Archive for October, 2011

Initially, the Nieman Journalism Lab’s look at how several highly touted innovation projects from 2006 fared, as part of the Newspaper Next project (more on that can be found here, but it’s a 2008 post), depressed me a little bit. As the Nieman post notes, of the seven projects, only three saw the light of day (including one by MG’s own Richmond Times-Dispatch — conducting market research to find out what local businesses wanted) and all three were not really started as a result of Newspaper Next. Others either never launched or petered out — a common factor seems to be aiming higher than your resources allow you to get. Also, some of the people involved at the outset moved on, so it wouldn’t be surprising if whatever urgency an innovation project had moved on with them.

So I was stewing a bit in mild despair about the industry’s ability to change. After all, these seven projects got national attention; these organizations raised their hands and volunteered to climb that stage, so you might have expected a serious push to have been made on all seven. The best that came out of any of them was an internal change in thinking and culture. That’s no small accomplishment for a newspaper company, but it’s pretty far short of what anyone hoped for five years ago.

But after thinking about it a while, I had to change my mind. Looking at my computer screen, with the TweetDeck symbol in the status bar and the word “Facebook” on one of the browser tabs, reminded me of a few of the changes that have crept through newsrooms since 2006. What the still-growing acceptance of Facebook and Twitter in newsrooms have in common with the Newspaper Next projects is an internal change in thinking and culture. Like experiments a few newsrooms have tried in opening their daily news budgeting process to varying degrees of public scrutiny (most recently rolled out in several Journal Register newsrooms), the idea of using social media to open the news process to public view initially strikes news people like it probably would strike a sausage maker if you suggested setting up webcams so people could watch the hog in live video all the way from the farm to the deli counter. A few years ago, it was not a popular concept at all. In some quarters, it remains highly unpopular.

But things changed. Those weren’t the only changes. Video, mobile, chat, website analytics – you could make a list of things that in many newsrooms now are part of the daily flow of conversation and (we hope) planning. The sum total of change from 2001 to 2011 in newsrooms is significant, but most of the individual changes were small and somewhat unheralded.

So I end up in a better place psychologically on this Friday afternoon than I had been a couple of hours ago. Incremental, internal change, as the Nieman Lab post notes, may be harder to notice and measure at the time. From Nieman’s interview with Tom Silvestri, publisher of the Times-Dispatch: “What happens is there’s no parade or Outlook invitation,” he said. “You don’t even get a cake with candles. But something happens.”

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For better or worse, this is how new technology is framing the terms of the media-development debate

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After my junior year of college, I had a summer internship at what was, unbeknownst to me at the time, one of the last PM daily papers in the United States, the Phoenix Gazette. The Gazette was down to about 1/10 of the circulation of its morning rival, The Arizona Republic – both were owned by the same company but maintained separate staff – but was hanging on. Given the trends underscored by the latest report from comScore, Digital Omnivores, we may be in a window where people one day will say they were at one of the last newspaper organizations NOT to have an online PM strategy.

For those of you too young to remember, a brief summary of the relevant history: A little more than a generation ago, more newspapers were sold in the afternoon than the morning, and many cities had both a morning-delivered paper and an afternoon-delivered paper, the latter of which originally was dominant. As lifestyles changed, the afternoon paper faded and the morning paper became dominant, and by the ‘80s few PM papers were left. Whatever news had happened in the wee hours overnight, people heard on the radio or TV in the morning, and whatever happened during the day, people heard on the radio on the drive home or on TV shortly after arriving home. In recent years (as many have observed) the Internet is accelerating the adaptation of news-consumption habits to peoples’ lifestyles and schedules – so much so, it seems, that there now is renewed and growing demand for a late update on the news, but later than the old PM paper and later than the evening TV news.

One of the highlighted elements of the comScore report is the rapid growth in mobile and especially tablet use. This is important because, as the chart shown above illustrates, when people use their computers to check online news, the pattern rises and falls according to the day’s work schedule – peaking in the mid- to late morning and declining late in the day. But mobile use hangs on later – especially tablets, which actually peak later in the night.

