Archive for the ‘Mobile media’ Category

Anyone remember when “disruptive innovation” was the focus of discussion about the future of the newspaper industry? It seems like ages ago, but it has been just six or seven years. A Nieman Journalism Lab interview with Clay Christensen of the Harvard Business School has brought the phrase back in recent days. For those who don’t remember Newspaper Next, Mathew Ingram at Gigaom.com aptly summarizes the idea:

“One of the classic lessons from Christensen’s seminal book ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ is that companies with a commanding lead in their field, whether it’s hard-drive makers or steel mills, are almost incapable of taking the steps that need to be taken to survive a technological and/or behavioral disruption — even when the danger of not doing so is blindingly obvious. In other words, even when a company can see quite clearly that a freight train is approaching or a cliff lies directly ahead, it is still almost impossible to step off the tracks or do anything other than stampede over the edge.”

For a few years, “innovation” got a big push, at least in newsrooms. Journalists, in fact, generally have done the most innovating in the business, making their news more mobile, more diverse in form.

But in the wake of the Great Recession and the ongoing slow recovery, many people in the business are focused on where they can find revenue, not on the main point Christensen had stressed, which Joshua Benton described for the Nieman Journalism Lab as:

“First, focus on the jobs that your customers are hiring you to do — and on new ones that you might be in a good position to do. Successful companies often value elements of their products that audiences don’t particularly care about; getting too much distance between those two perceptions leads to business failure.”

What is the job that people come to newspapers or any news source to get done? Ingram asks at Gigaom:

“Are readers suffering from a lack of paywalled content for which they can submit their credit cards? Probably not.”

The current focus on paywalls and how to grow the online subscription business helps the business survive, and it might even be considered an innovation if the purpose is to change the industry from one relying on cheaply acquiring an audience in order to sell lots of advertising to one that relies on creating a product that people are willing to pay to acquire — but it doesn’t serve customers. Continuing to provide the public with the same information we’ve always provided them isn’t an innovation. There has to be more.

Look at the way people use technology – and how rapidly that technology is moving. Ask yourself whether the way you do business makes sense in that world. What is the job people come to you to get done?

Christensen sounds a warning that innovation focused on customers can’t be put off for long:

“Even as the disruption is getting more and more steam in the marketplace, the core business persists, and is really quite profitable for a very long time. Then, when the disruption gets good enough to address the needs of your customers, very quickly, all of a sudden, you go off the cliff.”

10/26 UPDATE — More on the ways people use technology:

“This year, the amount of time consumers spent using mobile devices—excluding talk time—will grow 51.9% to an average 82 minutes per day, up from just 34 minutes in 2010, eMarketer estimates.

“… Time spent with print media will drop to an average 38 minutes per day this year, eMarketer estimates, down from an average 44 minutes per day in 2011. Newspapers will see a drop to an average 22 minutes per day this year, while time spent with print magazines will fall to 16 minutes per day.”

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Following are the notes I have passed to my colleagues on the Online News Association’s 2012 conference (and for more check the ONA Newsroom):

J-Lab’s “pre-convention” sessions on Thursday produced the information I thought was most immediately useful. In one, editors from The Seattle Times and KQED talked about their efforts to create a network of community news partners. The Times’ model was low-maintenance (requiring only “1 or 2 hours a week”) and easily replicable. KQED’s was much more difficult to get going and maintain.

The Times has 55 local blogs – from neighborhood blogs of the sort like the Church Hill People’s News or the West of the Boulevard News here in Richmond to single-issue blogs on things like beer or bicycling – signed up as “community news partners.” Essentially the blogs agree to let the Times aggregate their RSS feeds; the Times’ editors have a dashboard built in WordPress to let them choose what stories they think are interesting, and the headlines (ONLY the headlines) then appear on the Times’ website, with the links pointing directly to the blogs. The partners agree to give the Times exclusive access to any photos that they get (the Times’ hope is that in a giant, breaking-news situation one of the blogs will have someone there first). The Times agrees to let the blogs do the same kind of headline-linking to the Times’ site and agrees to provide any of its photos to the blogs for free upon request (with credit given). UPDATE: I forgot to mention that each Sunday the Times publishes a page of excerpts from top blog posts.

The Times has gotten news stories – including A1 stories – that otherwise would have been missed (the Times includes a note with the story saying the information appeared first in X blog), and there is survey evidence that the partnerships have improved the newspaper’s image among local residents.

KQED’s partnerships are much more complex because the station wanted full, content-producing (audio and video, since KQED has both a radio station and a TV station) partnerships. That meant avoiding any site that advocates policy positions (the Times has no problem as long as the blog is transparent about its advocacy) and providing training to get content that meets its broadcast standards.

