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March 28 2013

14:00

At The Wall Street Journal, a smartphone app has reporters on board for shooting video

The text-based web is dead, says Michael Downing. When AOL CEO Tim Armstrong announced his intention this month to transform the company into a platform for video, Downing heard a death knell — one he’s been expecting for some time. We are, after all, as he says, on the precipice of “the rise of the visual web.”

Downing has a dog in this fight; he’s the founder of Tout, a video sharing website and app that makes it easy for users to upload and share short — under 15 seconds — videos in real-time. Although originally designed as a consumer device, it also appealed to publishers: The Wall Street Journal approached Downing with the idea for a proprietary app that reporters could use as a news gathering tool. With the addition of some analytics tools and a centralized management function that allows editors to quickly vet clips before they’re published, that became WorldStream, which we wrote about in August.

“Consumer behavior has become much more accustomed to consuming the news they want as it happens,” says Downing. “The WSJ was trying to be much more in line with real-time news and real-time publishing.”

More than half a year later, how’s WorldStream working out? The Journal seems pretty happy. On the business side, WorldStream point man and WSJ deputy editor of video Mark Scheffler describes the project as a “destination but also a clearinghouse.” While all of the WSJ’s mobile videos are first published to the feed, many go on to live second lives across a wide variety of platforms. Some clips follow reporters to live broadcast appearances, while others are embedded into article pages and blogs. Andy Regal, the Journal’s head of video production, said that they don’t break out WorldStream views from the newspaper’s overall video numbers, which he said total between 30 and 35 million streams per month.

That kind of traffic across platforms draws the attention of advertisers. The WSJ says video ads generate “premium” rates, meaning somewhere around $40 to $60 CPM. Says Tim Ware, WSJ director of mobile sales, of the Journal’s broader video strategy: “We’re very bullish on the growth of WSJ Live this fiscal year, and thus the growth in video ad revenue. We’re also starting to contemplate some one-off sponsorships within our overarching video coverage of select events and stories.” (After spending about a total of about an hour on WorldStream, however, I only saw one ad — for a “smart document solutions” company — repeated about a half dozen times.)

But the surprise, both for Downing and WSJ management, is how readily — and ably — the WSJ’s reporters have taken to the new medium; getting reporter buy-in has been a struggle for many newspaper video initiatives. “It started out as an internal tool because we didn’t know how many people would be able to accommodate this kind of approach with the technology and the software,” Regal says, “but they think about it as part of their daily work now.” Armed with iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Android devices, hundreds of WSJ staffers have filed video clips via Tout; in the 229 days since launch, that’s 2,815 videos. In many cases, Downing said, the reporters didn’t even need training: “They just jumped right in and started using it.”

Charles Levinson has been reporting for the Journal from places like Syria “What are the assets that give us an advantage over the competitor? We have 2,000 reporters around the world,” he said. “How do you parlay 2,000 reporters into good video?” Levinson says the Tout app is helping the WSJ avoid print media’s tendency toward “mediocre” video production.

Christina Binkley is a style columnist at the WSJ who first experimented with the app while reporting on New York’s 2012 Fashion Week. She says there’s a lot of pressure on reporters to be producing a huge variety of content — articles, columns, blogs, Instagrams, tweets. She said, unlike some other apps, WorldStream has really stuck with her: “I can add a lot of value to my column very quickly without having to mic somebody up.”

Scheffler says some of the reporters have gained basic video shooting skills so quickly that the footage they file can be edited together into longer clips that could pass for more traditionally produced video. Going forward, Scheffler hopes to put better mobile editing tools in their hands: “Being able to be full-fledged creators on a mobile platform is something that we’re just going to continue being at the frontier of,” he said.

Regal’s focus, meanwhile, will be to make sure none of that prime footage is being lost in the ever quickening deluge that is the WorldStream feed. He’s considering a “Best of WorldStream” weekly digest, and a variety of other news packages that make that valuable content more findable, and more shareable.

News organizations have been chasing the promise of video advertising for years now, and the rise of apps like Vine illustrate the rise of social video sharing. But Downing says he isn’t worried about the competition. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the existing video sharing apps have to do with self-expression,” he says, comparing Vine to something like Instagram. Tout’s enterprise apps skip the idea of sharing with friends and focuses on fast, concise updates from outlets that users follow based on broader personal interest.

