58% of US adults say they have a smartphone — and other sobering stats from Pew

Pew Research Center

As an online journalist I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that the mobile revolution hasn’t put a smartphone in the pocket of every American yet. Read more

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At Circa, it’s not about ‘chunkifying’ news but adding structure

You sometimes hear what we do at Circa described as “chunkifying” — taking the news and presenting it in mobile-friendly chunks. And while on the surface this observation is correct, it misses the bigger picture.

Yes, each “point” of Circa is a single unit of news — something designated as a fact, quote, statistic, event or image. We thread these points together to tell stories. The end result is succinct and allows us to track which points a reader has consumed, powering our unique “follow” feature.

But I often respond to talk of chunkifying by pointing out that what we’re really doing at Circa is adding structure to information — and it could be the most powerful thing we do. Indeed, there’s an increasing amount of discussion around “atoms” of news. But the interesting thing about those atoms of news isn’t that they’re short — that’s another surface observation. The interesting thing is how those atoms combine.

The assumed output of a reporter is the “article.” That’s what reporters are supposed to produce during their work day, and it’s the default unit by which journalists organize their data. There’s plenty of information in the text that’s produced, but how much of that information is structured? In a typical content management system (CMS) you’ll find a headline field, a main text field, information about the article’s creator, a date of its creation and maybe a field for some meta-tags — usually basic nouns — included as an afterthought, often for SEO purposes.

If I just described 90 percent of the CMSes you’ve used, read on.

The value of journalism comes from filtering things out of the flow of information and serving them up to readers. But those basic fields in the CMS fail to capture a lot of the value of information invested in the reporting process. If you asked a reporter about the information in an article you’d get specifics: It contains a quote from the mayor, some statistics about government spending, the announcement of a new zoning permit, a description of a local event, and so on. But that information is adrift inside the main unit of the article — without structure it’s lost, except for the ability to search for a string of words in Google.

At Circa we do things differently. The process of creating a story requires the writer to tag information in a structured way. If we insert a quote, we have two extra fields for the name of the person quoted and an alias — their working title. As a result, I can ask our chief technology officer to search our database for all the quotes we have from, say, Eric Holder. I can also ask to have that search refined by date(s) or topics: “Give me all the Eric Holder quotes from the last six months that are associated with the IRS. Also, I’d like all the aliases we’ve used for him.”

In a newsroom where data is unstructured this task would be incredibly time-consuming if not impossible. But because our content is structured, at Circa it’s simply a matter of asking.

The CMS or platform that a news organization uses to create content isn’t neutral. Decisions made in building or configuring that CMS define the way news is displayed later. If an input field for the “location” of an event doesn’t exist, then the only way to surface all events that took place at a specific location is to conduct a painstaking search through the blobs of words that exist in the main content field of articles.

Modern journalists are actually more familiar with the idea of structured data than they may realize. Part of the beauty and charm of the Pulitzer-winning PolitiFact is their Truth-O-Meter. The Truth-O-Meter is a way that PolitiFact structures data: Every “article” is tagged at some level, and if I want to find all the “Pants on Fire” stories, here they are. That’s not an accident: PolitiFact decided to build that into their CMS, into the very DNA of what they do. (You can also query by speakers and subjects.)

The job of a reporter is to collect, filter, organize and then deliver information. Shouldn’t a CMS capture the level of detail that we invest in that process from the start? Why do we always invoke the idea of narrative structure over structured data?

Here’s something Ezra Klein wrote in discussing his move to his new venture at Vox: “The software newsrooms have adopted in the digital age has too often reinforced a workflow built around the old medium. We’ve made the news faster, more beautiful, and more accessible. But in doing we’ve carried the constraints of an old technology over to a new one.” As Steve Buttry leads “Project Unbolt,” I suspect one of the barriers Digital First Media will need to confront is that their CMS is designed to produce articles, an increasingly arcane manner of structuring information.

Data-driven journalism is, of course, a growing movement. The best-understood example of data-driven journalism is the crime map: we collect the location/type of crimes and then overlay that information on a map. Because there’s structure to the information, we can surface greater meaning from it.

The question, however, is if we can expand this concept beyond the low-hanging data sets. At Circa we’re trying to answer that question, starting with the realization that we’re dealing with data all the time — we only need to organize it.

David Cohn is director of news at Circa and a member of Poynter’s adjunct faculty. Previously he worked on some of the first endeavors exploring crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in journalism. You can find him on Twitter at @digidave. Read more

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News Corp Split

PoynterVision: Why News Corp acquired Storyful

Raju Narisetti, senior vice president and deputy head of strategy at News Corp, explains the reasons behind News Corp’s $25 million acquisition of Storyful in December. Many newsrooms have adopted Storyful to help them verify social media and video content. Watch the video to hear how Narisetti, who came to Poynter for the Future of News Audiences conference Jan. 26-27, sees Storyful’s verification tools fit into News Corp’s larger strategy.

