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April 25, 2012, 5:21 p.m.
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As news shifts toward mobile, will text alerts get left behind?

The Washington Post is ending its text message alert service, focusing on smartphone push notifications and email alerts instead.

In a blast text message to subscribers on Tuesday afternoon, The Washington Post announced that it’s…ending blast text messages to subscribers, on April 30. So don’t expect to get SMS headlines like “Mitt Romney sweeps GOP primaries in five states” for much longer. The newspaper’s mobile team was reluctant to detail how this fits into a larger mobile strategy but Beth Jacobs, the Washington Post’s mobile general manager, provided this statement:

We found that more of our readers want to receive news alerts from e-mail. And because so few of our readers were signing up for text alerts, it made more sense to dedicate our resources to push alerts through our mobile apps.

The Post wouldn’t quantify what “so few” meant. News consumption is growing more mobile, but with the number of smartphone and tablet users on the rise, it might make sense for newsrooms to abandon text alerts — which can cost money for both sender and receiver — and shift to push notifications and that old standby, email.

People are still text messaging like crazy — averaging 40 messages sent and received each day — but texting leveled off between 2010 and 2011, according to a 2011 Pew study. That’s in part due to a rise in alternatives to texting, like Facebook chat and Twitter direct messages, and because smartphone apps can generate on-time notifications without the cost of SMS. Last year, Apple introduced iMessage, a protocol that allows iOS users to bypass carriers to reach one another with what look and act like texts; BlackBerry’s BBM has been around for several years.

It wasn’t so long ago that newsrooms delivering text alerts were providing a cutting edge service for an on-demand audience. People still appear to want news and information on-demand — if text messaging is tapering off, it likely illustrates that distribution preferences are evolving.

That being said, there was only a small smattering of Twitter-expressed disappointment about the Washington Post announcement:

The Washington Post isn’t alone. The Los Angeles Times doesn’t offer text alerts, nor does The Wall Street Journal, though a spokeswoman says it once did. (It reported last June that text messaging in the United States was “slowing sharply.”)

Large-circulation U.S. dailies that will still text you include The New York Times, which offers text alerts about severe weather, real estate, sports and more. USA Today says on its website that it will text subscribers with updates on sports, weather, stock quotes, and celebrity gossip.

Photo by Yutaka Tsutano used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     April 25, 2012, 5:21 p.m.
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