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April 02 2011


Lessons on how to engage with audiences

Jim Brady, former editor of TBD.com and WashingtonPost.com, set the tone for a professional panel on engaging the audience at #ISOJ by saying they were going to stick to time and leave plenty of time for questions.

First up was Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of VG Multimedia, Norway. He started by stating that he tells his journalists to spend a minimum of 10% of time interacting and engaging with readers.

Three-quarters of Norwegians visited the site in February, with 87% coming to the homepage, compared to only 4% from Google.

VG’s approach has been to figure out how we can help the readers help each other.

Hansen highlighted how last year during the travel disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano, a developer created a quick and dirty site to help people help each other get home.

In return, readers sent in stories and pictures about their journey home.

VG also has a tool that lets a selecte group of readers correct typos.  5,000 readers applied to correct typos and 400 were selected to fix typos on the site. 17,000 typos were reported last year, said Hansen.

Another example cited by Hansen was the paper’s response to the disaster in Japan.  VG set up a paper with a live feed of Japanese TV, but also updates from journalists and from readers.

He also showed how during the swine flu, VG created a wiki site inviting users to let others know where they could get a flu shoot.

Hansen said the paper had progressed from a monologue to dialogue. But today, there is another viral layer which taps into social media.

He said VG wanted to be something in the middle between traditional journalism and social media.

Washington Post’s approach to Twitter

Amanda Zamora, social media and engagement editor, The Washington Post, described her job as taking the “earmuff off this sleeping giant.”

She talked about how reporters are using social platforms such as Twitter as a newsgathering tool.

“We’ve learnt a lot from Twitter,” she said, for example by using the hashtag to actively frame the conversation.

She outlined the approach as call, response, reward.

The sign of success is if you issue a call, you get a response, said Zamora, not the number of followers. People who take part are rewarded by bring that content back into the Washpost site.

The paper uses Google forms as a way for people to send in what they know on specific stories, for example on power outages in DC.

One of the ways the Post is experimenting is using Intersect, which can blend accounts from both journalists and readers.




Patch president outlines community strategy

The afternoon keynote at the ISOJ was by Warren Webster, president of Patch Media.

Depending on who you listen to, Patch is or isn’t journalism. But it is hiring journalists and has a presence in 800 US towns. It has 50% penetration in these markets and is growing in monthly visits by more than 40%.

The percentage of traffic from AOL is fairly small compared to other traffic, said Webster. Rather people are finding Patch sites through Facebook.

The Patch president likened Facebook to having a newspaper box on the street corner.

Talking about the future of journalism, Webster compared it to being in the head car of a fast speeding train, but not knowing where it’s heading.

He located Patch within what people are interested in, arguing that people are interested in what is within 10 miles or 10,000 miles, rather in within 100 miles.

“Patch wants to sit squarely in that 10 mile space,” said Webster.

He argued that Patch is journalism. ”We were the largest hirer of journalists in 2010. And that is something I am really proud of,” he said.

In terms of salary, Webster said it pays local editors more or the same that they would earn at a local weekly, with benefits.

Patch has one full-time employee per site, with, on average, 12 freelancers contributing to it.

He talked about the sites as platforms for neighbourhoods, bringing together disparate and disorganised local information together.

The Patch sites aim to bring together local and regional news, a local journalist, local events, local deals free business listings and community engagement.

Webster said that part of Patch’s appeal as a community platform is that it can be personal and local, citing a story about a lost dog who was later found by its owner.

Patch worked to weave itself into the local community, for example, by having its staff volunteer for five days a year.

Webster said Patch is keen to work with journalism schools and has a program called Patch University to foster connections.


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Research into the sharing of links on Facebook

With social recommendation becoming an increasingly important way that people get the news, the final research paper at ISOJ looked at how news travels on social networks.

The research paper (PDF) by Brian Baresch, Dustin Harp, Lewis Knight and Carolyn Yaschur from the University of Texas at Austin surveyed 78 US Facebook users and the links they shared.

The team suggested we are moving from an ink economy to a link economy.

In a rapid overview of the exploratory research, Baresch said they found people were posting more links about entertainment than any other topic and women posted more links than men.

More of the links were to text articles, followed by videos, especially music videos.

Most links didn’t get many comments, and women tended to get more comments than men.

The researchers suggested that frequent linkers on Facebook have distinctive genre, topic and source patterns particular to their interests.

They hope the findings will help us better understand how news finds its way through online social networks via what they describe in the paper as “active surveillance and discussion leaders and their repurposing of content”.