A danger of drawing too many conclusions about where the trend goes from here is that the current batch of tablet users are mostly young, male and affluent – not the typical computer user, let alone mobile user, let alone the average person. But they are typical of early adopters, and to that extent, you can look at their usage with an eye to what past early adoptive behaviors indicated was the shape of things to come.

For news producers, the news is hopeful:

News is relatively high on the list of what people do on mobile devices. True, it’s below e-mail … Facebook … games … Google and Yelp and other search … maps … . But still, it’s a solid third or more of the market.

Not only that, but it’s among the higher percentage of uses in a month, especially among tablet owners (and the report emphasizes the growth and potential of the tablet audience):

“Nearly 3 out of 5 tablet owners consume news on their tablets. 58 percent of tablet owners consumed world, national or local news on their devices, with 1 in 4 consuming this content on a near-daily basis on their tablets.”

(Note: Among tablet owners, “TV remained the most prominent source for news content, with 52 percent of respondents typically consuming news in this fashion. Computer use followed closely with 48 percent of tablet owners consuming news content via desktop or laptop computers, while 28 percent reported receiving their news from print publications. Mobile and tablet consumption of news were nearly equal in audience penetration, with 22 and 21 percent of respondents accessing news via their mobile or tablet devices.”)

And finally, a word of hope for the news organizations formally known as newspapers (yeah, I’m a few years ahead of myself, but that’s where we’re going): Newspapers, blogs and technology sites stand out as examples of categories in the U.S. exhibiting high relative mobile (phone and tablet) traffic.

“In August 2011, 7.7 percent of total traffic going to Newspaper sites came from mobile devices – 3.3-percentage points higher than the amount of mobile traffic going to the total Internet. As consumers continue to seek out breaking news and updated information on the go, it is likely that this share of traffic could grow further.”

In summary: It’s early, but this is another data point backing up indications that the trend is that at least a significant portion of the people using mobile devices (notably including the portion most likely to appeal to advertisers, or with the income to pay for access) have an appetite for news that extends late into the evening, and they go online to find it. When do you do your final online updates for the day?

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The Storm Collection from Storm Collection on Vimeo.

The above is a video telling, from the perspective of future historians, the evolution from pre-history to the early 21st century, not more than a few years from now, of how people receive their news. The co-creators, Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan, previously made a video that gained wide circulation, Epic 2014, which depicts from a future historian’s perspective the events that led to all news media except the New York Times being consumed in an all-everything incarnation of Google, but even the Times was driven by it to remove itself from the Web. (That’s an oversimplification; watch the video.) Where “Epic” dealt with the evolution of the production of news, the new one, “The Storm Collection,” focuses on the consumer.

I don’t know whether it’s a measure of how coccooned in my daily work I am lately that it took a week for me to come across this new one or it’s just that the above video doesn’t strike as many people as striking as close to the bone as “Epic 2014,” but I suspect it’s the latter. “Storm” is not as slick and seems rather slow-moving and padded, not so much of a story, as though they had an end point — the ultimate news-consumption device, depicted in the video as a pair of glasses by Apple with displays embedded in the lenses — and tried to find a way to build to it — which is essentially what they wind up saying in a Society of News Design presentation was the case. (In the video of their presentation, the “Storm” video starts 5:30 in, and the actual 19-minute presentation/discussion starts about 14:40 in.)

However, what’s really interesting is not the “Storm” video but how they explain in the SND presentation what they are thinking. It really IS hard to think how to make a video depicting it. They describe technology enabling a proliferation of small opportunities for people to seek out and receive information – instead of the 30 minutes with the morning paper or the 30 minutes with the evening news on TV, it’s many smaller bits throughout the day, and the challenge for people who produce the news is find ways to make their presentation compelling. One comparison they make is to NPR’s so-called “driveway moments,” when people hear a story on the radio as they drive, reach their destination but remain in the car to finish hearing it. “These moments are emerging all around us,” with advancing technology creating ever more seamless points of entry into people’s attention.

I’m not sure I like their depictions of some possible future technologies – one of the least intrusive, but still creepy: an electronic frame you have on your desk displaying a picture of your sweetheart along with a display of that person’s most recent status update. But I know I’m not that future news consumer. I’ll be the dinosaur who’s clinging to a tablet and reading at a table in the coffee shop instead of getting all my news through my glasses while riding in my self-driving car.

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