Mobile apps

Election coverage shows how online, mobile video has grown

On election night, video was everywhere — and not just on television. Dozens of news sites and mobile apps also featured video, and there was no shortage of places to watch the election results roll in without ever having to touch a remote control.

An amazing number of newspapers put on a full-court press of election night video. The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal (edited segment here), The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times (to name just a few) had wall-to-wall coverage. There were editors and reporters on set, reporters doing live shots, and interviews with experts — many of the trappings of television newscasts. It was an impressive amount of effort.

Some had very polished “talent” on camera.  But too often the journalists in front of the camera weren’t comfortable there — they didn’t look at the camera, didn’t dress for the camera, or had untrained voices that were tough to listen to for stretches of time. There were lots of smart journalists saying interesting things, but information often got lost in technique.

Broadcast journalists have skills that are often undervalued by newspaper folks, and performance is one of them. Think of it like writing. Great information, written poorly, is hard to absorb. Great information poorly delivered is tough to understand.

There were some nice-looking sets, or interesting locations, like the staircase at The New York Times. On the other hand, many sets were in the middle of a newsroom. Newsrooms can be grey, messy places that don’t look great on camera — even with good lighting.

By and large, the television networks were giving me exactly what I wanted throughout the evening — the state of the election returns. So the question that came to mind over and over again as I watched online video was, “What need does this meet?”

A few places had clearly chosen a niche to fill. Huffington Post Live had smart young people in party clothes expressing their opinions on the returns, often quoting breaking news from other outlets. Instead of covering instantaneous results, they were “waxing philosophical,” as one anchor said.

Some outlets, like the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, NewsOK and chose to produce shorter segments throughout the evening and focused on local elections. NewsOK has a lovely set and a very polished anchor, and it used Google hangouts for short newscasts on the hour to talk about local results and issues. only showed live streams from campaign headquarters when candidates took the stage.

On mobile apps, there seemed to be a stronger sense of strategy behind the video streams. ABC News’ iPad app let you choose from four streams, including live video, maps and results, and the network’s social media stream. CNN also gave viewers a choice of multiple streams. The Washington Post’s Politics app highlighted video stories that had been produced based on the election.

By the time the election was called, I felt like I’d overdosed on caffeine from watching video on multiple platforms — at the same time — all night long. That’s not how most people watch. News consumers are constantly using multiple screens, watching TV with their laptop open and their smartphone in hand. But we know that most of the time, they’re sending email or using social media on the second device, not watching video on two screens at the same time.

Which brings me back to the question I raised earlier: What need are we trying to fill? What are we doing with our online video that’s not being done as well or better somewhere else? Are we assuming our audience isn’t watching television on election night? As people connect to the news on multiple screens, what is the job to be done? Great video is hard. It’s expensive. It takes people with a lot of skills.

It’s also important. People are watching more and more video on more platforms. Time spent watching not-on-TV video is growing exponentially. News organizations need to be doing this, and doing it well. As it continues to grow and get better, let’s continue to develop our focus. Read more


Pew: After email, getting news is the most popular activity on smartphones, tablets

The growing number of tablet owners are developing an increased appetite for news, according to a new study from Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Tablet owners spend more time with news from more sources.

The survey measures how many smartphone and tablet owners use the devices to keep up with news, and how they consume news. One key finding is that after email, getting news is the second most popular activity on mobile devices.

Another key finding: Almost one-third of people who acquire tablets find themselves reading more news from more sources than before.

What they’re reading is also interesting. Almost three-fourths of tablet news readers consumed in-depth news articles at least sometimes, with 19 percent saying they do so daily.

A strong majority of tablet readers also said they read at least two-to-three articles in a sitting, many of which they just came across while browsing headlines.

Tablet owners read in-depth articles, and explore articles they weren’t initially seeking.

Most of the people (60 percent) who read in-depth articles on tablets said they get them from just a few specific publications they read regularly, and almost all of those people (90 percent) look at those favorite publications at least once a week.

Overall, the study paints a bright picture of the news consumer’s behavior in the emerging tablet market:

News is a large part of what people do with their mobile devices. Fully 64% of tablet owners get news on their devices at least weekly, including 37% who do so daily. The numbers are similar for smartphone owners – 62% consume news weekly or more and 36% do so daily. For both tablets and smartphones, news is among the top activities people engage in on the devices.

