For us, the stream is the story—which is a mobile-friendly form—with push alerts as a feature.”
  3. Your users can make or break your product. “Imagine a world where users had to click past comments from others about your website before they ever saw your home page. That’s how people discover and download mobile apps.”
  4. Live in the devices world. “How do you start thinking in devices?  Like anything, it helps to immerse yourself.”
  5. Dig into the metrics. “Breaking News’ mobile traffic jumps 15-20% on the weekends. By digging into your mobile metrics, you can learn about consumption patterns and the true momentum of your products.”
  6. Recalibrate goals around mobile. “Most newsrooms measure their digital performance in desktop and social metrics, but for a truly ‘mobile first’ approach, goals should reflect performance on devices.”
  7. Take advantage of mobile tools. “There’s a new crop of mobile companies offering useful tools for user tracking, search engine optimization, A/B testing, advertising optimization and more.”
  8. Experiment and fail (quickly). “Mobile-first companies often iterate on a mobile web version first, grafting the best features into subsequent app releases.”
  9. Recognize that mobile is hard and costly. “Your users have choices.  If your mobile products are slow, clunky and more focused on being ‘scalable’ than ‘delightful,’ you have an uphill battle.”