Category Archives: Online Journalism

Northcliffe Digital statement on Local People sites restructure

Reports emerged yesterday that Northcliffe Digital is to restructure its Local People websites, with an end to the contracts of the freelance “contracters” currently on each site.

Instead “dedicated community publishers” will be tasked with managing a group of the sites.

Holdthefrontpage has more here.

Here is the full statement from Northcliffe Digital:

Northcliffe Digital has conducted a review of Local People sites. From August 2012, dedicated community publishers will be appointed to look after a portfolio of Local People sites that sit within Northcliffe Media’s overall footprint.

The current publishing structure uses one freelance contractor per site. These contracts will expire in August.

This approach means Local People will have the benefit of more experienced publishers covering a broader remit and will streamline the running of the business.

Local People sites that sit outside Northcliffe’s footprint will be made available as franchises.

The Local People websites attracted 840,000 unique visitors in May 2012. There are no other immediate plans to make changes to the sites.

New York Times readers become beta testers

The New York Times has released a new set of browser extensions that will allow eager readers to try out experimental features on the NYTimes.com website.

The project, dubbed Test Drive, is from the newspaper’s experimental arm beta620. Some of the features of Test Drive include NYT Accessible, which optimises the site for readers with visual impairments and TimesInstant, similar to Google Instant search, that produces results as you type.

The features have been available for a while but on a separate site, the new browser extensions, available for Firefox and Chrome, allow the projects to be viewed in context on their main website.

Marc Frons, the New York Times’ chief information officer, told Nieman Journalism Lab:

We love beta620 — it’s been a great experience and a great way to get our innovations in front of the public before they’re fully baked.

Recognising that people who install browser extensions are not your average sample, he adds:

It’s not like a traditional A/B test where you’re actually just throwing something else up on unsuspecting readers and measuring your clicks.

I think the quantitative data will be less important here than the qualitative, where people’s comments and our own understanding of how we’re using these tools and experience will be more important than measuring clickthroughs or that sort of thing.

Full story at Nieman Journalism Lab.

#GEN2012 talks newsreader apps – ‘Let content be a travelling salesman’

By Drnantu on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Social magazines and newsreading apps are a “key part of the puzzle”, if not a game-changer on their own, when it comes to digital strategy for publishers, and news outlets should be prepared to give up control over how content is shared on other platforms.

In a session on social magazines and newsreading apps at the News World Summit in Paris editor-in-chief of Digital First Media Jim Brady said the technology is responding to the changing ways people are accessing content.

Consumers coming into the market made it pretty clear about what they want – they want choice, they don’t want to necessarily consume a package containing content from one brand.

Tthey don’t necessarily want to get it on the platform you’re delivering it to. They want to consume information by subject in a lot of cases and not by brand.

And in order to meet these needs news outlets need to “step away” from the mentality of “trying to maintain control”.

The more control you try to exert the less successful you’re going to be.

He added that publishers of high-quality content should “do all the things you have to do to let people in the world know” about what you’re producing.

Let your content serve as a travelling salesman.

Publishers’ “resistance of giving up control is something we have to give up”.

He also warned that websites are becoming “less and less important”.

Newsreading apps are highlighting that “more of your audience are consuming content, not print and not the web, a third whole category of content”, he said.

So Brady encouraged publishers to let go of control and get content on these platforms.

You can’t cant change the game until you change the thinking. That’s where we’re still short.

Robert Picard, research director at the Reuters Institute added that publishers do not have the choice of whether such platforms increase in importance.

The choice available “is whether we make use of them to best possible use”, he said.

Or news outlets can have their own social readers, he added. But then the challenge is how to get users to engage with their content, rather than others.

#GEN2012: Inside an analytics-driven French newsroom

The online editor-in-chief of French financial daily Les Echos has described how a steady stream of analytics data is helping journalists do their job – and even having an impact on what appears in the print edition.

LesEchos.fr editor-in-chief François Bourboulon said the site had taken analytics seriously in the past three years. Before this time:

There was little data given to the news staff about the most read stories on the website. We have tried to change that.

We have introduced analytics and data almost everywhere and at every moment of the day. We use it as a tool for site management and also as a tool for staff management – trying to help them appropriate the website.

Bourboulon said the access to reader data had not necessarily changed the site’s editorial strategy, but “it has had an impact from time to time”.

As a specialised media we mostly know what our audience is interested in – business and finance. We use analytics to confirm our choices and see if what we have decided was a big issue – to confirm that we made a good choice.

It has changed a bit the journalistic formats we use. We know that based on what analytics tell us, we know which ones will be better as a very short piece, or an interview, or a slideshow. Analytics can show us what’s the best way to explore an issue.

What’s most surprising is analytics have helped us sometimes change our editors’ strategy in the print newspaper. Sometimes in the afternoon when we have our news meeting about what we’re going to put on the front page of the paper, all the editors are having a look at what’s hot on the site.

Dennis Mortensen, the founder and chief executive of real time newsroom analytics provider Visual Revenue said: “I think you can predict demand” – and said analytics was being used by some news organisations to make very subtle changes to story placement on a site that journalists would never have considered doing beforehand. He said they were being “empowered by data”.

