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March 13, 2014, 2:56 p.m.
Reporting & Production

The Engaging News Project at the University of Texas at Austin has a new report out today called Interactive Features in Online News. In order to get a sense of how features like polls and various share buttons are being treated by newsroom developers, Professor Talia Stroud, the project’s lead researcher, surveyed over 950 web pages and 155 websites.

Stroud frames her study by going back to the earliest days of web journalism, when content was merely being shoveled online.

Why the focus on and excitement about interactivity? The arrival of these news features suggested that the “filter first, publish second” model was transforming. The traditional system was evolving due to the possibility of “mass self-communication” by lay audiences. Site visitors could not only interact with reporters through electronic means, but they could also change and personalize news content for themselves and others, leaving a news website different than how it looked before they visited by, for example, commenting on a story.

Features were taken up scattershot, Stroud writes:

The imbalance also has been seen across different media channels. A recent study looking at online polls and hyperlinks found that more than 30% of U.S. newspaper sites had online polls, but less than 24% of television news sites had polls. Conversely, articles on television news sites had more hyperlinks than newspapers (29% for TV compared to 15% for newspapers). Other studies have shown similar patterns of unequal feature adoption.

The differences between television and newspaper websites make up some of the study’s most interesting tidbits. For example, almost all sites have comments, and almost all allow for comment interaction like replies and up or down voting. Similarly, the majority have mechanisms for reporting abuse, except for top TV sites, only 67 percent of which have such a system. Meanwhile, 74 percent of top newspapers have written codes of conduct, while only 33 percent of the top TV websites have comments behavior guidelines. Another interesting point of comparison is that publishing interactive polls is significantly more common for newspapers than it is for TV.

Two other parts of the study stand out. One, there seems to be surprisingly disparate promotion of news brand apps on mobile sites compared to desktop websites. “Although 70 percent of local television news sites advertise a mobile app on the homepage, only 38 percent advertise the app when accessing the site via mobile. Similarly, although 76 percent of top newspapers advertise a mobile app on their homepages, only 40 percent advertise it when accessing the site via mobile,” Stroud writes.

Finally, Stroud gathers some interesting information about news sites’ internal content recommendation features. The most popular by far is “related/recommended content,” which is used widely, and often powered by algorithm. Between 72 and 88 percent of newspapers use “Most Popular” features; slightly fewer use “Most Discussed” lists. The least used is “Most Emailed,” which is never used on TV sites, and appears on less than 25 percent of newspaper sites.

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LINK: reporterslab.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 20, 2015

A new census from Duke’s Reporters’ Lab says that fact-checking sites are on the rise worldwide:

The 2015 Fact-Checking Census from the Duke Reporters’ Lab found 89 that have been active in the past few years and 64 that are active today. That’s up from 59 total/44 active when we did our last count in May 2014. (We include inactive sites in our total count because sites come and go with election cycles. Some news organizations and journalism NGOs only fact-check during election years.)

Bill Adair, who runs the Reporters’ Lab, used to run PolitiFact — hence his interest.

The survey also found that the use of true/false ratings scales was on the rise, though “Pants On Fire” hasn’t become the universal synonym for lying:

Many rating systems use a true to false scale while others have devised more creative names. For example, ratings for the European site FactCheckEU include “Rather Daft” and “Insane Whopper.” Canada’s Baloney Meter rates statements from “No Baloney” to “Full of Baloney.”

There’s also True to Huckster Propaganda, True to Rubbish, Verdadero to Ridículo, and an array of Pinocchios.

The full list of sites is here.

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You may remember a year ago I posted this short piece that detailed the decline of free daily newspapers in Europe. (“Remember how, a few years ago, some thought that Metro and others of its free ilk would sweep into the space paid dailies were leaving behind? It didn’t work out exactly that way.”) I included this chart by Piet Bakker, perhaps the world’s top analyst of free newspapers:

free-newspapers-chart-piet-bakker

Another year, another chart: Bakker has just updated with 2013 data:

free-dailies-europe-1995-2013-piet-bakker

In other words, more of the same. WAN-IFRA did a brief email interview with Bakker about the state of affairs:

Since free dailies have only one source of income — advertising — the economic crisis hit this sector harder than other print media. Apart from that, there is a general decline in print circulation, probably because younger generations don’t use print that often. This generation was always rather interested in free dailies but now increasingly uses mobile phones during the time that they used to read a free newspaper. And just before the crisis, many free titles were launched (in 2005-2007), which resulted in fierce competition among free papers, hurting the business model even more.

Bakker is also reviewing the situation for free dailies across the world in a 67-part series — the man has stamina! So far, he’s run through Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. (Estonians: Get ready!) He expects to finish Europe by mid-February, then move to the rest of the world.