The amount of time spent on these devices getting news is also substantial. Mobile news consumers spend an average of 50 minutes or more getting news on their tablet or smartphone on a typical day.

The introduction of smaller, cheaper 7-inch tablets has expanded and diversified the market in the past year, the study says. A similar study in 2011 found the iPad accounted for 81 percent of the market, while this year’s study has it down to 52 percent. Android-powered tablets, led by the Kindle Fire, have increased to 48 percent in the survey. And this data was collected before the release of Google’s Nexus 7 tablet or Amazon’s newer Kindle Fire HD.

The Android tablet owners, however, are less likely than iPad owners to use the devices each day. The study found 29 percent of Android tablet owners got news daily, compared to 43 percent of iPad owners.

One other lesson to keep in mind from the survey is that “mobile” news consumers are actually not that mobile.

Eighty-five percent of tablet users and 58 percent of smartphone users said they tend to get news on the device while at home.

“In short, while mobile technology allows people to get news on the go, relatively few people do so,” the study says. “The lure of home as a place for news consumption is also linked to the findings about when people get their news. Even though mobile devices make it easier to get news whenever you want, mobile device owners still seem to have habitual times of day when they consume news. And for about half of mobile news users on each device, it is just a single time each day.”

The study also analyzes the revenue conditions of the mobile news market, and my Poynter colleague Rick Edmonds writes about that in a separate post.

One notable piece of data sheds light on the questions of apps vs. websites. The findings reinforce last year’s analysis that while more users prefer websites than apps, the app users consume more news and are more likely to pay for it.

The smaller number of users who prefer news apps to websites spend more time with news, read more news and are more likely to pay for news.

Some caveats

As with any questionnaire-based survey, we should have some skepticism about the respondents’ ability to precisely describe their true behavioral patterns. Asking people to recollect when, where or how they get news is less precise than directly recording their behavior through observation, diaries or analytics.

The survey questioned a random sample of 9,513 adults. The full about mobile news consumption was completed by 1,928 mobile device users, including 810 tablet news users and 1,075 smartphone news users. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for tablet owners and 5.4 percentage points for tablet news users. The margin of error is 2.4 percentage points for smartphone owners and 4.1 for smartphone news users.

Related: Mobile devices offer new business opportunity for news orgs, with old challenges
Earlier: 17 percent of Americans got news on a mobile device yesterday (Poynter) Read more

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One-third of adults under 30 get news on social networks now

For American adults under 30, social media has far surpassed newspapers and has equaled TV as a primary source of daily news, according to a new study of news consumption trends by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press.

The study found 33 percent of those young adults got news from social networks the day before, while 34 percent watched TV news and just 13 percent read print or digital newspaper content.

Overall, the study says, the major trends driving the growth and change of digital news are social media, as well as the rapid adoption of mobile Internet devices.

The top-level trends in social media news consumption:

  • 19 percent of all Americans got news from a social network like Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn yesterday (up from 9 percent in 2010).
  • Among people using social networks, 36 percent got news there yesterday (up from 19 percent in 2010).
Overall use of social media for news consumption is growing, and the rates are similar across three age groups from 18 to 39.
Read more

High Country News raises bar for clever mobile promotions

YouTube | iTunes
High Country News is earning a reputation for nontraditional marketing of its new digital products.

Last December, the nonprofit news magazine about the American West sent an unusually honest press release about its new digital subscription plan and iPhone app. The news release quoted reader feedback that the new product “sucks,” and admission that the publication “turned to highly underpaid coders” to build the iPhone app. But hey, it’s a start.

Now HCN is out with its first iPad app, accompanied by this mockumentary about readers picketing the office with slogans like: “HCN is full of crap; we deserve an iPad app!”

Read more


5 new apps track, fact-check political news as election season intensifies

CNN | ReadWriteWeb

Time to hit the app stores, politics junkies. As the party conventions and fall election season arrive, a bunch of new mobile applications are launching that help users get the latest news, engage in conversation, fact-check claims and inspect the source of advertising.

The Washington Post today released an update to its WP Politics for iPad app, adding a new section called “The Forum” with easily browsable Twitter lists that organize more than 300 relevant accounts into six groups: news outlets, campaigns, partisans, prominent office holders, fact checkers, and jesters (like @ColbertReport and @LOLGOP).

