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December 21 2010


Tablet-only, mobile-first: News orgs native to new platforms coming soon

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Here are 10 predictions from Vadim Lavrusik, community manager and social strategist at Mashable. Mashable, where these predictions first appeared, covers the heck out of the world of social media and have an honored place in our iPhone app.

In many ways, 2010 was finally the year of mobile for news media, and especially so if you consider the iPad a mobile device. Many news organizations like The Washington Post and CNN included heavy social media integrations into their apps, opening the devices beyond news consumption.

In 2011, the focus on mobile will continue to grow with the launch of mobile- and iPad-only news products, but the greater focus for news media in 2011 will be on re-imagining its approach to the open social web. The focus will shift from searchable news to social and share-able news, as social media referrals close the gap on search traffic for more news organizations. In the coming year, news media’s focus will be affected by the personalization of news consumption and social media’s influence on journalism.

Leaks and journalism: a new kind of media entity

In 2010, we saw the rise of WikiLeaks through its many controversial leaks. With each leak, the organization learned and evolved its process in distributing sensitive classified information. In 2011, we’ll see several governments prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his role in disseminating classified documents and some charges will have varying successes. But even if WikiLeaks itself gets shut down, we’re going to see the rise of “leakification” in journalism, and more importantly we’ll see a number of new media entities, not just mirror sites, that will model themselves to serve whistle blowers — WikiLeaks copycats of sorts. Toward the end of this year, we already saw Openleaks, Brusselsleaks, and Tradeleaks. There will be many more, some of which will be focused on niche topics.

Just like with other media entities, there will be a new competitive market and some will distinguish themselves and rise above the rest. So how will success be measured? The scale of the leak, the organization’s ability to distribute it and its ability or inability to partner with media organizations. Perhaps some will distinguish themselves by creating better distribution platforms through their own sites by focusing on the technology and, of course, the analysis of the leaks. The entities will still rely on partnerships with established media to distribute and analyze the information, but it may very well change the relationship whistleblowers have had with media organizations until now.

More media mergers and acquisitions

At the tail end of 2010, we saw the acquisition of TechCrunch by AOL and the Newsweek merger with The Daily Beast. In some ways, these moves have been a validation in the value of new media companies and blogs that have built an audience and a business.

But as some established news companies’ traditional sources of revenue continue to decline, while new media companies grow, 2011 may bring more media mergers and acquisitions. The question isn’t if, but who? I think that just like this year, most will be surprises.

Tablet-only and mobile-first news companies

In 2010, as news consumption began to shift to mobile devices, we saw news organizations take mobile seriously. Aside from launching mobile apps across various mobile platforms, perhaps the most notable example is News Corp’s plan to launch The Daily, an iPad-only news organization that is set to launch early 2011. Each new edition will cost $0.99 to download, though Apple will take 30%. But that’s not the only hurdle, as the publication relies on an iPad-owning audience. There will have been 15.7 million tablets sold worldwide in 2010, and the iPad represents roughly 85% of that. However, that number is expected to more than double in 2011. Despite a business gamble, this positions news organizations like The Daily for growth, and with little competition, besides news organizations that repurpose their web content. We’ve also seen the launch of an iPad-only magazine with Virgin’s Project and of course the soon-to-launch News.me social news iPad application from Betaworks.

But it’s not just an iPad-only approach, and some would argue that the iPad isn’t actually mobile; it’s leisurely (yes, Mark Zuckerberg). In 2011, we’ll see more news media startups take a mobile-first approach to launching their companies. This sets them up to be competitive by distributing on a completely new platform, where users are more comfortable with making purchases. We’re going to see more news companies that reverse the typical model of website first and mobile second.

Location-based news consumption

In 2010, we saw the growth of location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla and SCVNGR. Even Facebook entered the location game by launching its Places product, and Google introduced HotPot, a recommendation engine for places and began testing it in Portland. The reality is that only 4% of online adults use such services on the go. My guess is that as the information users get on-the-go info from such services, they’ll becomes more valuable and these location-based platforms will attract more users.

Part of the missing piece is being able to easily get geo-tagged news content and information based on your GPS location. In 2011, with a continued shift toward mobile news consumption, we’re going to see news organizations implement location-based news features into their mobile apps. And of course if they do not, a startup will enter the market to create a solution to this problem or the likes of Foursquare or another company will begin to pull in geo-tagged content associated with locations as users check in.

Social vs. search

In 2010, we saw social media usage continue to surge globally. Facebook alone gets 25% of all U.S. pageviews and roughly 10% of Internet visits. Instead of focusing on search engine optimization (SEO), in 2011 we’ll see social media optimization become a priority at many news organizations, as they continue to see social close the gap on referrals to their sites.

Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics and news industry analyst at Outsell, recently pointed out that social networks have become the fastest growing source of traffic referrals for many news sites. For many, social sites like Facebook and Twitter only account for 10% to 15% of their overall referrals, but are number one in growth. For news startups, the results are even more heavy on social. And of course, the quality of these referrals is often better than readers who come from search. They generally yield more pageviews and represent a more loyal reader than the one-off visitors who stumble across the site from Google.

