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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.”

February 08 2012

20:44

Sky and BBC leave the field wide open to Twitter competitors

At first glance, Sky’s decision that its journalists should not retweet information that has “not been through the Sky News editorial process” and the BBC’s policy to prioritise filing “written copy into our newsroom as quickly as possible” seem logical.

For Sky it is about maintaining editorial control over all content produced by its staff. For the BBC, it seems to be about making sure that the newsroom, and by extension the wider organisation, takes priority over the individual.

But there are also blind spots in these strategies that they may come to regret.

Our content?

The Sky policy articulates an assumption about ‘content’ that’s worth picking apart.

We accept as journalists that what we produce is our responsibility. When it comes to retweeting, however, it’s not entirely clear what we are doing. Is that news production, in the same way that quoting a source is? Is it newsgathering, in the same way that you might repeat a lead to someone to find out their reaction? Or is it merely distribution?

The answer, as I’ve written before, is that retweeting can be, and often is, all three.

Writing about a similar policy at the Oregonian late last year, Steve Buttry made the point that retweets are not endorsements. Jeff Jarvis argued that they were “quotes”.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that (as I explain below), but I do think it’s illustrative: if Sky News were to prevent journalists from using any quote on air or online where they could not verify its factual basis, then nothing would get broadcast. Live interviews would be impossible.

The Sky policy, then, seems to treat retweets as pure distribution, and – crucially – to treat the tweet in isolation. Not as a quote, but as a story, consisting entirely of someone else’s content, which has not been through Sky editorial processes but which is branded or endorsed as Sky journalism.

There’s a lot to admire in the pride in their journalism that this shows – indeed, I would like to see the same rigour applied to the countless quotes that are printed and broadcast by all media without being compared with any evidence.
But do users really see retweets in the same way? And if they do, will they always do so?

Curation vs creation

There’s a second issue here which is more about hard commercial success. Research suggests that successful users of Twitter tend to combine curation with creation. Preventing journalists from retweeting  leaves them – and their employers – without a vital tool in their storytelling and distribution.

The tension surrounding retweeting can be illustrated in the difference between two broadcast journalists who use Twitter particularly effectively: Sky’s own Neal Mann, and NPR’s Andy Carvin. Andy retweets habitually as a way of seeking further information. Neal, as he explained in this Q&A with one of my classes, feels that he has a responsibility not to retweet information he cannot verify (from 2 mins in).

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But both combine curation with creation.

Network effects

A third issue that strikes me is how these policies fit uncomfortably alongside the networked ways that news is experienced now.

The BBC policy, for example, appears at first glance to prevent journalists from diving right into the story as it develops online. Although social media editor Chris Hamilton notes that they have “a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts”, this is coupled with the argument that:

“Our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.”

I’m not entirely convinced of this line, because there are a number of competing priorities that I want to understand more clearly.

Firstly, it implies that BBC colleagues are not watching each other on Twitter. If not, why not? Sky pioneered the use of Twitter as an internal newswire, and the man responsible, Julian March, is now doing something similar at ITV.

Then there’s that focus on “all our audiences” in opposition to those early adopter Twitter types. If news is “breaking news, an exclusive or any kind of urgent update”, being first on Twitter can give you strategic advantages that waiting for the six o’clock – or even typing a report that’s over 140 characters – won’t, for example:

  • Building a buzz (driving people to watch, listen to or search for the fuller story)
  • Establishing authority on Google (which ranks first reports over later ones)
  • Establishing the traditional authority in being known as the first to break the story
  • Making it easier for people on the scene to get in touch (if someone’s just experienced a newsworthy event or heard about it from someone who was, how likely is it that they search Twitter to see who else was there? You want to be the journalist they find and contact)

Everything at the same time

There’s another side to this, which is evidence of news organisations taking a strategic decision that, in a world of information overload, they should stop trying to be the first (an increasingly hard task), and instead seek to be more authoritative. To be able to say, confidently, “Every atom we distribute is confirmed”, or “We held back to do this spectacularly as a team”.

There’s value in that, and a lot to be admired. I’m not saying that these policies are inherently wrong. I don’t know the full thinking that went into them, or the subtleties of their implementation (as Rory Cellan-Jones illustrates in his example, which contrasts with what can actually happen). I don’t think there is a right and a wrong way to ‘do Twitter’. Every decision is a trade off, because so many factors are in play. I just wanted to explore some of those factors here.

As soon as you digitise information you remove the physical limitations that necessitated the traditional distinctions between the editorial processes of newsgathering, production, editing and distribution.

A single tweet can be doing all at the same time. Social media policies need to recognise this, and journalists need to be trained to understand the subtleties too.

March 23 2010

10:18
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