There’s also a “trending” section at the top that highlights the most-retweeted items from each category. The goal, Washington Post director of mobile products Ken Dodelin told me, is to make tweets accessible and relevant to the many people who don’t use Twitter themselves.

“This is a way to get the content of value out of Twitter and in front of them, without having to do all the work,” Dodelin said. “And for the folks who use Twitter a lot, but haven’t really spent the hours and hours to get a robust organization set up in politics, this enables them to do that.” Read more


5 lessons from developing Settle It!, PolitiFact’s new fact-checking mobile app

For the past few months I’ve been working with PolitiFact founder and editor Bill Adair on a new fact-checking mobile app that just came out today for iPhone and Android.

The Settle It! home screen.

“Settle It! PolitiFact’s Argument Ender” was produced by Poynter and PolitiFact, with a grant from the Knight Foundation. The free app is meant to be a tool for people to quickly find and share fact-checks to set their friends and family straight.

We hope you’ll check out the final product, but we also want to share lessons that might be useful to others developing news apps.

Here are a handful of takeaways.

Start with an open mind and diverse ideas

We started this whole project with just one goal: To build an on-demand fact-checking app.

What, exactly, it would do and how we would build it were left intentionally vague. Before we got too attached to any of our own ideas, we first wanted to hear from other smart people.

So we gathered a couple dozen journalists, technologists and idealists for a one-day idea session (generously hosted by NPR). It paid off wonderfully.

From many great app ideas, our brainstormers developed six detailed concepts.

By the end of the day, we had fleshed out some great concepts that eventually became core sections of the app (an argument settler, a quiz game and a fact-check request tool) and an abundance of other inspired ideas we didn’t or couldn’t pursue (like a jargon translator, automated ad verifier, and a politicians’ truthfulness report card).

How did we get there?

Focus on users’ problems, not your own

I am a proponent of building apps that solve users’ problems, not just republish content. (Besides, PolitiFact already has a basic mobile app for browsing its latest content.)

Too many news apps are designed in response to the question, “How can we get all the stuff we publish into an app?” Instead, we should be asking, “What does our audience need in an app, and how can we provide it?”

At that initial brain trust meeting at NPR, we explained the One Goal (some kind of on-demand fact-checking), the structure of PolitiFact data (more on that below), and led participants through a focused brainstorming process.

When I say “focused,” I mean we didn’t jump right to, “Hey, give us some ideas for an app!” Instead, we laid an audience-driven foundation, pushed the full boundaries of possible features, then distilled and synthesized all that into core concepts. Here was our progression:

1. What are the information needs of the potential audiences?

2. In what circumstances (places, times, contexts) might people use this app?

3. What app features would serve those needs and circumstances?

Some of the feature ideas that would help users in search of truth.

4. Finally, what coherent app frameworks emerge from the earlier answers? Each framework should boil down to one clear mission statement: “This app helps X audience accomplish Y purpose in Z method.”

After that, we were left with about a dozen solid, diverse concepts — any one of which could be a great app. We consolidated the list to six categories, and turned our brainstormers loose in small groups to attack the specifics of each one.

Games open users’ minds

One of the sections in Settle It! is a game — the PolitiFact Challenge.

The PolitiFact Challenge, part of the Settle It! app, exposes users to new facts through a fun and nonthreatening game.

It’s a quiz that tests your ability to predict the Truth-O-Meter rating for five recent statements. You get points for correct answers and advance through levels (“intern,” “aide,” “lobbyist,” “pundit” and the elusive “wonk”) over time.

There were several reasons we thought this was a great idea:

  • One problem with fact-checking is that many people don’t want to listen to information that contradicts their beliefs. But in a game environment, those people may expose themselves to new facts without feeling defensive. It changes the psychology from accusatory (“Are you right?”) to a dare (“Can you guess the right answers?”).
  • Many apps are downloaded and never used again. We wanted users to build the habit of opening the Settle It! app, and the quiz helps with that. A new quiz is released each week, so you have to keep coming back to improve your score and advance to new levels.
  • Games are more fun than news. Six of the top 10 free iPhone apps today are games. Most of the others are for photography or ringtones. None is for news. Games are among the most-popular app experiences for mobile users.

