Digital startups born in India are taking hold far better than foreign competitors, journalist (and former Nieman-Berkman fellow) Hasit Shah, who’s researching Digital India at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, wrote in his snapshot of three digital news ventures, each successful in its own way.
For context, from the report: Growth in Internet users in India has outpaced projections, driven by a smartphone boom. In India, 65 percent of Internet traffic in 2015 was estimated to be mobile traffic (though much of it was limited by 2G or 3G service). Digital advertising, too, has been estimated to grow 40 percent annually from 2011 onward.
Many Indian news startups, as well as legacy news organizations, have clearly been attentive to this growth area. The year-old for-profit outlet The Quint, for instance, is building a mix of content across many different channels, but is focusing on “a younger audience of smartphone users active on social media.” It looked at U.S. ventures like BuzzFeed, Mashable, Vice, and Vox for insights, and its business strategy depends largely on “rapid growth in audience reach and volume” and advertising.
Currently, The Quint has three streams of content, one of which is original, the other is what is reported by other media and curated with full attribution, and the third is what they pick up from the same wire sources as everyone else. To avoid being seen as an entertainment-only brand, The Quint is promoting its more substantial journalism via social media and also prioritizes these pieces both on-site and in their app….In terms of reach, the Quint is in a different league from most start-ups in India and competes more directly with legacy players like newspapers and broadcasters.
A very different model is Khabar Lahariya’s. Khabar Lahariya is run by women with a focus on rural areas and issues, born from a print newspaper launched by a Delhi-based NGO. Its digital presence, however, grew and evolved quickly:
The context Khabar Lahariya operates in has changed in the last years, as mobile penetration has also increased in poor rural areas. When the website was launched initially it was just like an archiving system, where some of the stories would be uploaded on the website, only some would be translated, and it wasn’t so extensively promoted or circulated. “Now we do it actively through social media and also through the website. Last year we carried out crowdfunding twice and through that our networks also increased.”
The organization is grant-supported, though, and the funding it received for digital expansion has ended. It’s considering moving beyond grants and donations, and perhaps even advertising:
Whenever we have presented our model to funders we have been told that this is unsustainable. [Another co-founder said], “If you know what the Vice media model is, we are thinking if we can follow that. Our primary audience of the videos will be very niche. We can tell advertisers if they wish to advertise in those videos they can reach out to them.”
More than 40 percent of American adults get news on Facebook, according to a report published Thursday by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation. (Disclosure: Knight is a supporter of the Lab.)
Two-thirds of Facebook users access news on the social platform, and with 67 percent of U.S. adults active on Facebook, that translates to 44 percent of the overall U.S. population which accesses news on the social platform, the study said.
The conversation around Facebook’s role in the news has grown in recent weeks after Gizmodo reported that the company hired curators to decide the trending topics that feature prominently on its desktop site.
It’s undeniable that Facebook is a massive source of news consumption, and, according to the study, it’s only growing. A 2013 Pew report found that 47 percent of Facebook users went there for news. Today, 66 percent of Facebook users get news there, the study found.
In total, 62 percent of American adults access news on social media, according to the report. That’s an increase from 49 percent of U.S. adults who said they got news on social media in a similar study from 2012. However, 64 percent of Americans get their news from just one social media site, with Facebook being the most common platform for news. Twenty-six percent access news on two social platforms and 10 percent from three or more.
Facebook is overwhelmingly the largest social media source of news for Americans. 10 percent of U.S. adults get news on YouTube, 9 percent see news on Twitter, 4 percent on Instagram, and 2 percent on Snapchat and Reddit.
Though their overall audiences are smaller, large percentages of users go to platforms such as Twitter and Reddit for news. On Reddit, 70 percent of users get news there and 59 percent of Twitter users get their news in 140-character bits, according to the report. Seventeen percent of users get news on Snapchat.
Users of Twitter, Reddit, and LinkedIn tend to seek out news on those platforms while users of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are more likely to stumble upon news there. Sixty-three percent of Instagram users and 62 percent of Facebook users said they tend to find news on the platforms while they’re doing other things there.
The report also found that each of the social networks appeal to different audiences:
Instagram news consumers stand out from other groups as more likely to be non-white, young and, for all but Facebook, female. LinkedIn news consumers are more likely to have a college degree than news users of the other four platforms; Twitter news users are the second most likely.