I think the Times model actually exposes a vulnerability that newspapers ignore at their peril. If a TV station were to seek such an extensive, low-maintenance network, it could greatly enhance its website as a community hub, build on the station’s promotional and community-engagement efforts (which already exceed what newspapers do) and effectively corner the market on community news. Assuming newspapers continue to throw up paywalls and TV stations do not, the newspaper site retreats into niche status (though the niche is elite, high-information readers), while the TV station that harnesses the blog network cements itself as the go-to place for “what’s happening now?” information.

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Amy Webb, Webbmedia Group’s Tech Trends (Storify coverage, and video of the session)

Amy’s job is to spot trends in technology and media so she can help her clients adapt to disruption. The bulk of her talk was on the broader process for how her company does that. But for ONA she devoted a lot of attention to the issue of online video by news organizations, who she says are awful at online video. The problem we have, in her view, is that we are content-oriented people, so we focus on the content, not the online experience. That is backwards of how it should be. She says you should focus on creating an online experience, not on the content. As an example she pointed to is HuffingtonPost Live: The video is extremely forgettable at this point, but the online dashboard provides a web-native experience, geared for the multitasking that people do online. She says that the video inevitably will improve, but having the best video-exploration experience puts the site in the driver’s seat.

Key quote: “Don’t replicate the TV experience.” People online don’t want to just sit and only have the video play.

Near-term trends she sees for news/content:

–“Atomic”-based news. That is “atomic” in the sense of news being broken into its component bits for better personalization. In other words, for any given story, there is a basic story for the casual reader, a version with more context for those with a higher level of interest, and an expert-level package. This is made possible by rapidly improving algorithms, such as are used by Google and Amazon, tracking the user’s history and interest.

–Algorithm-created content. This would be the automated translation of spreadsheet-based information into full sentences and paragraphs. The algorithms are increasingly sophisticated and produce better and better results. I think something like this could be huge, cost-wise, for such things as sports and cops, so you could hire data-entry people instead of writers. (10/9 UPDATE: This is a company that sells the software.)

–There’s a huge opening for verticals targeting women – but NOT “mom blogs” or “mom” anything, which is overdone and misses the majority of women. She means mainstream topics but reported with a female audience and women’s particular concerns in mind. In the bulk of news, women are an afterthought or absent, so women are hungry to see themselves reflected in the world of news and information.

–Apple vs. Android: Google has a new version of Google Maps coming for Android phones (you may recall that Apple booted Google Maps from the iPhone, with poor reviews for its replacement – one tech guy I talked to in SF says his iPhone can’t even map his home address in NYC). It’s called Google Now. She thinks it will be huge for Android and tilt the field against Apple. Quote: “Google Now will make Siri look like somebody’s high school project.”

–Wearable technology. She brought in a prototype of a purse that recharges your phone. You just drop the phone inside. There’s no plugging it in, no special place to put the phone. She says you probably also will see the same technology incorporated into clothes so that you will have a phone-charging pocket.

Longer-term trend:

–Augmented reality. You may have seen the online demonstration of Google glasses, a pair of glasses that gives the wearer a display of information about things the person looks at. She has seen similar technology in contact lenses.

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The opening day’s keynote speaker was José Antonio Vargas (Storify coverage, video), the former Washington Post reporter who revealed his illegal immigration status. His main point was an argument to stop using the term “illegal alien.” He made a good point, partly on the legal/semantic issue of it being a civil violation to be in the country without documentation, not a criminal one, and partly on the basis of this: “In what other context do we ever describe a person as illegal?” Someone who drives at age 14 has broken the criminal law but is described as an underage driver; someone who drives drunk has broken the criminal law but is described as a drunken driver; neither is an illegal driver. He advocates using the term “undocumented immigrant,” which is both more precise and accurate.

(Poynter rounds up some of the counterarguments.)

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The Friday lunch “keynote” was an interview of Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo. Excellent interview. (Coverage, if you’re interested, or video.) One big bit of news: Twitter is developing tools to make it easier to curate event-oriented tweets. Also, pretty much all of Twitter’s development efforts are targeted at mobile users. Tweetdeck is its desktop tool and the only thing for desktops that is contemplated. (Costolo actually referred to it as something like “Twitter Pro for journalists.”)

UPDATE: Jeff Sonderman at Poynter.org has a list of 12 bite-size takeaways from the conference, largely different than mine.

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Mark Potts’ description on his Recovering Journalist blog of the first glimpses he and Washington Post executives had 20 years ago of the coming media technology revolution reminds me of my own moment of realization on that topic.