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Why the mobile-preview feature in BuzzFeed’s CMS should matter to you

When Dao Nguyen forgot to check a piece she wrote on a mobile device before it went live, she knew BuzzFeed had a problem. Nguyen is BuzzFeed’s vice president of growth and data, and “obviously it’s not my job to write a post,” she said by phone. But writing a big list post is a lot of work, she said, and previewing it on a non-desktop platform was a task easily forgotten.

Now when BuzzFeed authors click the preview button in their CMS, they see what their posts will look like on mobile devices as well as on desktop computers when they preview them, Nguyen said. That’s a fix that’s important for the site’s readers’ experiences, because sometimes writers use “embeds and large graphics that don’t scale down to mobile-sized screens,” Chris Johanesen, BuzzFeed’s vice president of product, said on the same call.

But it’s also important for BuzzFeed’s business: “Very often people discover our content on their phones,” she said. The site’s trademark lists and reported articles get lots of mobile traffic (almost half of the million views of a recent long BuzzFeed article were on mobile devices, Megan Garber reported earlier this month), but the site’s graphics-heavy quizzes “do really really well on mobile,” Nguyen said. One, “What City Should You Actually Live In?,” had more than half its views from mobile devices.

Preview a post in the BuzzFeed CMS, and you’ll automatically see what it looks like on a phone.

OK, so a tweak to BuzzFeed’s content management system isn’t exactly the most earth-shaking media news. And BuzzFeed’s mission is probably nothing like the one your newsroom has. But content management systems matter, as Felix Salmon wrote back in November: Publications that want to compete on a large scale need a CMS that “does everything well, from video to real-time storytelling to sophisticated ad integration,” like Vox Media’s Chorus platform. (Ezra Klein, in fact, cited Chorus as a major draw when he brought his as-yet-unnamed publication to Vox.)

BuzzFeed’s CMS may not scale in the same ways Vox’s can — it’s “so narrowly optimized to the unique BuzzFeed voice that it’s hard to see it being extended across a broad swathe of different sites,” Salmon wrote — but publications that want to compete in their own territory might want to look at how BuzzFeed’s product teams interact with its editorial and advertising pods, and build tools that help both sides succeed.

When I visited BuzzFeed’s new office late last year, I noticed that the tech teams were situated at the bottom of a “U,” with editorial up one side of the letter and business on the other. Between those departments was a thick wall. That real estate isn’t just symbolically important, Nguyen said: “At some media companies, technology isn’t necessarily a first class citizen. At BuzzFeed, technology is really core to the product, core to the success.”

As the site’s began adding content types beyond lists, the CMS evolved in consultation with all the groups who used it, Johanesen said. Editors have a dashboard that gives them data like what percentage of traffic to a piece is coming from mobile devices, for instance. “We know that certain social networks behave differently on different devices, Nguyen said. For example, Traffic that comes from Pinterest users on tablet devices is higher than traffic that comes from Twitter users on tablets. “A subtle distinction but one of the many things we look at,” she said. With those kind of tools, she said, “You’re a better editor.”

The creators of BuzzFeed’s sponsored content posts use the same tools, Johanesen said, benefiting from the same data insights as well.

Alice DuBois, who’s the product lead for editorial, meets weekly with the editorial department to discuss improvements to the CMS. “There’s lots of cheering in those meetings,” Nguyen said. Shani O. Hilton and Saeed Jones, both editors at BuzzFeed, confirmed in emails to Poynter that cheering is not uncommon in these gatherings. Hilton added that email chains DuBois starts are sometimes greeted by “dozens of excited reaction gifs, dispatched from staffers across editorial.” Read more

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Spiegelplatten reflektieren Frankfurter Passanten und Gebaeude fuer Werbeaktion

As CNN mobile traffic hits 40%, editor calls web vs. apps debate ‘red herring’

CNN announced last week that mobile page views accounted for 40 percent of its overall traffic, the result of equally emphasizing its mobile website and mobile apps even as some in the industry remain stuck in an either-or debate.

ESPN’s traffic crossed the 50 percent mobile threshold late last year and BuzzFeed’s traffic is also majority mobile, but CNN’s 40 percent is impressive for a general news organization — one known to take particular advantage of softer content. “We’ve been saying 2014 is going to be the year that we go over 50 percent for mobile usage,” said Meredith Artley, CNN Digital’s managing editor.

I wondered if CNN was shifting resources away from apps and toward the mobile web, especially in light of reports like the latest from Flurry Analytics that indicate news apps struggle to compete with social media apps for mobile users’ attention. (Flurry found use of social/messaging apps grew 203 percent in 2013, compared with just 31 percent in the news/magazines category.)

But Artley told me via phone she doesn’t get caught up in the ever-shifting rhetoric surrounding mobile apps:

One month, they’re dead, they’re hard, they’re expensive, you have to get approval, they’re closed off. … Then the next month you hear they take advantage of the mobile platform in a way the mobile web can’t. It feels like a roller coaster that really I think is a red herring, mobile web versus apps.

