Publishers reach audiences with social media, newsletters and even calendars. What about text messages?

December 3, 2019
Category: Tech & Tools

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Tuesday? Sign up here.

Until recently, journalists were focused on the major platforms — newspapers, TV channels, radio stations and websites. The thinking was that if we built a great product, audiences would swarm to us, and we could sell ads against their attention.

Times changed. We were forced to learn how to reach audiences where they are. That’s probably for the better for our audiences but for the worst for our business models.

Most of us now send newsletters directly to our audiences’ inboxes, share news on social media and even post updates via calendars. And though we’ve barely broken ground with some of these platforms, it’s wise to keep an eye on where we else we could go. Like text messaging.

Granted, messaging audiences via SMS isn’t a new idea. Poynter wrote about ways journalists could use texting way back in 2003. It seems like it has cropped up as a major conversation every few years since then.

But when I go back and read those articles, I can’t help but notice how much the focus is on the newsrooms rather than the audiences. They talk about using texts to distribute news. They talk about using texts to solicit feedback. They talk about texting for the benefit of the media organization, but rarely for the audience.

It’s time to restart that conversation, but this time with our audience-focused approach. What do audiences want and how can we help them? Up-to-the-minute sports scores? Weather updates? Road closures due to storms or construction? Story updates from popular writers? Newsrooms have information that audiences want, and texting is often the best, timeliest, most convenient way to get it to them.

Look at local reporting lab El Tímpano’s plan to distribute news via text to immigrant communities in Oakland, California. On paper, the plan looks a bit like an organization-first, rather than audience-first, approach: El Tímpano will “disseminate news and information, as well as provide an opportunity for community members to share their questions, concerns and stories.”

But there are subtle shifts in the language. It’s about serving audiences, rather than hawking news. And that’s something we all need to keep doing.

Reminder: Google Fusion Tables closes down TODAY.

If you’re still using it to host data, now is the time to migrate it to another service. Google offers instructions on how to do that.

Will eschewing text for audio and video fix comments sections? I have doubts.

Overrun with trolls, bigots and yammering poets with wandering minds, comment sections across the internet have been broken basically forever. So far, few of the fixes we’ve tried have worked. Full-time comments editors? Not enough money. Registration walls? They crumble fast. Requiring full names? Turns out bigots don’t mind going public.

Two entertainment publications, Star Magazine and Life & Style, have a new plan — requiring commenters to leave their missives in audio or video instead of text. They’ll use a tool called Yappa, which “helps publishers clean up the hate spam often left on comments by trolls who hide behind fake avatars and text.”

I’d love to be proven wrong, but I’ll believe it when I hear it.

Local news audiences care about the weather. Here’s one way to do it well.

A Pew study from earlier this year found that 70% of U.S. adults said news about the local weather is important to their day-to-day lives. But in newsrooms, that topic is usually like the weather in Albuquerque — dry and dusty.

It doesn’t need to be that way. The Buffalo News, my hometown publication, offers a feature called “What to Expect in the Next 36 Hours” whenever the weather is notable (h/t to my cubicle buddy Tom Jones for bringing it to my attention). It’s still straight, no-frills information about the weather — typically what you’d expect readers to want with something like this. But it’s given the priority placement it deserves.

There are plenty of ways to share weather news. When it’s so important to audiences, just make sure you’re doing it well.

You should be using a password manager. Which one is right for you?

I run the risk of repeating myself, but you really should be using a password management tool. They can generate nearly uncrackable passwords. They store them in a secure vault. They make it easy to securely share passwords back and forth with colleagues.

But with great options like LastPass, Dashlane, 1Password and a variety of others, how do you choose? Quantopian, a security firm, put together a chart that compares major features of the most popular password management tools (just scroll halfway down the page and tab over to “result” when you get to the code gobbledygook).

My take: Just pick one and use it and never stop. You’ll be safer for it.

Does dark mode really help your eyes? Only in some cases. But it sure looks cool.

All of the cool apps are doing it. Should you do it, too? According to a user design expert, black on white is much easier for most people to read. But some people with certain types of visual impairments find the white on black text of dark mode to be better. The bottom line: If audiences are passionate about something and it doesn’t take a ton of work to implement, why not make them happy?

The Weekly is now available to all New York Times subscribers, even ones without FX or Hulu.

If you’ve been meaning to watch The New York Times’ fantastic weekly TV show but don’t have cable or a Hulu subscription, you’re in luck. New York Times subscribers can now access the show on the NYT website.

News in brief

Newsletters don’t have to be widely available. They can be a subscriber perk. Daily reader interactions can boost audience loyalty, and where better to reach audiences daily than newsletters? (Hmm, text messaging could be a subscriber-only feature, too.)

Need to share large, encrypted files? The new NordLocker might be a good option for you.

No, everything is not awful. Here’s proof. Information is Beautiful, a site that offers handsome visual stories, has a section that focuses only on good news.

A popular audio transcription service might not be a good option for sensitive interviews. Rev, a company that uses human transcription, seems to have some security issues.

You’re switching jobs. So you should share that on LinkedIn, right? Maybe not. An Australian blogger makes a compelling case for waiting a hot minute.

Which streaming services should you pay for? The New York Times offers a fun, interactive guide. My take: Baby Yoda is worth the price of Disney+ on his own.

Ren LaForme is Poynter’s digital tools reporter. He can be reached at ren@poynter.org or on Twitter at @itsren.

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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