“It’s a real-time, reverse chronological vertical feed of updates,” says Downing, “Whether it’s Twitter or LinkedIn, that is becoming the standard form factor for being able to track that information that you curate yourself.”

Since partnering with The Wall Street Journal last year, a number of publishers have pursued similar agreements with Tout — CBS, Fox, NBC Universal, WWE, La Gardere and Conde Nast are among them. By the end of 2013, Downing expects to host around 200 media outlets, including some of News Corp.’s other brands. Downing says these publisher agreements are now the company’s “primary mode of business,” not the consumer product.

What does Downing see coming in video? He confidently points to Google’s spring 2012 earnings report, when for the first time, its cost-per-click rate fell. “That was the sounding bell. That was the beacon. That was the one clear signal to the world that the era of the print metaphor defining the web experience…was over.”

July 25 2012

16:01

With its new pop-out markets widget, The Wall Street Journal is after super-niche readers

The Wall Street Journal quietly launched a new function last month, a pop-out Markets Data window that puts a real-time markets ticker in the corner of your screen. It’s part of the newspaper’s ongoing “WSJ Everywhere” mantra, and an attempt to keep readers connected with the Journal in an ever-fracturing and narrowing media world.

The soft rollout was also a way for Raju Narisetti, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal’s digital network, to test a hypothesis. “Our belief is there is a group of people whose prism to the world is through markets and market data,” Narisetti told me. “Let’s test that kind of theory and put this out there.”

He says the results have been promising. In the first three weeks, the widget got 200,000 pageviews from 25,000 people. Not only were people taking advantage of an opportunity to pop out niche content, but they were staying with it, and coming back to it. Users can toggle between U.S., European, Asian, and foreign exchange markets. There are also tabs for rates, futures, and a customized “My Markets” view.

“The interesting thing was that people on average were spending close to some 15 minutes on that,” Narisetti said. “If you look at that across the site, it’s probably close to more than double the average because so much sideways traffic comes in. I don’t want to falsely assume that somebody who has popped it out has spent all that time looking at it but the fact that people are popping it out on a consistent basis and coming back to it suggests that there is a class of people for whom this makes sense.”

The feature also makes sense from an advertising perspective. For a company like TD Ameritrade, which is currently sponsoring the widget, the pop-out ad space represents real estate in a stickier, more specialized hub of a media company with an already well-defined, desirable audience. (It’s worth noting that the dimensions of the pop-out are set: Try to make the window small enough to hide the ad and it snaps back into place.)

“For an advertiser, the opportunity to always be with their most engaged customers — it’s a unique feature,” Narisetti said. “Somebody has actively popped this out. They care about it enough that they want it on their desktop. As we increasingly think about the portability of our audiences, and that they want to engage with our content and our brand in multiple ways, this is how we’re visualizing our website.”

This perspective isn’t about occupying new corners of desktop space as much as it is about providing narrow sluices of content tailored to specific yet persistent interests. The Wall Street Journal has been experimenting heavily with topic-specific content streams in recent months. That includes ongoing coverage areas like the Markets Pulse stream it launched in April. But the paper is also streaming coverage of stories and events that aren’t as open-ended, like Facebook’s May 18 IPO offering. The Journal closed that stream on June 5.

Other streams that are still open include coverage of the Europe’s debt crisis, and the Olympic Games. (Last week, it opted to stream coverage of the theater shooting in Colorado. As of this writing, reporters are still updating that stream regularly.)

“The underlying principle is the same,” Narisetti said. “For a variety of audiences, some of whom might have a very definite prism through which they want to view the day’s events, don’t feel obliged to come back to the full product.”

We’ve written about the streamification of news before, and how it’s an aesthetic call back to the reverse-chronological blogs of the 1990s. But news streams are also structured like something more modern: Twitter. Narisetti is active on the site, and he’s told me before he sees its role in the future of journalism as “significant.”

Just this morning, he tweeted a link to an article that suggested the onset of news streams like The Wall Street Journal’s may portend the death of the article as we know it.