Here’s a new stab at local news: A new media company founded by Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal; Kevin Ryan, the founder of Business Insider; and Jim Friedlich, a former Journal exec, is launching a line of city-specific news properties under the umbrella of a still-unnamed media company.
First up is Denver. Denverite will launch as an email newsletter in June. According to a release:
In addition to breaking news and telling stories worth sharing, Denverite will create resources that help explain the sometimes hidden or confusing systems and rules of the Mile High City and the state of Colorado, and will point to great reporting, writing and storytelling in the metro area, even if it didn’t appear in a Denverite product.
Denverite’s editor-in-chief is Dave Burdick, who was previously the deputy features editor at The Denver Post. “The mission of Denverite is to provide our subscribers, followers, and readers with the finite amount of information that really matters right now,” Burdick said in a statement.
The ultimate plan is to expand the model of aggregation, curation, and original reporting to cities across the U.S. Denverite, with eight to ten writers, will probably be in operation for almost a year before any expansion takes place, Ken Doctor reported in Politico. After beginning as an email newsletter, Denverite will expand to a website and responsive mobile site by the end of June. There will be no advertising for at least the first six months.
Denverite can perhaps be seen in the model of Billy Penn, the mobile-first Philadelphia news site. Billy Penn’s parent company, Spirited Media, plans to launch a second site called The Incline, focused on Pittsburgh, later this summer.
Photo of Denver by Al Case used under a Creative Commons license.
“It’s very easy today to be click-driven and produce articles that don’t have a lot of substance or depth and don’t cost that much to produce, but that dynamic is disappointing for fans who want higher-quality content.”
Twitter is making a handful of changes to its 140-character limit.
Twitter said Tuesday that it will no longer count @names and media attachments such as photos, videos, or quote tweets towards the 140-character limit.
Tweaks are also being made to how Twitter handles @replies: Now, any tweet that begins with a username will be sent to all of a user’s followers, rather than just the user mentioned. Users no longer have to use the “.@” workaround, which accomplished the same end. It also lets users create reply threads that include up to 50 users. Last, Twitter said that users will also be able to more easily retweet their previous tweets.
The tweaks, which Twitter says will be implemented “in the coming months,” essentially make it simpler for people to create tweets with photos, videos and polls, as well as start and sustain conversations with others. All of that should make Twitter easier to use for current users and, ideally, help it attract new ones. (It should also make Twitter’s advertisers a little happier.) Twitter said it had 320 million average monthly active users last quarter, flat compared to the quarter prior.
The tweaks aren’t getting universal praise, however. Besides the dubious utility of lettings users retweet themselves, some users are also confused by how Twitter will treat @replies now that all users’ followers will see them by default. Essentially, Twitter will split @replies into two groups: Those that are replies to other tweets (which will only be seen by those in the conversation) and new tweets that start with a username (which will be seen by all of a user’s followers).
The change could also make life easier for Twitter spammers.
I’m going to miss the .@ thing. I don’t want the whole world to see my lame, inside-jokey replies to friends https://t.co/D9u5TSAVLK
On April 25, publishers, platforms, and industry groups including ESPN, Google, and The Guardian met in New York to discuss how to deal with the continued threat of adblocking.
The meeting was organized by Johnny Ryan, the head of ecosystem at PageFair, a company that builds technology to circumvent adblocking, and Jason Kint, CEO of industry trade group Digital Content Next. This was the third such meeting that has been organized — the previous two took place in London last fall and earlier this spring.
Though the meeting was private, the participants came away with seven takeaways that they’re sharing publicly, offering interested parties advice on how to best deal with the threat of adblocking.
While this was a cross-industry group, one relevant party wasn’t included in the meeting, though: Adblocking companies themselves. Eyeo, the company behind the popular Adblock Plus adblocker, put on its own meeting between publishers and advertisers last fall in New York. DCN and the Interactive Advertising Bureau were invited to that meeting but didn’t attend.
Regardless, here are the seven recommendations that the participants in the April meeting came up with for dealing with “the blocked web” — the Internet that users see when they browse with an adblocker turned on.
1. “On the blocked web, the user must have immediate tools to reject and to complain about advertising.”
Though the participants didn’t agree on the best way for consumers to reject ads, they did agree that there needs to be an element of choice for users. Consumers, Kint said, need to be part of the advertising experience.