How important are ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ buttons to news publishers?

 

A conversation was sparked on the effect of social media sharing buttons by the designer Oliver Reichenstein on his blog informationArchitects. In the post titled Sweep the Sleaze he writes:

But do these buttons work? It’s hard to say. What we know for sure is that these magic buttons promote their own brands — and that they tend to make you look a little desperate. Not too desperate, just a little bit.

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If you provide excellent content, social media users will take the time to read and talk about it in their networks. That’s what you really want. You don’t want a cheap thumbs up, you want your readers to talk about your content with their own voice.

The Tweet and Like buttons, followed by their lesser rivals Google’s +1 and LinkedIn share buttons are now ubiquitous on news websites. Visitors to the Huffington Post in January 2008 would have been given the option to share an article via Digg, Reddit and Delicious. Now they are given up to 20 ways to share an article just via Facebook alone. Users are certainly being bombarded by myriad sharing options, they are not always that pretty and Reichenstein is approaching the issue as a minimalist designer.

But is Reichenstein right?

Joshua Benton at Nieman Journalism Lab did a little digging into the effectiveness of the Tweet button for a variety of news publishers. Using a Ruby script written by Luigi Montanez , Benton analysed the last 1000 tweets from 37 news sites to find the percentage of tweets emanating from the site’s Tweet button.

The analysis comes with a few caveats so it’s well worth reading the full article but the take-away is that people are using the Tweet button. Of the news sites analysed most had 15 to 30 per cent of their Twitter shares come via their Tweet buttons. Importantly, they act as a starting point to get content onto Twitter and can lead to further retweets or modified retweets.

Facebook Likes are a different story. They are far less visible on another user’s news feeds, especially after Facebook changed the amount of output its Social News feed spits out.

At least one publisher has found positives to removing the Facebook Like button from their site, claiming it increased referrals from Facebook:

Jeff Sonderman writing at Poynter hypothesises there is a strange tension created by having a sharing button on news articles:

One argument in favor of sharing buttons is the psychological phenomenon of “social proof,” where a person entering a new environment tends to conform to the behavior demonstrated by others. How does that apply? The tally of previous shares on a given article could offer social proof to the next reader that it is indeed worth reading and sharing — “just look at all these other people who already have!”

But in this case, social proof is not the only force at work. We also know that many people share content because it makes them look smart and well-informed. Part of that is being among the first to have shared it, and thus not sharing something that’s already well-circulated. In this way, a sharing button could limit the potential spread of your best content.

These buttons are being used but news publishers need to think about how they are being used and how engaged the users of them are. Sonderman thinks Reichenstein gets close to the mark when he states:

If you’re unknown, social media buttons make you look like a dog waiting for the crumbs from the table … That button that says “2 retweets” will be read as: “This is not so great, but please read it anyway? Please?”

If you’re known and your text is not that great the sleaze buttons can look greedy and unfair (yes, people are jealous). “1280 retweets and you want more?—Meh, I think you got enough attention for this piece of junk.”

#GEN2012: ‘If journalism isn’t there to protect people, people get hurt’

Monetisation of digital journalism, described earlier today as the “elephant in this room” by CNN’s Peter Bale, formed the basis of an afternoon session at the News World Summit in Paris today, with a focus on financing investigative journalism.

There was no dancing around the importance of the issue. As Howard Finberg of the Poynter Institute put it:

The challenge, as Paul [Steiger] pointed out, is if we don’t do this people die. If journalism isn’t there to protect people, then people will get hurt.

This is not just a matter of economics to keep jobs, this is about economics that support democracy.

I feel passionately that we need more experiments, more subscription models, more donation models. We also need to figure out how we can tell the public the value of investigative journalism … even if they don’t support if financially they can support it in other ways.

He called for more creative solutions. Online it is “going to be increasingly difficult for traditional media”, adding that recent figures showed 68 per cent of online display advertising in the US controlled by the five big technology firms.

Our difficulties are fairly well documented so we need to start looking for some solutions that are different.

Also speaking about the issue on the panel, ProPublica founder Paul Steiger said he expects the decline in print advertising accelerate, “so the challenge of getting more and more revenue from online is going to be greater rather than less”.

He said ProPublica, which is funded largely by donations, is “looking at the possibility of subscriptions, but we need to make all of our stuff accessible and so the challenge is to figure out to how to keep in the conversation and how to find a variety of sources of revenues.”

He added that investigative journalism is significant for democracy and therefore “worth supporting in multiple ways, including charitable contributions”.

Online news startups need help converting readers into supporters

A report by the Washington DC-based J-Lab has found that even though online news startups have access to a wide range of social media tools, they struggle with how to measure their impact. Respondents to the survey, which was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, said Facebook and Twitter were important for alerting readers to new stories but they did not know how to monitor meaningful engagement.

Nearly 80 per cent of the 278 “digital-first” startups who responded to the survey said they did not have the means to measure whether their social media engagement strategies were converting readers into donors, advertisers, contributors or volunteers.

Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab’s Institute for Interactive Journalism said:

These small sites can measure interaction with their content, but they don’t have good tools to measure meaningful engagement. This affects both the future of their operations and the impact they can have in their communities.

New analytics tools give news startups some useful data, but survey respondents said their top metric for measuring engagement was still website uniques and page views. One respondent said:

We feel these numbers only give us part of the information we need. We’re interested not just in breadth of engagement but more in depth of engagement.

The report identified a “broadcast” mentality as a weakness in measuring audience engagement. It recommends a number of best practices for news startups when measuring engagement and urged training in the use of currently available analytics tools like ThinkUp, Google Analytics and Hootsuite.

Magazine app developer praises Windows 8, abandons Android

Digital media developer Daniel Sharp has praised the next version of the Windows operating system for its ease of use when programming.

Writing for the Kernel, the Stonewash co-founder states the advantages of developing digital media products for Microsoft’s as-yet-unreleased operating system over Google’s Android OS:

I’ve just come from another testing meeting. Seven of us around a table looking at an Android app that’s in the mid-stages of development. We’ve found unique issues on each device, every device on the table was running a different version of Android, with different resolutions, capabilities and specifications. Getting this right is going to be time consuming…

Meanwhile, for the past seven weeks we’ve also been working on a super-secret project building magazine apps for the Windows 8 launch. In those seven weeks, we’ve managed to create a solid first version, that works across all resolutions, laptops, desktops and tablets, whether they use a touch screen, pen or mouse. Development was easy.

He continues:

The fact that you can develop native applications for Windows using HTML and JavaScript is huge: in our case, it meant that every single engineer in our company already knew how to develop for Windows.

If you’re looking at a smartphone application then Windows 8 isn’t for you; it’s not for smartphones. But if you’re looking at a tablet application, take a good hard look at Android and the figures. I took one look at them and I’m not convinced.

And that’s why I have paused all our Android development in favour of Windows 8.

Earlier this week the Financial Times revealed that it is working on an app for Windows 8, ahead of the autumn tablet release.

Stonewash develop frameworks for news and magazine publishers to create bespoke tablet applications. Their clients include lifestyle magazine Lusso, Investment & Pensions Europe and the Henley Standard newspaper.

Read the full article in the Kernel here

#GEN2012: Interactive graphics case studies from the Guardian

The Guardian’s Alastair Dant took the the stage at the News World Summit in Paris today to share the news outlet’s approach to using interactivity to present data and stories to their audience.

Dant, who leads the interactive team at the Guardian, said types of interactives include those which plot “paths through space and time”, and those which work to relay “the roar of the crowd”.

Here are some of the interactives he showcased to delegates:

  • Afghanistan war logs

The Guardian produced two major interactives around the war logs. Dant spoke about one which shows all IED attacks on civilians, coalition and Afghan troops from 2004 to 2009 recorded in the war logs. The interactive allows users to “drag the date along the bar, to see where and who they hit over these five years”.

The team also produced a graphic showing a selection of 300 “significant incidents” from the logs, linking through to each full log entry.

  • World Cup 2010 Twitter replay

Dant said the team had a “very fuzzy brief” from the editorial team who wanted to “capture the excitement” around the games. As a result the team produced a “Twitter replay” which consisted of recording all conversations on Twittier and analysing them “to find out how word popularity changes over time”.

As a result the interative offers 90 minutes of football in 90 seconds, based on Twitter reactions.

  • Rupert Murdoch: How Twitter tracked the MPs’ questions – and the pie

And the team re-employed this technique of “relaying the roar of the crowd” when Rupert and James Murdoch appeared before the culture select committee last year

#GEN2012: Swiss news start-up on why it ‘forced’ editors to join Twitter

The blogs editor of a new Swiss weekly newspaper and website that required all of its senior staff to join Twitter says the move has helped them better understand the challenges of multi-platform publishing and engage with readers.

Tageswoche launched in October – and had 3,000 people buying a subscription “before they even knew what it was about”, David Bauer told the News World Summit in Paris today.

Reflecting on the lessons learnt from the launch, Bauer said getting journalists to be truly platform-neutral was something of a challenge at first:

It’s difficult to get into journalists’ minds that they’re working on a story without knowing where it’s going to be published. Up until recently it wasn’t common in Switzerland for journalists to be on Twitter. We forced all our editors to join Twitter – it teaches you about pace, about interaction, about information flows, about making mistakes and being open about them.

The one thing that surprised me and astonished me the most was the great quality of user content. We required everyone to sign up to post a comment, keeping out the trolls. We actively and prominently featured good reader comments, thus setting a bar. Our editors actively engage in discussions about their own articles, be it on Facebook, Twitter or our website.

He spoke about the importance of apps and being seen on mobile:

We had to learn the hard way. We didn’t have a native app – we just had a website that was optimised for mobile devices. But what happened was people went to the App Store, didn’t find us and concluded that it didn’t exist.

Story selection – and what works best online – was also an interesting discovery:

A lot of people told us that we need to have more news on our website but when we look at what articles people read and share the most it’s when we go beyond news, comment on news, add background information and explain the news. We curate a lot, send people away, and have them come back to have the news explained by us.