It’s worth the time to read Mark’s post, but his tale revolves around this:

“Twenty years ago, Robert G. Kaiser, newly appointed managing editor of The Washington Post, took a trip to California to learn more about the then-developing world of Silicon Valley. While there, he was invited by John Sculley, then Apple’s CEO, to a conference in Japan about the future of digital media. Several dozen movers and shakers from the worlds of publishing and technology gathered in the resort town of Hakone, outside Tokyo, to discuss what it might mean to use computers to collect and distribute news and information, something described by the newfangled word ‘multimedia.’”

It was just 1992, but what was described in that meeting in Japan is pretty much the online media environment we have now. As Mark describes it, Kaiser and others recognized the need to prepare for the technological tidal wave, but for all the effort put into it, things just petered out:

“The history of the past 20 years of newspapers and digital media is, unfortunately, a legacy of timidity, missed opportunities and a general lack of imagination and guts to leap into the future.”

My moment of realization comes on a much smaller, more limited scale. In 1997, I told my reporters that we all needed to think of the newspaper’s website as a place to report breaking news because it put us on an even playing field with TV, but I remained skeptical of how much new effort needed to be directed online. But in June 2005, I attended a session at API in Reston, Va., with the unwieldy name “Cross-Platform Media Teams: Strategic Thinking for a Multi-Platform World,” and that changed everything for me. In particular, a presentation by Jeff Coles of USC’s Center for the Digital Future drove home the idea that the Internet was driving far-reaching changes in people’s behavior in the same way that the advent of television did. The trends indicated that even then, before the first iPhone launched the explosive growth in smartphones.

Which leads us in more recent years to the kind of scenes such as former Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Glader recently described from a trip on Amtrak:

“All of my neighbors were pecking away at Amazon Kindles or Apple iPads. In this container on rails, the microcosm of well-connected travelers showed what kind of ‘Star Trek’ world in which we are, or soon will be, living. … They flitted back and forth, like distracted youngsters, between email, news sites, books and video games like Angry Birds.”

Newsrooms already have been decimated by massive declines in advertising revenue. Often, the cuts in staffing make editors even more resistant to changing beats or organizational structures – we’ve lost so much, how can we do anything new when we can’t even do what we once thought was the bare minimum? But retrenchment is no way to keep up with a world that’s racing ahead of you.

(Thanks to Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman for pointing to both of these articles.)

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RJI Online
I hesitate to draw too many conclusion from the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s latest survey of mobile device use. What I think it shows is that newspaper’s audience in print is also newspaper’s audience online – they tend to be older and have more money. That’s a nice niche, to the extent you’re able to sell that audience to advertisers, but I always look at surveys like this with an eye toward the future. If the bulk of younger people use Androids and don’t subscribe or use news apps, is that the baseline they will maintain as they get older, or will they become more like the older people who more often have iPhones and subscriptions? I think you can assume that what has been true in print will remain true in mobile, which means they are forming habits that will persist.

The stat I think is most instructive is the answer to which content format smartphone owners preferred for consuming news content: Far and away, for all devices (but especially for the Android devices favored by younger groups), the answer is the website, not an app. Put your efforts on your website and you address the largest segment of all demographic groups – but you especially address those younger news consumers whose reading habits you are trying to build.

8/4/12 UPDATE: In early May, Matthew Ingram posted about problems faced by dedicated news apps, a further argument for focusing your efforts on your website.

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USA Today app
The 2012 RJI Mobile Media News Consumption Survey brings some interesting mileposts on the evolution of mobile news use, but to me it seems to raise some questions too.

In a post at poynter.org, Jeff Sonderman writes that certain results of the survey “makes tablet readers seem the best hope for print publishers that want to make a digital transition based on paid content.” Along with a finding that tablets are strongly favored for news consumption by people over 35, Jeff highlights three findings of the survey:

“More than half [52 percent] of the mobile news consumers who said they used their large media tablet most frequently for news also subscribed to a printed newspaper and/or newsmagazine. …
“Those who said they use their large media tablet most frequently for consuming news also are much more likely to subscribe to digital news products than those who said they use their smartphone most frequently for news. …
“About 60 percent of owners who favored large media tablets consider their experience consuming news on their tablets better than reading a printed newspaper.”

Among the questions I have is whether print news organizations should be focusing on where their current audience is or where the potential audience is – and that’s a question that goes back decades.

Among people who already subscribe to newspapers or news magazines, and who are over 35, tablets are a strong favorite – but if you focus on going after that group, what about the people under 35, who much more strongly favor using their smartphones rather than a tablet (57 percent vs. 28 percent)?

