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July 28 2011

16:30

Why The Atlantic joined up with Pulse — and what the app’s usage stats can tell data-hungry publishers

Let’s face some facts: Media companies aren’t entirely sure what to do with the new crop of news reading apps that are springing up at the moment. Technology like Flipboard, Zite, or Pulse could either be a thief, a new revenue stream, or an inexpensive test bed for finding new ways to get your content in front of people. For the moment, these deals, if they are drawn up between a publisher and an app maker, typically get thrown into the category of “partnerships,” like the kind of reading app Pulse has been brokering with media companies like CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Time, and MSNBC.

Just last week Pulse struck a new partnership agreement, adding The Atlantic, The Atlantic Wire, and The National Journal to its list of featured content providers. So far, the deals between Pulse and news organizations haven’t been monetary; if anything, they’re more exploratory in nature, determining whether a third party can deliver substantial traffic to news sites (and eyes to their ads). But it can also be instructive on how audiences’ appetites for reading has changed, and give us an idea why places like The Atlantic want in with Pulse.

M. Scott Havens, vice president of digital strategy and operations for The Atlantic, told me the new wave of display apps are offering experiments in how the reading experience has changed, which is of no small interest to publishers. “Hopefully people will find us, discover us on Pulse, and might actually become a subscriber to our brands,” Havens said. The Atlantic can reach new audiences while also studying how users read, Havens said.

Essentially it’s a win-win for the moment: “Since we don’t spend money on advertising and let the editorial be our branding arm, we’d like to get out to these applications where other readers are, who aren’t familiar with our brand,” he said.

This all works perfectly for Pulse, says Akshay Kothari, the company’s CEO, because their broad goal at the moment is gathering more content to spotlight within the app and developing fruitful relationships with publishers. One of the critical bits of information Pulse holds is data on usage patterns for readers within the app, both on the iPad and iPhone.

Though Kothari would not offer up specific data, he told me one clear trend is the difference in the reading patterns on the iPhone vs. the iPad. On any given week, Pulse users on smartphones open the app twice as often as people on the tablet version. But all told, tablet users spend more time on Pulse, and their sessions are twice as long as those of iPhone users. What’s also interesting is that in some cases one platform feeds into another: “If you look at usage patterns, [users] will come in small bursts to look at news, and if they like it — long-form articles or something from The Economist — they’ll save them and read them on other devices,” he said.

So in a typical day a Pulse reader may drop in more than 3 times to check the news, but only spend 5-10 minutes scanning, Kothari said. From what they’re seeing, a good chunk of Pulse’s audience falls somewhere into this category of heavy-ish users who subscribe to multiple sources, as opposed to those who scan stories and headlines on Pulse with less frequency.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Pulse tracks with patterns we’ve been seeing emerge in the ways people read on new devices. In terms of the iPad, Pulse seems to mirror similar evidence we’ve seen suggesting that people look for a comfy spot to do serious reading on their tablets. “The consumption pattern on the tablet is slightly different, spending longer time,” Kothari said. “The use-case is kind of like sitting in home, maybe lounging with the iPad and consuming lots of time and news stories.”

Another trend they saw was an increase in delayed reading. Not long after launching, it became clear readers were using Pulse to dip into and out of the day’s news and emailing stories to themselves. “We realized that a good majority of people want something to save (stories) and go back to it later, simple functionality to save from Pulse and synch with other devices,” he said. (They’ve since added Instapaper and Read It Later buttons.)

Pulse uses all this information in refining its product, adding features when necessary and responding to feedback from users. But it’s clear that this is also intel that could be of interest to news organizations trying to reconcile their digital media plans with those of third-party app companies. As part of the partnership, news organizations will get their hands on data from Pulse on how many users subscribe to their content, as well as social sharing stats and click-through rates, Kothari said.