HTML5-based development works

Time was a major factor in this project. Once we finished planning and hired a developer, it was July. Our goal was to launch by mid-August — in advance of the party conventions and the fall election season. That gave us about six weeks.

It was also important to make the app widely available, which meant we needed to simultaneously develop versions for iPhone and Android users. And we were working on a grant budget that, while generous, had a limit we could not exceed.

So with time, money and multi-platform development as priorities, we decided to build a single code engine in the universal languages of HTML5 and Javascript libraries, adding Phonegap wrappers at the end to suit it separately for iPhone and Android devices.

The approach functions very well for this app, and any other that primarily displays content and data. Developing in native iOS and Android code could have taken nearly twice as much time and money, or forced us to choose one platform over the other and exclude millions of potential users.

The decision to develop one app for all devices also affects the design. You’ll notice in the Settle It! app that each screen tends to use full-width elements that can adapt to any screen width, and enables vertical scrolling that will suit any screen height. This was necessary to accommodate the many different screen sizes of Android devices.

Think data, not content

All of the great features we built in this app were possible because PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter fact-checks have always been stored as data, not just as text archives.

While most news organizations still produce “articles,” PolitiFact creates highly structured data. Each ruling is its own database entry, with separate fields for the speaker, the statement being checked, the topics, the ruling, the headline, the explanation, the date, the author, and dozens more pieces of information.

PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter items are actually made of many data fields, so our app can easily search, sort and repackage pieces of it through the API.

On top of that is an API that lets outside applications, like the Settle It! app, query the database to return entries filtered by any of those fields.

For our PolitiFact Challenge quiz, for example, we can pull just the items that were rated “True,” “False” or “Pants On Fire!” and that appeared on the national home page. The app can then parse and use specific data fields from each statement (headline goes here, speaker’s photo there, Truth-O-Meter icon over here, etc.).

Any news organization would be wise to start building a foundation of content-as-data and APIs to support all kinds of mobile apps and other content uses for the future.

Many thanks to the Knight Foundation, which funded the planning and development of “Settle It!” and to PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair, journalism professor and original PolitiFact developer Matt Waite, Poynter faculty member and grants coordinator Wendy Wallace, and 3Advance, the app development firm. Read more

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Four things for journalists to consider as full New York Times content comes to Flipboard

As of Thursday, New York Times subscribers can access the news organization’s content from within Flipboard, the aggregated magazine app for iPads and smartphones.

That’s news — even if you don’t subscribe to the Times. Here’s why.

This is what New York Times content will look like in Flipboard.

It is the first time Flipboard has fully subsumed the content of any publisher, and it is “the first time that The Times has offered paid subscribers full access to its content off a Times platform.”

But it won’t be the last. The Times says this is only the first step in a new strategy called “NYT Everywhere,” which will put Times content on many third-party platforms.

There are at least four things journalists and publishers should be considering as this transition occurs.

1. 20 percent of New York Times readers use aggregation apps like Flipboard, website general manager Denise Warren told the Times’ own Bits blog. That’s in line with a recent industry-wide study that found 22 percent of digital-content subscribers preferred to access content through an all-in-one newsstand app.

That raises the question: If one in five people prefer Flipboard-style apps to news orgs’ own apps, does that mean this Flipboard integration could persuade some new people to pay for a Times subscription? That’s certainly the hope.

2. The importance of APIs. Simple RSS/XML feeds of content power most of Flipboard’s sections. But for a deeper integration like this one, it was important for the Times to offer a robust API that could serve content and authenticate subscriber accounts. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue told TechCrunch “we worked closely with The New York Times technical team to integrate their content APIs and authentication back-end so it’s very easy to log-in one time then browse all the content … This was a ground-up build and our first authentication integration.” (If I’ve lost you there, check out four reasons your news org should use APIs.)

3. Can smaller news orgs follow this path? The New York Times already has its own apps for iPad, iPhone and Android, even BlackBerry and Windows Phone. So Flipboard integration is just an added bonus for its tablet-toting subscribers. But smaller news media can’t afford so much custom app development, and now they may find a similar Flipboard partnership is a good way to make their content available to paying subscribers who want access on tablets.

4. Content vs. Customers. On the other hand, there is a potential risk to news organizations in the long-run with this general model.