The death of the “foreign correspondent”

What we’ve known as the role of the foreign correspondent will largely cease to exist in 2011. As a result of business pressures and the roles the citizenry now play in using digital technology to share and distribute news abroad, the role of a foreign correspondent reporting from an overseas bureau “may no longer be central to how we learn about the world,” according to a recent study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of of Journalism. The light in the gloomy assessment is that there is opportunity in other parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where media is expanding as a result of “economic and policy stability,” according to the report. In 2011, we’ll see more news organizations relying heavily on stringers and, in many cases, social content uploaded by the citizenry.

The syndication standard and the ultimate curators

Syndication models will be disrupted in 2011. As Clay Shirky recently predicted, more news outlets will get out of the business of re-running the same story on their site that appeared elsewhere. Though this is generally true, the approach to syndication will vary based on the outlet. The reality is that the content market has become highly fragmented, and if content is king, then niche is certainly queen. Niche outlets, which were once curators of original content produced by established organizations, will focus more on producing original content. While established news brands, still under pressure to produce a massive amount of content despite reduced staff numbers, will become the ultimate curators. This means they will feature just as much content, but instead through syndication partners.

You already see this taking place on sites like CNN.com or NYTimes.com, both of whose technology sections feature headlines and syndicated content from niche technology publications. In this case, it won’t only be the reader demand for original content that drives niche publications to produce more original content, but also its relationship with established organizations that strive to uphold the quality of their content and the credibility of their brand. Though original content will be rewarded, specialized, niche publications could benefit the most from the disruption.

Social storytelling becomes reality

In 2010, we saw social content get weaved into storytelling, in some cases to tell the whole story and in other cases to contextualize news events with curation tools such as Storify. We also saw the rise of social news readers, such as Flipboard and Pulse mobile apps and others.

In 2011, we’ll not only see social curation as part of storytelling, but we’ll see social and technology companies getting involved in the content creation and curation business, helping to find the signal in the noise of information.

We’ve already heard that YouTube is in talks to buy a video production company, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for the likes of Twitter or Facebook to play a more pivotal role in harnessing its data to present relevant news and content to its users. What if Facebook had a news landing page of the trending news content that users are discussing? Or if Twitter filtered its content to bring you the most relevant and curated tweets around news events?

News organizations get smarter with social media

In 2010, news organizations began to take social media more seriously and we saw many news organizations hire editors to oversee social media. USA Today recently appointed a social media editor, while The New York Times dropped the title, and handed off the ropes to Aron Pilhofer’s interactive news team.

The Times’ move to restructure its social media strategy, by going from a centralized model to a decentralized one owned by multiple editors and content producers in the newsroom, shows us that news organizations are becoming more sophisticated and strategic with their approach to integrating social into the journalism process. In 2011, we’re going to see more news organizations decentralize their social media strategy from one person to multiple editors and journalists, which will create an integrated and more streamlined approach. It won’t just be one editor updating or managing a news organization’s process, but instead news organizations will work toward a model in which each journalist serves as his or her own community manager.

The rise of interactive TV

In 2010, many people were introduced to Internet TV for the first time, as buzz about the likes of Google TV, iTV, Boxee Box and others proliferated headlines across the web. In 2011, the accessibility to Internet TV will transform television as we know it in not only the way content is presented, but it will also disrupt the dominance traditional TV has had for years in capturing ad dollars.

Americans now spend as much time using the Internet as they do watching television, and the reality is that half are doing both at the same time. The problem of being able to have a conversation with others about a show you’re watching has existed for some time, and users have mostly reacted to the problem by hosting informal conversations via Facebook threads and Twitter hashtags. Companies like Twitter are recognizing the problem and finding ways to make the television experience interactive.

It’s not only the interaction, but the way we consume content. Internet TV will also create a transition for those used to consuming video content through TVs and bring them to the web. That doesn’t mean that flat screens are going away; instead, they will only become interconnected to the web and its many content offerings.

December 09 2010


Aron Pilhofer and Jennifer Preston on the new shape of social in The New York Times’ newsroom

In some ways, the most successful social media editor is an obsolete social media editor. The better you do your job — integrate social media into your newsroom, make it a seamless part of your organization’s workflow — the less you’re required to actually, you know, do your job.

By that measure, Jennifer Preston’s work as The New York Times’ first social media editor has been a resounding success — as evidenced by the fact that she will also likely be the outlet’s last social media editor. Earlier this week, the paper announced that it’s scrapping its SM editor role, instead folding responsibility for the Times’ social media oversight into the paper’s Interactive News division, under the leadership of Interactive News Editor Aron Pilhofer.