Pulse can be an app for news discovery as much as presentation, meaning it can be a gateway for introducing people to news sources they would otherwise not know. Which is one of the reasons they’re eager to buddy-up with media companies like The Atlantic, Kothari said. One of the things they learned early was that there’s no predicting what readers will find interesting. Of all the pre-loaded news sources they had at launch, which included RSS feeds from mainstream organizations, one that was apparently most interesting to readers was from Cool Hunting, the design and culture blog. One of Pulse’s goals going forward, Kothari said, is to create an opportunity for a “Cool Hunting moment” for more publishers.

“We’re very, very excited to work on this,” he said. “The team assembled are all great developers and designers, but also people who want to see great journalism survive.”

July 03 2011

20:39

June 16 2011

07:13

"Flash Mob on South Street" - video games or how to connect kids with news

Niemanlab ::  "Flash Mob on South Street" : Students ranging in age from 9 to 11 years old spent time learning more about these flash mobs, and with the help of their teacher, John Landis, they created video games to tell this story in a way and through a medium that kids can relate to. Youngsters made video games, and educators found that "hands-on activity helped kids to process news reporting. It also gave them ways to tell this story by integrating their perspectives as they aimed it at fresh audiences."

How to connect kids with news - continue to read Renee Hobbs, www.nieman.harvard.edu

February 24 2011

17:00

Professor Pablo Boczkowski on news consumption — and how when you read affects what you read

We wrote in September about Pablo Boczkowski’s new book, News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Newsroom Abundance. During a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School, the Northwestern communications professor discussed the effects of imitation in the news space, highlighting a troubling paradox: Though we live in a time of abundant information, we also live in a time of homogenization. Repetition is everywhere.

It’s an intriguing phenomenon, but it’s not the only one in Boczkowski is studying. Another fascinating aspect of the professor’s research — the aspect, in fact, for which the book is named — is the study he conducted of the environments in which people consume their news. People tend to read the news at work; and that, in turn, skews the news content they consume. (For more on that idea — and for the broader trends it suggests about information consumption and civic life — check out the talk Boczkowski will be giving this evening, with the Lab’s own Josh Benton, as part of MIT’s Communications Forum. If you’re in the Cambridge area, the discussion will take place from 5 to 7 on the MIT campus; it’ll also be recorded and archived.)

When it comes to news, how does where we consume affect what what we consume? Above is a video, shot back in 2009 by former Lab-er Ted Delaney, of Boczkowski discussing the “news at work” ideas and implications; below is its transcript.


…is that the time and place of work has become a very important temporal and spacial location of online news consumption for a fairly large number of people who get the news online. Whereas in the case of traditional media — like print newspapers, television newscasts, radio newscasts — you would get the news before or after work, or going to and from work, but not at the time and place of work. Now, a sizable proportion of the people who get the news online get the news at work. And that has been changing how we get the news, what kind of news we get when we’re at work, and whom we talk to — the person, the people we talk to — when we talk to people about the news at work.

So, for instance, just to give you some examples, when people are at work, they tend to spend first some time, the first time that they visit the news sites during the day, or a number of news sites during the day, they tend to spend time looking at those sites in a routine, comprehensive fashion: They scan the home pages, they click on some stories, and so on and so forth. And then any subsequent visits after that are of much shorter duration, more focused on particular issues. Usually not clicking after that, just browsing on the homepage, looking at a particular story. A coworker said, “Oh, there is a big fire in this neighborhood; oh, have you looked at these poll results from that kind of competition.” People go online, check 15, 20 seconds, maybe a minute — maybe they will look at the first paragraph of the story, then they leave the site.

And the other thing that has happened is that because of the social norms of the workplace, usually it’s not well seen to have conversations with coworkers about politically, for instance, sensitive, or culturally sensitive or contentious issues. And because the people we talk to tend to influence the kinds of news that we get — sometimes to the point that we look at particular news stories because we anticipate having conversations about those stories with, in this case, the people with whom we work.