Christian Science Monitor grapples with tensions as web-only

The research presented at ISOJ by Jonathan Groves, Drury University and Carrie Brown, University of Memphis, looked at the Christian Science Monitor’s transition from print to web.

For the paper (PDF), the researchers spend three weeks in the newsroom, watching how the journalists worked and talking to them about the journalism.

The Monitor started in 1908 as a daily newspaper distributed by mail and switched to web-only daily in March 2009, with a print daily.

Grove read a quote from a journalist lamenting that management was only interested in traffic.

The Monitor had 9.5 million page views in December 2009 and reached its goal of 25 million page views by July 2010 with an editor who pushed journalists to write two stories a day and do anything to attract traffic.

With a new editor, traffic levelled out at 19.4 m page views and 8.8 million unique users by January 2011.

The researchers found a tension between the success of page views and the Monitor ideal of providing solutions-based journalism.

At core of strategy to boost traffic was more frequent updates, search engine optimisation, monitoring Google trends to identify topics and use social media to reach new audiences.


Study into use of new devices for news

One of the research papers presented at ISOJ by Hsiang Iris Chyi and Monica Chadha, University of Texas at Austin looked at how people were getting their news on new devices.

The researchers suggested the idea of newsfulnews as a way of measuring the likelihood of a multi-purpose device being used for news, based on the number who use a device for news compared to total number of owners.

They conducted a web-based survey of a random sample of the American adult population in August 2010.

The researchers found that the laptop was far by the most useful for news at 45%, with the iPhone at 33% and iPad at 35%.

But they also found that 24% of people did not use any electronic device to get their news, with 57% only using one device, usually the PC.

Only 10% used two devices, with 8.5% using three or more per week.

There was little variation in the level of enjoyment across devices. The researchers suggested that this meant people preferred to use older devices such as the PC.

News use on multiple devices was not yet a reality, they said.




April 01 2011


Studies find journalists use Twitter for broadcast

The final research paper at the ISOJ focused on how newsrooms were using Twitter.

Dale Blasingame from Texas State University, San Marcos, looked at how Twitter was changing TV news.

He started by saying that a web first approach in newsrooms is no longer enough due to the instant dissemination of news via Twitter.

Twitter allows both professionals and citizens to “jump the gate” and send news directly to audiences, challenging the traditional gatekeeping role of the journalist.

Blasingame studied coded almost 2,300 tweets from San Antonio newsrooms on a shooting incident.

He said it this case study showed how Twitter could be used as a tool to deliver news, but added “it would be foolish to suggest this happens on a daily basis.”

In terms of his analysis of tweets, the most were promotional in nature, followed by breaking news.

The results were worse for official station Twitter accounts. One station account just sent promotional links for web stories automatically.

Blasingame recommended that newsrooms should restrain promotional tweets to just 20% of all their messages.

Student uses of Twitter

Next up, Carrie Brown, University of Memphis, together with Elizabeth Hendrickson, University of Tennessee and Jeremy Littau, Lehigh University, presented a study on how Twitter could help journalists reach underserved communities.

Brown qualified the study as exploratory and largely descriptive, but it provides a useful starting point.

One group she studied was young people, students between 19 – 29. She found many of them know each other and post about what they are doing or banter during class. Twitter was used as a social tool for informal communication

Students saw Twitter as a pseudo-anonymous space, with lots of use for Twitter for fun and entertainment. A few were using it for professional networking.

But students also talked about getting information on Twitter, stumbling across news.

Brown also found that students were very receptive to getting news on Twitter from journalists. In the survey, students reported more engagement with the news.

But some wanted more of a relationship with journalists on Twitter, rather than just broadcast headlines.

Littau said students wanted connectivity, information, expression and entertainment from Twitter. But African-American students expressed more of a preference for information and expression than Caucasian students.

Shovelling tweets

Marcus Messner, Virginia Commonwealth University, with Maureen Linke and Asriel Eford, presented research on how traditional news media in the US were adopting Twitter and social bookmarking.

For their study, they looked at the top 99 newspapers and top 100 TV stations in the US. By 2010, 198 of them had Twitter accounts. These were the main Twitter feeds from the news organisation, rather than from individual reporters.

As for social bookmarking, 36% offered this in 2009 and 92% by 2010. Facebook has become almost fully adopted by the news media, with Twitter adoption jumping from a third in 2009 to more than 90% in 2010.

In terms of Twitter use, one in three news media did not tweet in 2009, falling to one in four by 2010.

Most of the tweets were news related.  Personal communication accounted for just 5.7% in 2009 and 3.5% in 2010.

Messner said the tweets were largely used as promotional tools for web stories, with few differences between newspapers and television.

