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July 07 2010

20:30

Attention nonprofits: Young adults love texting donations

This afternoon the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a study on Americans’ mobile device and wireless habits. The full report has many interesting figures, but I’m going to zoom in on just one portion that signals an important trend for nonprofit journalism.

Pew asked survey participants whether they had ever made a charitable contribution via text message. A surprising 10 percent of all cell phone users have. When you look at young people, it gets even more interesting: 19 percent of 18 to 29 year olds have made a charitable donation via text. Other age groups text donations considerably less: 10 percent of 30 to 49 year olds, 8 percent of 50 to 64 year olds, and 4 percent of 65 and up.

I emailed with Peter Panepento, the web editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, to put the 19-percent figure in perspective. Surprisingly, he says 26 percent of people in their twenties have mailed in a donation in the last two years. (Who knew 20-somethings were so generous! And so likely to use the mail!) “What’s startling about that number [the 19 percent] is the fact that it is catching up with other forms of giving so quickly,” Panepento wrote. “Giving through mobile phones is still in its infancy and only a small percentage of charities even have the ability to set up mobile-giving programs. These programs are still too expensive for most groups, whereas direct mail and checkout-counter-style giving is a huge part of how most nonprofit groups raise money.”

The survey also showed differences among demographic groups in donation texting. Of cell phone users of all ages, 23 percent of English-speaking Latinos have sent a charitable text, 16 percent of African Americans and 7 percent of whites. Pew has previously found similar racial differences among mobile news consumers.

Here’s the question for journalism: Can nonprofit news groups figure out a way to cash in on the potential of mobile fundraising, particularly when the next generation of donors clearly like giving via their cell phones? Earlier today we an item about a new iPhone app for Boston NPR station WBUR, which is inching public radio closer to mobile giving. This growth is the reason Apple’s ban on in-app donations matters: WBUR was forced to come up with a series of workarounds that complicate the process. Those aren’t quite the same as, say, texting the word “HAITI” to give ten bucks to the Red Cross.

Photo by Paul Hart used under a Creative Commons license.

14:00

WBUR app inches public radio toward mobile fundraising

Apple just approved a local public radio iPhone app, now in the iTunes store, that promises to deliver “localism, journalism, participation and monetation” — goals set out by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in backing its development.

The app, from Boston station WBUR, is a test of sorts. It was built by PRX, creator of (among others) the popular This American Life app, with a grant from the CPB. The hope is that the app leverages the strengths of a local station and entices other stations to pick it up.

“PRX plans to offer the resulting code under an open source license to enable other local stations to develop additional apps, and encourage a developer community to help improve and extend the app for subsequent versions,” Jake Shapiro said in a blog post when the plan was announced. Shapiro told me in an email that at the moment the code belongs to WBUR and PRX, but they’re working with the Berkman Center on hashing out licensing issues.

Content and engagement aside, mobile offers another potential benefit for public radio: fundraising. Imagine being able to click “Pledge $60 Now” on your phone and then being able to sit out the rest of the pledge drive. But unfortunately for nonprofit journalism, Apple bars apps from letting users donate directly within the app. PRX worked around that issue by using pledge buttons that call WBUR (it is a phone, remember) or send you an email reminding you to donate online through your web browser.

Shapiro wrote about the issue here for Ars Technica, after the This American Life app ran into a similar problem. Apple claims it’s a liability issue for them: They don’t want to be held responsible for scammers pretending to be legit nonprofits, even if it’s an organization like NPR developing the app. (Shapiro calls that a cop-out.) The workaround Shapiro came up with isn’t ideal — who wants to read a credit card number over the phone instead of just pressing one button? — but it’s still a step toward mobile contributions. John Davidow, WBUR.org’s executive editor, shrugged off the issue: “We didn’t think of it as a problem.”

There’s also an alarm clock function that will play WBUR to wake you up, an idea submitted by a listener. And if you’re a WBUR member, the member discount card is taken to a new level with a location-based feature that shows you businesses nearby that will give you a discount. (Nice.) On the content side, the app lets you listen to show archives alongside the usual live streaming. Davidow said he wanted the app to also increase engagement with the audience: The app makes it easy for users to send in a photo or a news tip, for instance. “Mobile is a fantastic platform for radio,” Davidow told me. “It’s built for it.”

July 06 2010

17:00

Boston NPR affiliate WBUR celebrates its first year of running a news site, experiment with API

Boston’s NPR news station WBUR relaunched its website last July — drastically changing the site from what amounted to a brochure for the station’s radio shows to an active news publication in its own right. The results: Traffic doubled and the site is now being looked at as a model for other NPR stations.

The core of the revamp was aggressively tapping into the resources of NPR. The network’s content API allows WBUR to efficiently pull in NPR’s national and international stories in both text and audio format. Before the API, if a station wanted to provide users with NPR content, links took users away from the station’s site and to NPR’s.