That tends to steer people away from the consumption of politically sensitive topics, and move them towards consumption of sports stories, stories celebrity stories — topics that are more innocuous, and lighter in terms of workplace conversations. And that also marks an interesting shift to people who for example work in a home environment, in a home office, versus the people who work in an office environment, with many other coworkers. The people who tend to work in an office environment, with other coworkers, and get the news online at work, tend to identify the consumption of online news with the workplace. So when they leave the office, right, because there is that symbolic association between the consumption of news and the workplace, they don’t want, when they’re at home, or it’s the weekend, they don’t want to get the news online. They’re less predisposed, because, at home, it’s not work, so they shouldn’t be doing work-related stuff. Versus the people who work in the home environment, they keep checking news sites after they finish working, right — or, at least, they have a higher chance of doing that — and also spending time looking at news during the weekend.

So these are some of the ways in which the consumption of online news at work has changed some of the habitualized, some of the routine patterns of news consumption that we have seen in traditional media. Sometimes major changes, sometimes intensifying pre-existing habits, and sometimes conforming to what we have known before. For instance, this issue that the people we talk to, the most proximate social relations, are a major factor in shaping what news we get and the kinds of things we talk about.

September 17 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: J-schools as R&D labs, a big news consumption shift, and what becomes of RSS

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Entrepreneurship and old-school skills in j-school: We found out in February that New York University and the New York Times would be collaborating on a news site focused on Manhattan’s East Village, and this week the site went live. Journalism.co.uk has some of the details of the project: Most of its content will be produced by NYU students in a hyperlocal journalism class, though their goal is to have half of it eventually produced by community members. NYU professor Jay Rosen, an adviser on the project, got into a few more of the site’s particulars, describing its Virtual Assignment Desk, which allows local residents to pitch stories via a new WordPress editing plugin.

Rosen’s caution that “it is going to take a while for The Local East Village to find any kind of stride” notwithstanding, the site got a few early reviews. The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer started by calling the site the Times’ “hyperlocal slave labor experiment” and concluded by officially “declaring war” on it. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, on the other hand, was encouraged by NYU’s effort to give students serious entrepreneurial skills, as opposed to just churning out “typists and videographers.”

NYU’s project was part of the discussion about the role of journalism schools this week, though. PBS’ MediaShift wrapped up an 11-post series on j-school, which included an interview with Rosen about the journalism as R&D lab and a post comparing and contrasting the tacks being taken by NYU, Jeff Jarvis’ program at the City University of New York and Columbia University. (Unlike the other two, Columbia is taking a decidedly research-oriented route.) Meanwhile, Tony Rogers, a Philadelphia-area j-prof, wrote two articles (one of them a couple of weeks ago) at About.com quoting several professors wondering whether journalism schools have moved too far toward technological skills at the expense of meat-and-potatoes journalism skills.

They weren’t the only ones: Both Teresa Schmedding of the American Copy Editors Society and Iowa State j-school director Michael Bugeja also criticized what they called a move away from the core of journalism in the country’s j-schools. “I expect to teach new hires InDesign, Quark or Twitter, MySpace, FB and how to use whatever the app of the week is, but I don’t expect to teach you what who, what, where, when, why and how means,” Schmedding wrote. TBD’s Steve Buttry countered those arguments with a post asserting that journalists need to know more about disruptive technology and what it’s doing to their future industry. “Far too many journalists and journalism school graduates know next to nothing about the business of journalism and that status quo is indefensible,” said Buttry.

A turning point in news consumption: Like most every Pew survey, the biennial study released this week by the Pew Center for the People & the Press is a veritable cornucopia of information on how people are consuming news. Tom Rosenstiel of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has some fascinating musings of the study’s headline finding: People aren’t necessarily ditching old platforms for news, but are augmenting them with new uses of emerging technology. Rosenstiel sees this as a turning point in news consumption, brought about by more tech-savvy news orgs, faster Internet connections, and increasing new media literacy. Several others — Mathew Ingram of GigaOM, Joe Pompeo of Business Insider, Chas Edwards of Digg — agreed that this development is a welcome one.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and paidContent’s Staci Kramer have quick summaries of the study’s key statistics, and DailyFinance’s Jeff Bercovici pointed out one particularly portentous milestone: For the first time, the web has eclipsed newspapers as a news source. (But, as Collective Talent noted, we still love our TV news.) Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman took a closer look at news consumption via social media, and j-prof W. Joseph Campbell examined the other side of the coin — the people who are going without news.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project also released an interesting study this week looking at “apps culture,” which essentially didn’t exist two years ago. Beyond the Book interviewed the project’s director, Lee Rainie, about the study, and the Lab gave us five applications for news orgs from the study: Turns out news apps are popular, people will pay for apps, and they consume apps in small doses.