Pilhofer’s team is composed of developers who are at the vanguard of the journo-hacker movement (we wrote a bit about their intriguing backgrounds this summer), and they’ve already had a big hand in developing some of the Times’ most notable forays into social media: creative commenting systems like Health Care Conversations (which uses what the team internally calls a “bento box” structure to visualize commentary); crowdsourcing efforts like Survival Strategies, which asked for readers’ approaches to coping with the recessed economy; and other efforts. The move into social, in fact, isn’t a move at all. As Pilhofer notes, “It’s really more of an expansion of something that we’re already deeply involved in.”

That expansion has been met with general approval from the Twittersphere and elsewhere: The idea of diffusing the responsibility for social media, shifting it from one person to a team and a newsroom, makes eminent sense. And Preston, for her part — who will continue in the Times’ long tradition of editors-returning-to-reporting, helping to cover, fittingly, the social media beat — likes what the shift to Interactive means for the Times’ future. “That’s where social media belongs, and that’s the direction we have been taking it,” she told me. “And I am thrilled — I am just so delighted — that social media is now going to sit in Aron Pilhofer’s group.”

Evolving toward obsolescence

The shift marks something of a victory for social media at the paper of record — and the news organization where some of the most exciting interplays between tradition and technology are being developed. Social media, at the Times as everywhere else, has undergone an evolution — something that’s been in the works long before Preston took the social media editor role. “The New York Times had a very robust presence in the social media space before I took on that role,” she notes; for the past year and a half, Preston has been not only overseeing the paper’s efforts when it comes to social media, but also playing a get-the-word out role within the Times’ newsroom itself.

One of her great successes in that respect has actually been a quiet one: She has, in a way, normalized the newsroom’s relationship with social media, taking it from a somewhat controversial presence — that newfangled tool of the Twitters — into something now generally accepted as part of the new way of doing journalism. “When I took on the role of social media editor last summer, my primary responsibility was to be an evangelist among our journalists,” Preston told me.

Increasingly, though, that role is becoming obsolete: “Our journalists get it,” she says. “Which has just been so exciting.”

Now, under Pilhofer, social media’s presence will be even more widely distributed throughout the newsroom — and, thus, even more finely integrated within it. “A lot of people, I think, think of engagement as just comments,” Preston notes. “And we have to do such a better job in that area, which everyone is aware of, and we’re really focused on making improvements there. But there’s so many other ways that you can engage people and use social to help drive that.”

In taking over Preston’s general social media responsibilities, Pilhofer told me, he’ll still be playing a training role, introducing Times journalists to new tools for social engagement — Twitter, Facebook, whatever’s next. “We are now at a point when we can start pushing these ideas, and these tools, and responsibilities, and getting this out into the newsroom to continue what Jennifer was doing so effectively for so long.” Pilhofer agrees with Preston, though: It won’t be about evangelism. In fact, “I’m always looking for other words besides ‘evangelizing,’” he notes. “I don’t like it because [social media] is not faith-based. There are very clear, very demonstrable, empirical data we can point to, if that’s what it comes to, to convince somebody that this is worth taking very, very seriously and building into your reporting process. We can show you that. You don’t have to take our word for it.”

And the job of trainer/advocate, going forward, will be distributed. “I think, to some degree, we’re going to be relying on folks who have — to continue the metaphor — ‘gotten the religion’ to continue that,” Pilhofer says. “And one of those people, obviously, is going to be Jen.”

“A seamless mix”

Another aspect of social media’s diffusion into the newsroom will be a broad definition of what “social media” means in the first place. “When this first came up, I was very clear that I wanted to think about all things social — not just a handful of websites that we now talk about,” Pilhofer says. Social media, he points out, “is the entire conversation: It is anywhere readers are talking about us, talking with us, talking with one another, talking about issues that are important — things we’re covering — whether that occurs on NYTimes.com or off. To me, that’s a continuum of things. It’s not just one thing.”

Included in that is an idea that’s especially exciting for future-of-newsies: social-media-as-reporting-tool. “Social media,” as Pilhofer construes the term, includes “a lot of really, really cool new tools that are coming online to help more effectively filter the flow of information — and home in on those interesting tidbits that could turn into great stories.” (Preston echoes that: “I think it’s a mistake just to think of Facebook as a platform just to push out — as a distribution tool. I think it’s just a real opportunity for news organizations to use it to seed communities around your content,” she notes.) And — Pilhofer again — “helping reporters do that, I think, will be very much a part of our responsibility.”

Pilhofer’s team is used to working with text reporters, web producers, business side-ers, and other members of the Times’ organization to accomplish its goals. Interactivity, increasingly, touches every corner of the building. And the entire group of journo-hackers will be involved in making the interpersonal connections within the newsroom that, hopefully, will translate to interpersonal connections in the world beyond its walls. “In effect,” Pilhofer notes, “the responsibilities are coming under the team, and into the team.” The community-building strategies and the technological strategies, currently somewhat separate, are going to be folded into Interactive News. The vision? “A seamless mix of technologists working with journalists to accomplish those kinds of goals. That’ll happen inside the group, but it’ll happen outside the group, as well.”

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