“The secret sauce is we figured out in a very effective way to leverage NPR’s API,” John Davidow, executive editor of WBUR.org told me. The goal was to mimic what WBUR does on the radio, combining its own local content with NPR’s. (WBUR won the Edward R. Murrow Award for “Overall National Excellence” last month.) In an hour of public radio, the first six to eight minutes is the need-to-know news, followed by 52 to 58 minutes of analysis, content and in depth reporting, Davidow said: “What we were wanting do, and the API made it possible, was for us to whiteboard our online news approach with NPR content.” (You can see more about the back end of the redesign in this PowerPoint.)

Has the rest of the NPR family caught on to the secret sauce? I spoke with NPR’s director of application development Daniel Jacobson, who said that about half a dozen medium-to-large member stations have contacted him recently about using the API. A “common theme” on the calls has been a desire to reach out to WBUR for guidance. A number of public radio outlets have recently incorporated the API as well, like KQED and Minnesota Public Radio. Jacobson says NPR hasn’t tracked how many stations are using the API, but they know about 1 billion stories are being delivered through it every month. Those stories are consumed across platforms, from NPR’s own site to mobile applications and member station sites.

I asked Jacobson whether there was any concern that the API, by spreading NPR’s content around, could ultimately cause a drop in traffic on NPR’s own site. “All we’ve seen on our site is growth,” he said. “If WBUR is cannibalizing our traffic, we haven’t been able to detect it.” And even if it were, he says, that might not be a problem: NPR’s goal is to support the member stations.

The API is the centerpiece of NPR’s digital strategy. It’s what allows NPR to expand its mobile capacity, and it will play a part in the much anticipated Project Argo later this year. Separately, another API program aims to unite public radio and public television content into a common platform.

Beyond the API, WBUR’s relaunch also required changes in workflows and staff responsibilities. Radio reporters now create web versions of their on-air work, and they’re responsible for gathering media (like photos and video) that had no role in a pre-web radio world. News doesn’t have to be broken first on the radio: “We put up the news [on the site] as fast as we can get the news,” Davidow said. “We’re so used to the old days, which is, something went on the radio, it went out to Venus and that was the end of it. It was very hard to archive, to find. Now, the hard work that our newsroom does, it’s there now. There’s a perpetual use to it, there’s a shelf life.”

WBUR’s rebirth online comes at an interesting time for news in Boston. On the radio dial, WGBH — Boston’s other NPR affiliate — switched away from its classical music format to compete directly with WBUR and is building collaborations with its popular PBS affiliate. The Boston Globe is not far removed from its own near-death experience, and rumors keep swirling about paywalls at both of Boston’s daily newspapers. If Boston.com were to become anything other than free, there’d be a free, high-quality alternative at WBUR. “We have no intention of charging for our content,” Davidow told me. However, he emphasized that WBUR is interested in collaboration and community with other news organizations: “It’s a long way of saying we’re not looking to compete with The Boston Globe.”

Photo by Theresa Thompson used under a creative commons license

March 15 2010

09:53

TheBusinessDesk expands with iPhone app for regional business news

Regional business news network TheBusinessDesk.com has launched a free-to-download iPhone app.

The smartphone application will complement the network’s three websites, which cover the north west, Yorkshire and West Midlands. To use the app, readers will have to be registered on one of the three sites.

“Having built up more than 35,000 registered users across our sites, it is important that we continue to innovate and make it as easy as possible for our users to access up to the minute regional news whether in the office or out and about,” says Chris Barry, north west editor of TheBusinessDesk.com, in a story on the site (registration required).

Launches for Blackberry handsets and other mobile apps are planned.

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January 15 2010

14:53

Wired stands by story after Guardian denies iPhone app paywall plans

If, like me, you’re a regular reader of The Guardian’s media coverage, or you listen to their Media Talk podcast, you might have been surprised to have read the following in the February 2010 UK edition of Wired:

The Guardian… hopes users of it’s £2.39 (iPhone) app will pay extra for privileged access to in-demand columnists. (p.89)

This seems to fly in the face of what I know about The Guardian’s digital strategy. The Guardian have always seemed to be staunch opponents of paywalls, and Emily Bell, Director of Digital Content at Guardian News & Media, always seems to me to take a particularly strong line that she doesn’t want to charge for online content. I asked her to comment on Wired’s claim. “I’m not sure where the ‘columnists’ assumption comes from, not us, that’s for sure. Bit off beam” she told me on Twitter (incidentally the ‘columnists’ in question include David Rowan, Wired’s Editor, who co-wrote the piece).

So, order is restored to my universe: The Guardian is still the bastion of free online content, creatively looking for another way to make digital pay. But wait, what’s this? Wired have weighed back in, with this tweet:

@jonhickman @emilybell Came from a senior Guardian exec who demonstrated the app in person, actually

So, are The Guardian really thinking about paywalls? Was this loose talk? Has there been a misunderstanding? Is someone fibbing?

I don’t know, but I think it matters. The Guardian’s online brand seems to be about free: free data, free access, free comment. If there’s a grain of truth in Wired’s claim, what does it tell us about the future of online access?

December 14 2009

08:58
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