Is the “article” dead and on the onset of story “streams”MT @journalismnews journalism.co.uk/a549951 @wsj @bbc @ITVnews @CoverItLive

— Raju Narisetti (@rajunarisetti) July 25, 2012

Still, it seems unlikely we’ll see the Journal abandon the traditional article structure any time soon. Ultimately, the “WSJ Everywhere” credo comes down to giving readers a choice.

Read stories in the physical newspaper, online or via a smartphone app. (A responsive design site is still in the works, Narisetti said.) If you’d rather watch video news, they’ve got tons of it.

Want to watch something that has nothing to do with the news? That’s fine, too. Some of the Journal’s most popular YouTube content has had to do with Spiderman’s workout regimen and Emma Stone’s makeup.

It appears The Wall Street Journal doesn’t just want to be everywhere. It wants to be everything, too.

April 23 2012

15:37

Wall Street Journal dives into live, continuous coverage with its new Markets Pulse stream

The Wall Street Journal on Monday unveiled Markets Pulse, a platform for a continuous flow of news — including blog posts, articles, videos, tweets, photos, and other elements — that readers can dip into throughout the day from their computers or from a mobile device. The idea is to provide more choices to readers who are increasingly seeking news on-the-go.

Think of it as a daily liveblog of the markets: At this writing, Markets Pulse been updated 12 times in the past hour. Some of those are simply embeds of WSJ stories, which can be read in full without leaving the stream; others are updates of barely tweet length. (“Dow Down 150: All indexes are down more than 1.2%.”)

“This is just another way for them to access our content,” Raju Narisetti, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal’s Digital Network, told me. “Obviously, a lot of our readers are paid subscribers, so they should be able to get WSJ everywhere, wherever they want it.”

This isn’t the first time the newspaper has experimented with this kind of approach. It created a four-day stream for its Oscar coverage this February, and more recently it streamified its coverage of the presidential election in France. But Markets Pulse is built around an area of coverage rather than a finite event, which means it has the potential to be…neverending.

Creating an open-ended stream for markets coverage makes sense for a few reasons. It’s an area that a lot of Journal readers are already tracking, and one that lends itself to constant updates. “Markets is kind of an ongoing story all day, especially when the U.S. markets are open, and there’s an audience that follows it fairly religiously all the time,” Narisetti. “Rather than having to go to an article or a video in different, discrete places, this allows them to kind of have one place.” (It’s not for nothing that Bloomberg describes its terminals as a “massive data stream” — it’s a metaphor that works for the flow of a market day. Markets Stream would seem to be a decent candidate to be a second-screen companion to a Bloomberg terminal.)

Markets Pulse also includes an embed of the Journal’s video player right next to the content whenever a live show is on. With the newspaper’s big push in video, particularly live video, having a page that readers can treat as they’d treat CNBC — that is, always on — could help increase the return on that investment.

It also gives reporters a place to put all kinds of information — short updates, tweets, and other elements that don’t always fit in a traditional article. But the news stream approach is about more than creating a centralized hub of information. Streams are also about tailoring the experience to readers’ habits. When British network ITV unveiled its stream-based online redesign last month, ITV digital director Julian March described about the importance of recognizing the “skimming and digging” that people like to do online.

Here’s how he put it:

We think that roughly 80 percent of visits to websites are based on skimming behavior: You go to the news site asking, “Tell me what the news is today.”…Digging is where you come to the site and you’ve got a very specific kind of requirement: “I want to know what is going on in the Eurozone crisis,” or “I’ve just heard that Fabrice Muamba the footballer has collapsed, how is he doing?”

The format may also help drive traffic to Wall Street Journal content by fostering a habit of checking for frequent bite-sized updates the same way that people routinely check their email inboxes and Twitter feeds.

News streams also seem to have the advantage of stickiness — meaning readers spend time on streams longer than they do on traditional news sites. (Think of how sticky social streams like Facebook’s newsfeed or Twitter are, especially compared with traditional news sites.)

Narisetti, who started his job at the Journal in February after leaving The Washington Post, says there are more experiments like this one to come: “We’re going to experiment in multiple ways, and this just felt like one of the more interesting and fun ways to do it,” he said. The approach seems consistent with his mentality he described to us back in January: “I’m a big believer in newsrooms being in a permanent beta stage.”

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