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LINK: betasurvey.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 15, 2015

nytimes-logoFor two decades, The New York Times has had a reader insight panel — a subset of its audience that it occasionally surveys to “better understand the reading habits, lifestyles and interests of Times readers. (They’re far from alone in this; here’s The Washington Post’s, for instance.) If you’re on it, as I am, you get occasional questions about whether you read a certain section, whether you’d be interested in a particular new Times product, and so on.

But now the Times is using its reader panel for journalistic purposes. For the first time, the results will be published in The New York Times Magazine. I got an email earlier this week under the name of new magazine editor Jake Silverstein (emphasis mine):

Dear New York Times Reader Insight Panel Member,

Whether you are a new Insight Panel member, or have been with us for years, we want to thank you for the invaluable feedback you provide as valued New York Times reader.

Today we have a very special survey. For the first time, results of this Readers Insight Panel survey will be published in The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

The survey covers a number of topics, but it’s all about you. Please note that some of the questions are very personal. In these instances we have provided a “Prefer not to answer” option. If, at any point during the survey, you feel that the questions are too personal, please feel free to stop and close out of it completely. We understand if you are not comfortable answering any or all of our questions. As with all NYT Reader Insight Panel surveys, all answers are strictly confidential. Answers will be reported in the magazine only in aggregate.

The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. Just click on the link below or copy and paste the URL into your browser.

[link omitted]

Thank you very much for participating in our survey.

Sincerely,

Jake Silverstein
Editor, The New York Times Sunday Magazine

I won’t spoil the future reveal of this package for the magazine, other than to note that among the questions were “Who is the best American President ever?,” “Do you have any close friends of a different political party?,” “Have you ever had dinner with your neighbors?,” and “Let’s say you are at a party and people are talking about a particular book that everyone has read except for you. Do you admit you haven’t read it, or do you fake it?”

(Oh, and “Do you believe in God?”)

But I did want to note it as an example of a business-side operation (reader research) and editorial working together, in a way that shouldn’t anger any but the most vitriolic church/state scolds. Why engage an outside polling operation to find out what your readers think — when you’ve already built one in house? The Times’ Innovation report specifically called for more of this sort of collaboration:

The very first step, however, should be a deliberate push to abandon our current metaphors of choice — “The Wall” and “Church and State” — which project an enduring need for division. Increased collaboration, done right, does not present any threat to our values of journalistic independence…

We have an army of colleagues who are committed to helping deliver cutting-edge journalism and growing our audience. [For example?] The Analytics groups use data to learn about our readers’ changing habits as well as the effectiveness of our advertising and marketing. They also gather direct feedback from our readers about what they want from our apps and websites. This group translates those needs for Product and Design.

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Since its launch in 2012, the Solutions Journalism Network has worked with dozens of newsrooms by holding training workshops, helping journalists on individual stories, organizing longterm partnerships, and more.

Today though, SJN is taking its particular brand of journalism to the journalistic masses with the release of a 48-page guide on how to use the solutions journalism method at all stages of reporting a story, from pitching an editor to promoting a finished piece on social media.

Solutions journalism calls for reporters to showcase potential solutions along with the problems they’re reporting on as a way to produce more informative and impactful stories. As the report puts it:

It is increasingly inadequate for journalists to simply note what’s wrong and hope for society to create better laws or provide proper oversight. The world’s problems are just too complex and fast-changing. People must learn about credible examples of responses to problems in order to become empowered, discerning actors capable of shaping a better society. In this context, journalism must augment its traditional role, spotlighting adaptive responses to entrenched social ills.

SJN has previously published tools for practicing solutions journalism on its website, but the new guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF, is meant to be a more comprehensive document that can “answer some of the most common doubts journalists have about this practice — like how to write about failure in a solutions — oriented way.”

The guide gives point-by-point explanations for how to identify what makes a good solutions journalism story, the best way to pitch an editor, the types of questions to ask sources, and how to approach writing a story. There are also annotated stories from The New York Times, The Seattle Times, PRI’s The World, and Kaiser Health News that highlight how the pieces demonstrate solutions journalism.

Here’s a link to the full report.

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Yesterday, CNN announced that it had struck a deal with the feds that represents some progress for those interested in using drones for journalism:

CNN has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) with the Federal Aviation Administration to advance efforts to integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into newsgathering and reporting.

The cooperation arrangement will integrate efforts from CNN’s existing research partnership with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Coordination between and among CNN, GTRI and the FAA has already begun. The FAA will use data collected from this initiative to formulate a framework for various types of UAVs to be safely integrated into newsgathering operations.

Some folks reported on this as if it meant you’d be seeing CNN drone footage any day now. (“After months of studying drones as a news reporting tool, CNN just struck a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration today, meaning lots of eye-in-the-sky Wolf Blitzer segments are forthcoming.” “Drones are going to help CNN bring you the news.” “CNN gets go-ahead to use drones in newsgathering.”) But Matt Waite and other drone journalism aficionados cautioned that the deal isn’t as broad as some are making it seem:

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