Did social media kill RSS and press releases?: Ask.com announced last Friday that it would shut down Bloglines, the RSS reader it bought in 2005, citing a slowdown in RSS usage as Twitter and Facebook increase their domination of real-time information flow. “The writing is on the wall,” wrote Ask’s president, Doug Leeds. PaidContent’s Joseph Tarkatoff used the news as a peg for the assertion that the RSS reader is dead, noting that traffic is down for Bloglines and Google Reader, and that Google Reader, the web’s most popular RSS reader, is being positioned as more of a social sharing site.

Tech writer Jeff Nolan agreed, arguing that RSS has value as a back-end application but not as a primary news-consumption tool: “RSS has diminishing importance because of what it doesn’t enable for the people who create content… any monetization of content, brand control, traffic funneling, and audience acquisition,” he wrote. Business Insider Henry Blodget joined in declaring RSS readers toast, blaming Twitter and Facebook for their demise. Numerous people jumped in to defend RSS, led by Dave Winer, who helped invent the tool about a decade ago. Winer argued that RSS “forms the pipes through which news flows” and suggested reinventing the technology as a real-time feed with a centralized, non-commercial subscription service.

Tech writer Robert Scoble responded that while the RSS technology might be central to the web, RSS reading behavior is dying. The future is in Twitter and Facebook, he said. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and media consultant Terry Heaton also defended RSS, with Ingram articulating its place alongside Twitter’s real-time flow and Heaton arguing that media companies just need to realize its value as its utility spreads across the web.

RSS wasn’t the only media element declared dead this week; Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco also announced the expiration of the press release, replaced by the “real-time spin of Facebook and Twitter. PR blogger Jeremy Pepper and j-prof Kathy Gill pushed back with cases for the press release’s continued use.

Twitter’s media-company move: Lots of interesting social media stuff this week; I’ll start with Twitter. The company began rolling out its new main-page design, which gives it a lot of the functions that its independently developed clients have. Twitter execs said the move indicated Twitter’s status as a more consumptive platform, where the bulk of the value comes from reading, rather than writing — something All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka tagged as a fundamental shift for the company: “Twitter is a media company: It gives you cool stuff to look at, you pay attention to what it shows you, and it rents out some of your attention to advertisers.”

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and venture capitalist David Pakman agreed, with Pakman noting that while Google, Facebook and Twitter all operate platform, users deal overwhelmingly with the company itself — something that’s very valuable for advertisers. The Lab’s Megan Garber also wrote a smart post on the effect of Twitter’s makeover on journalism and information. The new Twitter, Garber writes, moves tweets closer to news articles and inches its own status from news platform closer to a broadcast news platform. Ex-Twitter employee Alex Payne and Ingram (who must have had a busy week) took the opportunity to argue that Twitter as a platform needs to decentralize.

On to Facebook: The New Yorker released a lengthy profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and while not everyone was crazy about it (The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal thought it was boring and unrevealing), it gave the opportunity for one of the people quoted in it — Expert Labs director Anil Dash — to deliver his own thoughtful take on the whole Facebook/privacy debate. Dash isn’t that interested in privacy; what he is worried about is “this company advocating for a pretty radical social change to be inflicted on half a billion people without those people’s engagement, and often, effectively, without their consent.”

Elsewhere around social media and news: Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik wrote a fantastic overview of what news organizations are beginning to do with social media, and we got closer looks at PBS NewsHour, DCist and TBD in particular.

