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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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Evening Edition looks to build beyond its simple model

The idea of a once-a-day summary of news has obvious appeal for people overwhelmed by streams and feeds. But you’ve also got to get that summary in front of readers.

Mule Design co-founder Mike Monteiro has never argued that Evening Edition — the five-stories-delivered-at-5 o’clock news roundup from Mule Design — is a complicated idea. “Evening Edition is ridiculously, stupidly simple,” he told me. “We got this thing done in 24 hours after thinking it up. It was crazy.” The news summary isn’t exactly a new form.

But that didn’t stop it from being received rapturously in some corners. Jon Mitchell at ReadWriteWeb, for instance: “These Designers Did for Fun What News Sites Can’t Do to Save Their Business…It did in a week’s work what news organizations can’t seem to do at all: deliver their output in a form that’s comfortable and convenient for the audience.” Others praised its simplicity and predicted “it won’t be long before Monteiro and his group are clocking millions of page views.”

A year later, some of that buzz has worn off; pageviews have leveled off at around 30,000 a week, around what it was earning around launch and last fall, and Evening Edition isn’t raised as a savior for media as often. But Mule still believes in the formula and is expanding — even if that means adding some complexity to their simple model.

Monteiro just brought on friend-of-Nieman-Lab Miranda Mulligan (whose day job is executive director of Northwestern’s Knight Lab) to oversee the content as its editor-in-chief, and a New York edition launched last month to accompany the existing Paris, London, and San Francisco editions. (Evening Edition is published at 5 p.m. in each “local” time zone.)

“I have no idea what it’s going to look like in a month,” Mulligan said. “We’re figuring that out as we go.”

Two of her priorities are clear: creating more interesting content, and finding more ways to get people to read it. For instance, last year, when some suggested that push notifications might be a useful way to get people to read Evening Edition, Monteiro argued for simplicity:

Now, he’s warmed up to the idea of an app to provide push notifications, if it means more people paying attention to the publication. “One of things we’ve heard is that people forget it’s there, because people don’t get those alerts for emails the way they do with an app,” Monteiro said, adding that they would be very interested in new desktop push notifications as well. “We’re trying lots of stuff; some of it might stick.”

Mulligan said editions for more cities are coming soon, and she is also working to make that content more reader-friendly. Evening Edition emails typically focus on international news — the four headlines in a recent New York edition email were about Taliban peace talks, global refugee numbers, toxins in the Fukushima water supply, and protests in Brazil — and she acknowledged that the generic writing style can be unappealing.

“I think we might try not necessarily going lighter with the news, but I think we’re going to be trying to be more approachable,” Mulligan said. “Some of it will be style and presentation; some of it will be a more approachable way of writing the stories.” (As she put it in her intro post: “Perhaps we’ll pivot to something more locally focused. Perhaps we’ll shoot for something more dinner-party-esque.”)

Evening Edition is still a side project for Mule, supported in part through sponsorships, which include a small ad on the Evening Edition website, links at the bottom of their daily emails, and a 20- to 30-second spot at the beginning of their daily podcast. “We’ve done okay with that,” Monteiro said. “I don’t think anybody’s getting rich here, but we’ve paid people, you know, a kick past being a volunteer.” (Eight people work on Evening Edition in some capacity, including freelance writers and Mule Design employees who work on other projects as well.)

There’s still lots of power in summarization, but another effort that got some attention last year is also still operating on a small scale. The Brief, a tech-focused publication that also attracted attention for its simple, curated summaries of the day’s news, is a much smaller operation, designed and compiled exclusively by Richard Dunlop-Walters, who also compiles The Feature (née Give Me Something to Read) for Instapaper. Unlike Evening Edition, the site’s identity isn’t staked on being once-daily, Dunlop-Walters says, and now he says he’s considering scrapping that model altogether.

“I’m still deciding the right format for it,” he said. “I think a lot of people, more news junkie people, like to read things through the day. I want to appeal to those people too.”

The Brief, which launched last October, has about 700 subscribers to its free daily email of the day’s tech news, and about 100 of them pay $3 per month for additional content. Dunlop-Walters admits he’s not interested in marketing and promotion, and he’s happy that his readership has slowly expanded in the site’s first six months without worrying too much about the business model.

“It would be nice if it were sustainable, if it was a full-time thing, but that seems a long way off,” he said.

Image from Olivander used under a Creative Commons license.

                                   
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  • Ben

    The problem, it would seem, with most of these approaches is that they assume you are interested in the limited topics of news that a given service caters too. The trick here is how to scale across all sorts of different topics– to appeal to people of different interests. Check out http://www.newsana.com–here they offer the top 5 stories per topic, crowdsourced by their community (disclaimer–I run Newsana).

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Joshua Benton

    So who’s this “they,” kemosabe? :)

  • Ben

    Well, my good man Tonto, the ‘they’ are the services featured here–namely Evening Edition and The Brief. Both seem great, and I’m 100% down with providing 5 must-read articles to readers. But, with both, the reader is subject to the decisions of (at most) a handful of editors, for whom readers rely on for their news judgement (as has been done for decades in traditional newspapers). They may be great at what they do, but I imagine that it’s hard and expensive to scale this approach across enough topics for them to build a readership big enough to healthily monetize–as the details of this story suggest. But I very well could be wrong…

  • http://marclajoie.info/ Marc Lajoie

    It seems a bad idea to begin with. A daily edition was a necessity due to the static nature of print. We’ve been freed the shackles of print; I see no reason to recreate them artificially.