If you believe the maxim that Content is King, then it makes sense for you to sell and license your content far-and-wide so long as you get paid for it. You fear no disruption from those who produce no content of their own.

It’s a different calculation, however, if you believe that Customers are King. In this model original content is just one method (along with conversation, curation and others) to build audience relationships. The relationships, however originated, hold the true value that can be monetized by other methods like advertising, sponsored content, discount deals, events and licensed user data.

If customers are more important than content, then there’s a real risk to a news publisher of becoming just one of many commoditized content creators while Flipboard and other middlemen control the customer relationship.

Citing such fears, Ad Age reports that Conde Nast magazines Wired and The New Yorker are pulling back their content from Flipboard.

“Our intention is to adapt our model to allow Flipboard users to know what content at Wired is out there. It will have a headline and a sentence leading to a URL. If digital consumers want to interact with Wired, they can do so at and not through an intermediary,” Publisher Howard Mittman told Nat Ives.

Of course, the Times itself is not in any present danger. It has its own popular website and apps, and controls its own subscriber data and revenue. Flipboard integration is just a good experiment and a potential way to acquire new readers.

But it will be interesting to see where else this new NYT Everywhere strategy will carry Times content, and if it does someday change the very nature of what it means to “read The New York Times.”

Related: Wall Street Journal extends premium content to Pulse news app Read more


News apps are starting to update content when users change location

Instapaper | | Apple
A trendy new feature is starting to spread in iPhone news apps: Automatic downloading of the latest content based on a user’s location.’s Paperboy feature lets a user designate his home location, and updates the content automatically whenever he leaves home. pioneered the approach last month with a feature nicknamed “Paperboy,” which lets a user set her home location so the app can download the latest stories whenever she heads out. Now Instapaper has incorporated a similar feature that lets readers set up to 10 locations (home, work, gym, etc.) that should trigger the app to download any newly saved articles.

Why is that useful? It ensures a user has the latest content on her device before she gets on a subway, airplane or other places with no connectivity. It also gets around Apple’s once-a-day limit on how often apps can download new content “in the background” on a device. With this approach, background downloading can happen multiple times as a user travels.

Location-based downloading takes advantage of “geofencing” technology built into iOS since version 4.0. With a user’s permission, an iPhone or iPad app can define a virtual fence around certain geographic regions (a central point plus a given radius). iOS automatically monitors the device’s location, and whenever one of the boundaries is crossed, it triggers a desired action, such as downloading content or reminding a user to pick up his dry cleaning nearby.

Related: Developer documentation on using iOS geofencing (Apple) | How location-based social network Foursquare is about to reinvent itself (TechCrunch) || Earlier: iPhone 4 could accelerate “geofencing” (Poynter) | News orgs should build apps that solve problems, not just republish content (Poynter) Read more


Only in ‘Amercia’: Romney app needs copy editing

Charles Apple | Washington Post
Perhaps some of the copy editors losing their newspaper jobs could find new employment with the presidential campaigns. The Romney campaign released a “With Mitt” iPhone app Tuesday that lets users “customize photos with a variety of Mitt-inspired artistic frames, add personalized messages, and then share with your friends.” One of the 14 superimposed photo messages calls for “A Better Amercia.”

Romney app misspelling
What the view from my balcony looks like in “A Better Amercia.”

The Washington Post reports the Romney campaign has submitted a corrected app to Apple for approval. Apple says it usually completes its app review process within five business days, so we may see Amercia-stamped photos floating around for a few more days.

Earlier: Downward “sprial” for Denver Post copy editing? (Poynter) Read more


Publishers can finally sell digital subscriptions on Android devices

Android Developers | Open Signal Maps
Publishers and other app developers can now sell subscriptions with recurring payments through their Android apps. For the past year Android developers could conduct one-time transactions, such as single-issue sales, through in-app purchases. But only now can Android users authorize automatic monthly or annual payments for a subscription.

Apple has offered in-app subscriptions on iOS devices since February 2011. Just like Apple, Google will process subscription payments and take a 30 percent cut.

The change could improve the profitability of developing for Android, which has more users than iOS but has generated less sales revenue. Google says 23 of the 24 top-grossing apps in its market already use in-app billing, and the revenue from in-app purchases exceeds revenue from paid app downloads. Read more

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