It’s impossible to argue that the best answer to the web vs. app debate is “both,” and Artley acknowledged many news organizations don’t have the global resources — as CNN does — to devote to every platform imaginable. (The Financial Times is a notable global brand that did make a choice to go web-only.)

CNN’s mobile website, shown here on a Nokia Lumia 520 Windows Phone, conveniently — or annoyingly — points readers to the mobile app.

Still, I was surprised to hear that CNN is as bullish on mobile apps as it is on the mobile web — but maybe I shouldn’t have been, considering a visit to CNN’s mobile site yields a prompt to download the CNN app.

At the same time, CNN app downloads across platforms have been flat in the last three years, with 13 million downloads in 2011, 12 million in 2012 and another 12 million in 2013, perhaps reflecting users’ increasing reluctance to bury themselves in apps on their devices.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect CNN to discontinue its apps altogether in favor of the mobile web even if it felt apps were going out of style. News outlets needed native apps in the early days of the iPhone and iPad, so those existing user bases would be tough to abandon, and the CNN app does currently present the news more cleanly and visually than CNN’s mobile site does. (And apps tap in to a device’s notification system, no small consideration if your bread and butter is breaking news.)

On the other hand, it’s hard not to be persuaded by one of the common arguments we hear and that Artley brought up: apps are too walled-off to remain relevant in an increasingly connected media landscape. Add the fact that CNN has two of the 10 most-followed brands on Twitter and the largest Facebook audience of any news organization, and why should CNN push readers to an app that doesn’t offer an experience significantly better than its mobile website does? And given the relentless dominance of social apps, why not make sure your website reflects your best foot forward on mobile? Is 2014 the right time to be directing readers away from the web and toward an app?

Then again, the social/messaging platforms that are growing fastest and perhaps at the expense of news/magazine apps — WeChat, SnapChat, Instagram, etc. — hardly offer much to news organizations. So it’s not as simple as saying, “Social is huge, so the best strategy is to be as shareable as possible on social.” Some of the hottest new social apps aren’t built for the type of sharing that would draw heavy traffic to CNN’s mobile site anyway.

Worth noting

  • Artley said mobile traffic remains pretty consistent throughout all seven days of the week, but desktop drops by half on weekends, reflecting industrywide trends. She also, interestingly, said desktop was becoming a “niche platform” with massive numbers mainly between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Desktop still accounts for a majority of CNN’s traffic, so that’s a pretty big niche.)
  • CNN’s video traffic was dominated one day last week by that weird devil baby promotion, posted late Wednesday night to Facebook and shared over 1,500 times. The lessons: You never know what will rule a day (it’s often not hard news), and being active on social media as people are falling asleep with their mobile devices is a smart idea.
  • While the news giant saw 40 percent mobile traffic overall in 2013, two months — August and November — tallied 44 percent mobile traffic.

Related training: Mobile Metrics: Truth and Myths | Monetizing Mobile Products: Ads, Apps and More | The Essentials of Mobile Journalism: Webinar Series Read more


PoynterVision: Mobile web is baseline for news

Every news organization should have a mobile web presence, Allen Klosowski, vice president of mobile and connected devices at video advertising firm SpotXchange, told Poynter during his visit for a NewsU webinar. He explains why mobile web should be the first consideration before apps and e-books.

View a free replay of Klosowski’s NewsU webinar about how to monetize mobile revenue using the promo code: 13POYNTER100MOBILE.

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Future of Digital: Business Insider’s crystal ball

Business Insider

In case you missed it, Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget and its BI Intelligence research service distilled a slew of digital trends for its Ignition event earlier this month, trends that news organizations might ponder and act on.

In a slide deck posted Nov. 12, the news site identified these major movements in the marketplace: Read more

Press members photograph the Nokia Lumia 1020 during a Nokia event in July (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for Nokia/AP Images).

What mobile journalists should have on their holiday shopping lists

Here are a few ideas for the mobile journalist’s holiday wish list as news production increasingly relies less on expensive, high-end cameras and laptops. Read more

Allen Klosowski

PoynterVision: Size of news outlets impacts mobile story approach

Large media organizations face different mobile challenges from smaller ones. Structure also matters; a large organization like NPR will approach a project differently from a large but more disbursed one like Digital First Media. Allen Klosowski, vice president of mobile and connected devices at video advertising firm SpotXchange, offers insights on tackling mobile-packaged stories based on his experience as former senior director of mobile and social media at Digital First Media.

Watch a free replay of Klosowski’s NewsU webinar on how to monetize mobile revenue  using this discount code: 13POYNTER100MOBILE.

  Read more

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 4.19.53 PM

PoynterVision: Measuring mobile traffic

Measuring mobile traffics is challenging: how do you compare mobile and desktop traffic? Allen Klosowski, vice president of mobile and connected devices at video advertising company SpotXchange, shares how he calculated mobile metrics when he was senior director of mobile and social media at Digital First Media.

Watch a free replay of Klosowski’s NewsU webinar on how to monetize mobile revenue using this discount code: 13POYNTER100MOBILE. Read more


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