  • JohnDoey

    But days haven’t changed, have they?

  • http://marclajoie.info/ Marc Lajoie

    Sure they have. Or at least work-days. The evening edition of the past was timed to coincide with the end of the workday, when a worker could buy a newspaper and get an update on the day’s happening. Now we access news during downtime, during a break. There are people telecommuting or working odd schedules due to the need to work across international timezones. Of course, some artificial constraints in the digital world are good, serve a purpose, and make a service specialized in a good way–take Twitter’s 140 chars, for example. Other constraints are just that: constraints. I fail to see how these news summaries are made better by the fact that I can’t access them on my schedule. All it means is that if I have time to check the news at 4:55, I’ll go to another site. And maybe I’ll stay there.

  • http://patientambition.com/ Nick

    Why would I want to read a sanitized, condensed version of news stories? No indication of who the writer is, no comments? Give me a break. ABC news radio, top-of-the-hour summaries already do this, but the leftist, ideological slant has gotten nauseating. My go-to place for news has been the Drudge Report for over a decade. I often don’t even have to read the stories to get the gist of it, since Matt and his crew write excellent headlines. Drudge links to a variety of sources and singlehandedly drives more traffic to all of these news sites than they could ever dream of themselves, because he has gained the trust of tens of millions of people as a great news editor. Forget about ideology and politics, from a design perspective Drudge mops the floor with the NYT and the rest. The focus is on the content. In about 20 seconds I can zero in on the stories that interest me. Just compare Drudge to the NYT homepage.

  • Jason Kratz

    So you’ve replaced a leftist slant with one from the other direction. I’ve always found the conservative slant of Drudge nauseating. To each his own but don’t pretend that the site you’re championing doesn’t have it’s own issues.

    I like Evening Edition. The editor is listed right there on the website and the summary provides links to other websites for more information on the story presented so I’m not sure I understand your point. And the lack of comments, quite frankly, is a blessing. Commentary on news websites is a cesspool.

  • http://patientambition.com/ Nick

    Every news organization has its issues, agreed. Based on years of listening to his radio show though, I think Drudge is a Libertarian, if anything and according to this study his site leans to the left (!) given the slant of most of the stories he links to http://www.college.ucla.edu/report/vol6_media-bias.pdf

    Back to Evening Edition, here’s an excerpt from the NY edition about the Obama administration pushing back the ACA business provisions to 2015, past the 2014 elections:

    “…The White House website explained that they’re postponing the decision to give employers more time to comply with the law (or face a fine) and that the measure will be implemented in 2015. The step will likely reduce the number the number of uninsured people who gain coverage under the ACA. Employer groups were quick to applaud the delay. Republicans, unsurprisingly, reacted with contradictory statements of glee. Some attacked Obama for not implementing the health care reform they have fought to defund or repeal quickly enough. Others claimed that the delay was a “political ploy” to push the “train wreck” until after the mid-term elections so Democrats can avoid the political fallout. In reality, it means that the Republicans will continue railing against the ACA in the next election cycle, pretending to forget all the train wrecks their own health care policies actually caused.”

    Do you think citing White House propaganda followed by obvious editorializing can fairly be called the “perfect commute-sized way to catch up on the days news” ?

    As far as comments go, I think it’s cowardly for any news site to ban them. There will always be trolls, but there’s more truth to be found in the comments than most news stories.

  • Blair Miller

    One similar-ish service I didn’t see mentioned in the article or the comments: NextDraft, found at http://nextdraft.com/. Available as an email or an app, Dave Pell does a great job of curating the day’s news and things-gone-viral into 10 short-ish blurbs with one or more links to source material. Part “summary” and part “here—go read/watch/see this”. If that makes sense…

  • mewcomm

    Sometimes you read these Cheerleading Nieman J Lab pieces wondering “just what is the point”? While I applaud the experimentation various people and groups are doing with what was once called Journalism, some of it is just noise.

    Prediction: 12 months from now this model will be but a memory. If not, it will be heavily subsidized.

  • mewcomm

    Newsana looks imaginative Ben. But it surely is not for professionals who live urgently. You want us to engage your site at a level that only retirees or bored students have the time for. If this is a populist “Editors” approach, that’s fine. But since I know little to nothing of the group (and have no interest in knowing them) I’m clearly not your target demo.

    Still, you might last a bit longer than the blase almost indifferent style of Dunlop-Walters.

    I’ll stick to the NY Times/ FT ahd HuffPo for now.

  • http://peterc.org/ Peter Cooper

    You predicted correctly. Evening Edition appears to have shut down, as has The Brief. Proof, if any were needed, that media – money == no media.

  • mewcomm

    A few months prior to Apple’s introduction of the iPhone some years ago, I said in a meeting….. “What is Apple thinking? I just don’t see them making a big splash!” My colleagues teased me for years after that! Laughs.

    I’m a Ham Radio operator and talk randomly to people around the world. I always ask if they are “subscribing” to any media beyond their local “paper”. If they say no, I launch into my version of your “Media-Money===No Media” formula.

    Cheers,
    mike from Virginia