Reading roundup: Plenty of stuff worth reading this week. Let’s get to it.

— Last week’s discussion on online traffic and metrics spilled over into this week, as the Lab’s Nikki Usher and C.W. Anderson discussed the effects of journalists’ use of web metrics and the American Journalism Review’s Paul Farhi looked at the same issue (from a more skeptical perspective). The Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman had the read of the week on the topic (or any topic, really), talking about what the constant churn of news in search of new eyeballs is doing to journalism. All of these pieces are really worth your time.

— The San Jose Mercury News reported that Apple is developing a plan for newspaper subscriptions through its App Store that would allow the company to take a 30 percent cut of all the newspaper subscriptions it sells and 40 percent of their advertising revenue. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum was skeptical of the report, but Ken Doctor had nine good questions on the issue while we find out whether there’s anything to it.

— Another British Rupert Murdoch paper, News of the World, is going behind a paywall in October. PaidContent was skeptical, but Paul Bradshaw said it’ll do better than Murdoch’s other newly paywalled British paper, The Times.

— The Atlantic published a very cool excerpt from a book on video games as journalism by three Georgia Tech academics. I’m guessing you’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the next couple of years.

— Rafat Ali, who founded paidContent gave a kind of depressing interview to Poynter on his exit from the news-about-the-news industry. “I think there’s just too much talk about it, and to some extent it is just an echo chamber, people talking to each other. There’s more talk about the talk than actual action.” Well, shoot, I’d better find a different hobby. (Seriously, though, he’s right — demos, not memos.)

— Finally, a wonderful web literacy tool from Scott Rosenberg: A step-by-step guide to gauge the credibility of anything on the web. Read it, save it, use it.

September 14 2010

12:18

Americans spending more time consuming news, research suggests

A report carried out every two years by the Pew Research Center suggests Americans are spending more time consuming news now than 10 years ago.

The research, released this week, found that rather than replacing traditional media with digital platforms, consumers spend an additional 13 minutes daily getting news online as well as 57 minutes on average getting news from traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers. In the year 2000 the survey reported a total of 59 minutes was spent by audiences consuming news, with no time reportedly spent consuming news online by respondents until 2004.

According to the report, this is one of the highest totals measured since the mid-1990s, which does not take into account time spent getting news from mobile phones or other digital devices. Only eight per cent of respondents get their news from their mobile.

The news consumption survey recorded the responses from more than 3000 adults from 8 to 28 of June. Other findings include an increase in ‘news-grazers’ who consume the news on a less regular basis from 40 per cent in 2006 to 57 per cent in 2010. The survey also found an increase in the use of search engines for news gathering, rising to 33 per cent from 19 per cent in 2008.

See the report in full here..Similar Posts:



February 04 2010

17:00

Is online news just ramen noodles? What media economics research can teach us about valuing paid content

The New York Times’ announcement that it would be charging for some access to its website, starting in 2011, rekindled yet another round of debate about paywalls for online news. Beyond the practical question (will it work?) or the theoretical one (what does this mean for the Times’ notion of the “public”?), there remains another question to be untangled here — perhaps one more relevant to the smaller papers who might be thinking of following the Times’ example:

What is the underlying economic value of online news, anyway?

Media economist Iris Chyi [see disclosure below] has a few ideas about this problem. An assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, she has been researching the paid-vs.-free, print-vs.-online conundrum since the late ’90s. Her research has consistently found that even while online news use continues growing, its preference lags behind that of traditional media. In other words: Even as audiences transition from TV/print news consumption to the web, they still like the traditional formats better for getting news, all other things being equal.

Now, this seemingly makes no sense: How could a format as clunky, messy and old-school as print “beat” such a faster, richer and more interactive medium on likability?

Chyi believes she found the answer in the economic principle of “inferior goods.” The idea is simple: When income increases, consumers buy more “normal goods” (think: steak) and fewer “inferior goods” (think: ramen noodles). When income goes down, the opposite occurs (again, all things being equal in economics terms). Inferiority, in this case, isn’t so much a statement of actual quality as it is of consumer perception and demand. If we get richer, our desires for steak go up and our desires for ramen go down.