He concluded that Twitter has been fully adopted by the US news media but not used to its full potential.

“Most tweets are still shovelware,” he said, “they are not engagement of the community.” He urged news organisations to look at Twitter as a social space, rather than just another publication platform.

International perspective on Twitter

The final paper came from a team of researchers who looked at the use of social media in 27 news outlets in 7 Iberian and Latin American countries.

Presenting the findings Elvira García de Torres (Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera, Spain) found that most messages on Twitter and Facebook were based on headline links.

Only 5.6% were conversational on Facebook. Only five newspapers engaged in a conversation with users on the news.

As might be expected, the researchers found that conversational messages have more potential to engage audiences.

The team found few requests for information from users, but also that journalists received little response from the audience.  Journalists did see some value in going to Facebook to find photos of people.

Surprising, the researchers found there were no rules, or no planning in the newsroom, around the use of social media.


Research shows benefits of open innovation for news

The first research paper at ISOJ from Tanja Aitamurto, University of Tampere, Finland, and Seth Lewis, University of Minnesota, looked at processes of innovation (PDF).

Presenting the paper, Lewis highlighted the challenge facing news organisations today: keeping up with modern demands for R&D while finding new sources of revenue.

He said media organisations have under invested in R&D and not expressed much interest in open innovation.

The paper looked at NPR, the New York Times, The Guardian and USA Today. Lewis highlighted how the Guardian lets developers access APIs to do new things with their content.

In exchange, advertising appears on these new products and services, based on Guardian content.

The biggest benefit Aitamurto and Lewis found was the speeding up of internal and external product development.

Essentially, it allows other to experiment with content, and access groups of users that would be hard to reach before.

Secondly, open innovation offered opportunities for new revenue streams. And this fed into the third benefit – the ability to leverage the brand and drive traffic. The impact, said Lewis, was to have the brand seen as a platform, rather than a product.

The fourth benefit cited by Lewis was the potential to build a community of developers. For example, the Times described it as good street cred.

The challenges were more cultural than technological, said Lewis.  Corporate leaders didn’t like the word ‘open’ and were more receptive to language such as ‘business development Web 2.0″.

Lewis concluded by saying that open innovation meant news content gained a new life and take news organisations and weave them into the structure of the web.


Meredith Artley on CNN’s digital strategy

The second keynote of the ISOJ was by Meredith Artley, vice president and managing editor, CNN.com

She started by stressing the importance of journalism and showed dramatic images of the aftermath of the disaster in Japan.

Like for other news organisations, Japan has proved a major draw for CNN. In the 10 days since the Japan quake on March 11, CNN had:

  • 75 million average page views per day on PC
  • 15 million average video starts
  • 1 million mobile app downloads
  • 9 million average page views per day on mobile

Artley went on to talk about some of the work under way in CNN in participation, video and mobile.

One such initiative is “Open Story” that pulls together traditional reporting, user-generated content and data. Open Story is a collaborative story-telling interface, such as this one on Japan.

Another project to let users leave a video comment on stories will go live this summer. And potentially, said Artley, the videos could be used on air.

She also previewed a new video interface, with a more cinematic feel and video in HD.  CNN also wants to create a more integrated viewing experience, so that video viewing can pick up from PC screen to iPad.

On mobile, CNN gets 174 million page views a month in February and these are expected to be over 200 million in March due to Japan. On the iPhone and iPad, CNN has had 5 million downloads.

Artley compared CNN’s strategy to Pilates: strengthening the core and stretching into new areas.



iPad lessons from The Daily

John Kilpatrick, vice president of design for The Daily, provided an inside look into the new iPad app at the ISOJ.

The Daily is a custom application with a custom content management system that was built from the ground up for product.

The idea is to be able to create custom experiences everyday, exploring what works and what doesn’t work, he said.

Kilpatrick explained that the experience of news on a tablet is difference from print or the web.

The Daily’s approach was not to be platform agnostic, but rather create something for a specific news experience on a specific device.

What we have created is a curated experience, said Kilpatrick. So it is digital, but not endless.

The approach at The Daily draws from broadcast, print and web, he explained. From broadcast, the lean back experience. From print, it’s finite, From the web, it’s interactive and connected.

But it also wants to avoid some of the pitfalls of other media, such as the overuse of breaking news in broadcast, PDF-style app from print and long scrolling pages from online.

The design team was drawn from the New York Times, AOL, Vogue, Live Nation, film production and more.

Kilpatrick ended by running through some of the editorial content, its advertising and its original use of video, and offering some insights.

He has found that people mainly use the iPad at night in the US and most people are connected when they are reading The Daily.