Smartphones also are nearly ubiquitous – owned by 92 percent of mobile news consumers, compared to the 40 percent who own tablets.

Maybe if your mobile site is good, it doesn’t matter, but I haven’t heard that the industry is approaching the point where most mobile sites are considered to deliver a good experience. Until then, the few news sites that are good would seem to have an advantage in building a reading habit among a larger segment of the potential audience, leaving the industry still relying on a shrinking portion of the population.

A focus on the tablet also could simply reinforce the old print newsroom habit of tailoring the work toward a particular time of day – except with tablets it is evening instead of morning. Smartphone users are roughly equally likely to check for news at various times of day, while half of tablet users wait until evening.

Ultimately, this may come down to whether you think news will (or should) wind up primarily supported by subscriptions and some type of paywall or will (or should) remain largely free and supported by advertising. If the former, the ready niche – of older, presumably better-off readers accustomed to your style of product – is tablets.

But even if that’s the better path in the short-term because it based on paid content now, not the promise of something uncertain later, it’s less of a digital transition unless your theory is that it is the best way to convince stubbornly print-oriented editors and publishers to begin tailoring their work toward a tablet-based digital audience, and that from there it then would be easier to get to an all-digital orientation from there than from where they are now.

7/11/12 UPDATE: I think my own view comes closer to what the deputy publisher of TPM expressed in May to Nieman Journalism Lab:

“We’re giving a lot of thought to three different kinds of consumption: Active consumption being at the desktop, on-the-go consumption being on your mobile phone, and passive consumption being in your bed, on your tablet, something like that.”

7/13/12 UPDATE: I’d like to see more studies of the effects of paywalls on demographics, but one from Our Hometown about what happened to the online audience of the Times Record in Brunswick, Maine (that link goes to a PDF), should give everyone pause: When the paper’s website was free, the average age of users was 43, but after a paywall went up the number of young site visitors dropped off a cliff and the average age rose to 59.

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As a rookie reporter, I once had the idea of doing a first-person feature about learning to ride a horse, and I called around to a few places. Once place I called, I asked about scheduling a visit, and the person was kind of nonchalant, sort of “Yeah, just come out, we’ll work something out,” sounding not very interested. I called another place and they scheduled something firm. So I never followed up on the first place, wrote my story entirely based on the second — and after the story ran, the first place called my boss and complained about how they had set aside time, scheduled a trainer to wait for me, etc. etc. I was mortified, and it burned a hole in my psyche, and ever since then I have been absolutely mystified — and mortified — by many reporters’ continuing habit to treat public interaction as if it’s a video they can just hit pause and stop on without worrying about how the people on the other end feel or what they are thinking. Last night a reporter told me another reporter would call me today. Still waiting. I work in the business, so I’m like a battered spouse — I’ll forgive anything. But be warned, reporters, whether they read your newspaper regularly or watch your TV show, they think it’s important to have been contacted, and they anticipate the promised follow-up. If you fail to follow through and treat people with this kind of indifference, most people will just write you off, if they are that lenient, and your colleagues with you. You dig your own industry’s grave.

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Google Mobile Ads Blog image
Google has analyzed how people are using tablets and what they are using them for, and easily the least surprising but most trumpeted fact is that people use their tablets rather than booting up a computer (ditto here). Uhhhhh. Really? Do any of these people own a tablet? Once you own any tablet, any of them, using a laptop or desktop computer is like moving from fiber-optic Internet back to dial-up. Computers have to boot up. You wait and wait and wait, sometimes for a whole 60 seconds (!!!), while the tablet — like your phone — is on instantly, but unlike your phone the screen is large enough to let you actually SEE things.

Tablets are not more useful overall than laptops or computers, but for the simple stuff you want to do to fill your time, it is utterly unsurprising that people refuse to boot up rather than simply grab a tablet.

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Nieman Journalism Lab has an interesting report on software that can detect lies or misleading statements in a story, and for a little bit I thought this was going to be a piece on the next step toward robot reporters. (For a diversion, here’s a link to a 2009 video about robot reporters.)

It’s not. *phew*

But it’s the kind of thing that could alter the reporting process:

“His software is not designed to determine lies from truth on its own. That remains primarily the province of real humans. The software is being designed to detect words and phrases that show up in PolitiFact’s database, relying on PolitiFact’s researchers for the truth-telling.”

In other words, the intitial step of fact-checking a statement remains the same, but thereafter the software automatically speeds the process for other reporters, potentially allowing more time and effort to be devoted to things that have not already been checked.

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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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