What does this mean for journalism? “Users perceive online news in similar ways — online news fulfills certain needs but is not perceived as desirable as print newspapers,” Chyi said.

She and co-author Mengchieh Jacie Yang make this point through an analysis of data on news consumption gathered from a random sample of U.S. adults; their findings are published in the latest issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal for AEJMC. (See the related news release, overall highlights, and the full-text PDF). Chyi and Yang summarize their key findings as follows:

This analysis, based on data collected by the Pew Research Center in 2004, identified a negative relationship between income and online news consumption: When income increases, online news use decreases; when income decreases, online news use increases, other things (demographics, news interest, and/or other news media use) being equal — suggesting that online news is an inferior good among users. In contrast, the print newspaper is a normal good.

Such findings, at first glance, may surprise media scholars as well as online news professionals. After all, in communication research, no news products have been labeled as inferior goods before. In addition, major U.S. media companies have invested heavily in their online ventures, offering an array of interactive features and multimedia content — most of which are unattainable by print newspapers. It is therefore difficult to understand why online news could be an inferior good. Yet, from an economic perspective, “goods are what are thought of as goods.” Any product’s economic nature is determined by consumer perception and response. Based on this particular data set, which consists of survey responses collected from a national sample of online news users by a major polling institution in 2004, online news is an inferior good among users.

Clearly, the use of 2004 data is a limiting factor here (although the authors explain why more recent Pew surveys couldn’t be used for this kind of question). Yet, if we accept these findings, we’re left to unravel two mysteries: Why is online news perceived as an inferior good in the first place? And what should that mean for the future of web journalism?

On the first question, there are at least several possibilities, as Chyi suggests. Maybe the computer screen just isn’t an enjoyable reading device. (And how might that compare with smartphones and e-readers?) Or maybe online newspapers still have content/design problems — think of all the ads for teeth whitening and tummy tightening, not to mention the general lack of contextual cues afforded by print. Or maybe it’s simply because online news is free — and, as behavioral economics research has indicated, sometimes consumers perceive higher-price products as more enjoyable. In any case, as Chyi puts its: “More research, as opposed to guesswork or wishful thinking, on the perception of news products is essential.”

Then there’s the second question: What does this suggest about the future of online news? Perhaps nothing too dire, as people still do pay for ramen noodles when it suits them — when the price, convenience, or alternatives make ramen noodles the preferred choice. This isn’t to suggest that consumers invariably will pay for online news, but rather that they might if the perception calculation is right.

The key here is to recognize that consumers are rapidly adopting online news not necessarily because they prefer the medium to print, but because online news is “good enough” — cheap, convenient, flexible, and sufficient to satiate our information cravings. (This takes us into territory related to disruptive innovations and fidelity vs. convenience — interesting stuff, but something for a later post.) But the danger is in taking a “platform-neutral” approach if that leads one to assume that content value remains constant between print and online — that, basically, you can charge for content either way. Chyi suggests that is like trying to market ramen noodles as steak: Newspapers do so at their peril.

So, what does all of this say about the Times and its paywall? Perhaps not much because, after all, “the Times is the Times.” Yet, the notion of online news as an inferior good highlights a few salient points for thought: (1) news usage doesn’t always correlate with preference, counterintuitive as that is; (2) publishers hoping to charge for niche content need to understand where their offering fits in the normal-inferior goods relationship, and how that should affect pricing and marketing strategies; and (3) there’s a critical need for R&D to help us grasp why consumers perceive online news as inferior, and how that perception might vary among different demographics of users and/or according to different types of news content.

In the meantime, enjoy your ramen noodles.

[Disclosure: Chyi and I have collaborated on several research projects through her Media Economics Research Group in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas — including a recent peer-reviewed article on newspapers' effectiveness in penetrating the local online market (PDF). Also, she's currently a member of my dissertation committee.]

Photo of ramen by Broderick used under a Creative Commons license.

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