60% of readers view The Daily vertically and 40% horizontally.  But Kilpatrick also added that many shift orientation during usage. What this means is developing pages that work both ways.














Paul Brannan on news for mobile devices

Paul Brannan, emerging platforms editor, BBC News, gave some background on the development of the BBC iPhone/iPad news app at the ISOJ.

Talking about its development, he said he had huge ambitions for the app but very limited resources.

“The outcome is a far cry from the one I had hoped for,” said Brannan, who has just left the BBC. The app essentially repurposes content from the BBC News website.

What he wants, he said, is a dynamic news mechanism, that delivers everything.

He said he wanted a news service that was location aware and context aware, customisable and with media drawn from both journalists and user media.

Brannan highlighted how the new Sky News iPad app played to the strengths of the tablet format.

“It provides a decent, if limited, news experience,” he said.

But Brannan said Zite was the most interesting and innovative tablet app be has seen. Zite tries to learn about individual users through algorithms and semantic web.

Brannan compared this to how supermarkets gather amazing data about its shoppers.

Unfortunately Zite has received a cease and desist notice from large media companies.

Brannan concluded by talking about the BBC’s orchestrated media research. This involves figuring out how people use media across platforms and creating a consistent experience.


How newspapers in Norway are transitioning to digital

Eivind Thomsen from Norway outlined how the Schibsted Media Group had shifted its financial base from print to digital at the ISOJ.

Newspapers are popular in Norway, with the average user reading 1.3 newspapers a day. But this is declining, from 1.6 newspapers in 2009.

Thomsen said part of the reason for this was virtually universal broadband and mobile penetration, plus the growth of social networking – 64% of Norwegians on Facebook

But, he added, Norway faces declining circulation of all newspapers after circulation peaked at the end of the century.

As part of its strategy, Schibsted has seized the classified space online, and not just in Norway, rather than let a new entrant such as Craigslist own this area.

Online now accounts for 30% of Schibsted revenue, compared to 3% in 2002. Online display advertising on newspaper sites only brings in 6% of revenue.

Thomsen said Schibsted was succeeding in transition from a print revenue base to being a digital player, and was doing so more successfully compared to media in other countries.

In common with other speakers, Thomsen also highlighted the importance of mobile platforms such as iPhones and iPads.

His advice for the ISOJ: understand how your audience wants and gets the news, experiment, multiple revenue streams rather than relying one business model.


Lessons on newspaper paywalls from Mexico

In the session on paywalls at the ISOJ, Jorge Meléndez, vice president for new media, Grupo Reforma (Mexico), explained how the newspapers have had paywalls since 2002.

The newspaper sites were free for the first two years. But they realised there was a very small online advertising market so the group just did it. Part of this involved an active strategy to convert newspaper subscribers online.

The impact of the paywall was a 35% drop in traffic. But Meléndez said they stopped minor circulation declines.

Access to all of the the news sites is free for newspaper subscribers. The prince for an online subscription is 80% of a newspaper subscription, as a way of encouraging readers to take the newspaper.

Meléndez explained there is some free content, such as the main page and emailed links.

The group provides apps for free, at least for now, said Meléndez. It has an “aggressive” app strategy, with dozens of apps for different topics.

Meléndez said broadsheet circulation is holding steady and tabloids have grown by 5% over last 8 years. Advertising and classifieds have also grown.

The group has 300,000 newspaper subscribers for all papers. 50,000 are only online subscribers. In terms of traffic, the sites have six million unique visitors, with an average of eight pages per user.

Meléndez said they learnt that people do not read instructions. Online, people just expect to click. So use action verbs and clear instructions, with as few words as possible, he urged.

The reasons behind the success of paywalls is local content, argued Meléndez. And the sites have more local content than in the newspaper. “Local is very important for us,” he said.

But when it came to today, he said the situation with paywalls was more difficult than in 2002. People are used to free, there is more competition and newspaper metrics are “so bad.”


Vivian Schiller’s seven reasons to be cheerful about journalism

A timely start to the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin with Vivian Schiller, ex-president/CEO of NPR.

While quoting some of the bad news in the annual State of the Media report for 2011, Schiller outlined seven reasons to be cheerful:

  1. Conditions finally right to give paywalls a fair shake. What has changed, she said is that while scale still matters, brand is back. The other thing is that you can train people to pay for content, arguing iTunes has shown this is possible. She also points to the growing popularity of tablets.
  2. Local is still up for grabs. Schiller said legacy media can win the battle for local audiences as they have the people and brands. But she questioned whether legacy media would make the investment.
  3. Twitter as a newsgathering vehicle. She cited Andy Carvin’s curated feed of Twitter, saying it was an extraordinary and powerful complement to what a news organisation regularly does.
  4. Apps are the “holy grail of engagement”. The duplication of those who download NPR’s app and listen to NPR on the radio is massive, she said. 80% of Android app users are NPR listeners.  People who listen to audio consume 10 times as much content as those who just read, Schiller said.
  5. Audience acquisition. The web is not dead, said Schiller, stressing the the browser is the best way to acquire news users. Only 20% of NPR.org users listen to NPR radio. “Do not give up on the web.”
  6. Legacy news organisations are ready to be their own disruptors. So rather than being platform agnostic, news organisations have realised they have to serve every audience in different ways depending on platform.. Schiller cites examples of news organisations creating new brands such as Washington Post’s Trove and The Daily.
  7. Digital natives have come of age and care about journalism. Schiller said journalism school enrolment is soaring, saying these are the people who would reinvent the business model. She argued that people of her generation won’t be able to do this.

Schiller ended by quoting Clay Shirky on the opportunities before us and urged attendees to imagine and seize the future. We must be in a constant state of experimentation, she said.

April 24 2010


Insight into non-profit journalism in the US

The wealth of knowledge at the International Symposium on Online Journalism continued with a session on non-profit journalism, with examples from across the US.

First up, Scott Lewis, CEO of Voice of San Diego. He started by talking about the bundled model of the newspaper, which obviously changed with the internet.

But, said Lewis, the unbundling of information meant you have to go to it, rather than have it come to you.

The relevance for Voice of San Diego is producing something that people want to include in their online bundle of information.

Lewis said they realised early on that they cannot duplicate and be something that somebody else is already doing. This thinking applied to story decisions, and making choices about not covering a story unless they can do it better.

Initially, its mission focused on producing investigative journalism for San Diego. But now, said Lewis, they are transitioning to the second part of their mission – to increase civic participation by giving people the knowledge they need to be involved in society.

The site is a non-profit but still needs to raise funding. This comes from donations from loyal users, philanthropists, corporate memberships and for profit distribution of content.

The site currently has 1,080 people who have given money and it hopes to convert 10,000 users to donors by 2013.

Lewis cited recently launched initiatives in partnership with NBC on issues in San Diego. This helps market the site, but also bring in revenue

And mostly important, said Lewis, they try to keep down costs by not inventing technology, but incorporating existing technology.

Filling the gap in Chicago

Jim O’Shea, co-founder and editor, Chicago News Cooperative explained the site was set up to fill the news gap in the city. It currently has a full-time staff of six reporters and freelancers, with a basic website for now.

To launch, the site received $500,000 from the MacArthur Foundation and a contract with the New York Times for providing news from Chicago.

The business model for the non-profit is based on providing journalistic services, philanthropy and sponsorship, some ad revenue and, most importantly, said O’Shea, membership fees. The site asks members to pay $2 a week and get a range of services.

But O’Shea acknowledged that getting between 30,000 to 40,000 members to make the site self-sustaining can be a challenge.

“Money is, and remains, our major challenge to stability,” he said.

Saving public journalism

Another local start-up is Texas Tribune, launched last November because “public service journalism needed saving,” said Evan Smith, CEO and editor.

The site raised $4m dollars in 2009, and so far this year has raised more than $720,000. The average donation from its 1,600 members is $96, with more than 60 major donors.

The budget for the site is just above $2m a year.

The aim is to address a decline in the coverage of statewide issues in Texas. The problems in Texas are bigger, said Smith.

The start-up also aims to tackle a decline in political engagement, particularly among the young. And, said Smith, the media is becoming an echo chamber of partisan politics.

Above all, the profit model “will not pay for public interest journalism,” he stressed.

25 weeks since launch, the site has had more than 3.8 million page views, more than 1 million visits, with 40% of the traffic from outside of Texas. The site hit a million page views in March.

In terms of Texan traffic, a third come from Austin, a third from other large Texan cities and a third from the rest of Texas.

The most popular section are the data pages, getting two and a half time the traffic of the story pages.

Smith said the site’s success was due to:

  • hiring veteran and experienced journalists
  • focusing on data as journalism
  • organising events supported by corporate partners
  • take revenue from a variety of sources
  • content partnerships to distribute the journalism
  • tight focus, in the Tribune’s case, public policy in Texas

The three sites are strong examples of the non-profit wave in the US. What was not addressed in this panel is whether this is very much a US model and whether it could be adopted in countries which do not have the same philanthropic tradition.

Perhaps a discussion for next year’s symposium?

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