“There was an agreement that there needs to be a feedback loop from the consumer,” Kint said. “There needs to be some element of choice…a more productive set of tools, or the ability for consumers to express feedback to advertisers. That could mean everything from technology that better signals a consumer issue in the adtech space, to the consumer being able to express in real time that ads are causing issues.”
2. “Rather than restore all ads on the blocked web, only a limited number of premium advertising slots should be restored. This will make a better impact for brands, clean up the user experience, and incentivize better creative.”
In a race to generate as much revenue as they can from web ads, publishers have loaded their pages with too many display ads.
“Publishers needing to monetize their pages has resulted in more and more ads and less ability to push back on certain ads that negatively impact the consumer,” Kint said. “So, you end up with less consumer trust, a worse consumer experience, and it becomes a vicious cycle.”
In response, publishers should offer fewer ads and charge a premium for them. “Inventory is scarce, therefore it’s expensive,” Ryan said.
3. “The blocked web may provide the opportunity to establish a new form of above-the-line advertising.”
Much existing digital advertising is an attempt to collect data around users. Publishers and advertisers need to move away from this practice, Kint and Ryan argued.
“We’re not looking to invent some new sexy thing,” Ryan said. “Advertising needs to go back to a simpler place. Less intrusion is more. We’re talking about ads that would resonate very well.”
These wouldn’t necessarily be native ads, but they’d be ads that aren’t distracting and don’t take away from the editorial content. “They’re not ads that have an X that you have to go out of your way to click,” Kint said.
4. “Contextual targeting can be used on the blocked web to establish ad relevance if other forms of tracking are not practical or desirable.”
Though users don’t like being tracked by advertisers, there are other ways to target ads toward them.
“You show a relevant ad by taking a look at what you’re reading,” Ryan said. “It’s not snooping. If this article is about golf, let’s show this guy a set of golf clubs or an insurance policy for his home, because golfers tend to be homeowner.”
Contextual targeting may be the most difficult of these recommendations to accept.
“On the blocked web, you no longer have third-party data collection, cookies, and ways to track the user out of context,” Kint said. “Consumers have said, ‘I don’t want that to happen anymore.’ Whether it’s the data and privacy piece, the security issues that get introduced, or the latency that happens because of all those third parties, tracking is not acceptable. You have to find another way to bring value to the advertiser.”
5. On the blocked web, where third-party tracking is largely blocked, publishers can create new value by engaging with their users to elicit volunteered data.
This type of interaction already happens when readers sign up for email newsletters or voluntarily take online surveys.
“They do it all the time already, with personalization and other ways that they get value back in return,” Kint said. “It’s been happening forever. This is more about the realization and acceptance that third-party tracking has gone away with adblocking.”
6. “Measuring advertising success on the blocked web with broader top-of-funnel metrics may incentivize buyers to focus on value rather than cheapness. A second benefit is that such metrics (example: engagement time) can be unified across digital and non-digital media.”
“The value is aligned with the consumer actually experiencing the product, on a cost-per-hour or cost-per-second model,” Kint said.
7. “On the web as a whole, there should be a maximum pageload time standard that publishers and advertisers both commit to. The growing hazard of adblocking may incentivize this.”
Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s AMP already emphasize speed. Publishers are also getting on the bandwagon: Last week, The Washington Post announced its own high-speed mobile site.
Publishers have lots of room for improvement when it comes to reducing the amount of data their sites consume. Last year, The New York Times analyzed the speed and data usage of five mobile news sites. The ads on The Boston Globe’s Boston.com, for example, took on average about 30 seconds to fully load.
Swedish podcasting company is launching an ad-free, paid option on Monday, allowing show creators on the platform to sell content to listeners without any advertising. The new Acast+ makes it possible for a podcaster to sell exclusive bonus content or a brand new series of shows, without relying on advertising revenue.
“This is the final step of podcasting, in my mind. You can monetize through ads and you can monetize through payment,” Måns Ulvestam, Acast co-founder and CEO, told the Journal on Monday. More on the new premium service:
Through Acast+, creators can charge for a monthly “show pass” that gives listeners access to additional content for a recommended $2.99 to $6.99 a month. Listeners can also make one-off purchases, which could be in the same price range depending on the content, Acast said. To be sure, podcast producers can choose to let their primary episodes remain free and ad-supported on Acast.
Monetization opportunities for podcasts have moved well beyond the insertion of the typical Squarespace/MailChimp/Stamps.com ads so familiar to listeners. Last summer Midroll relaunched its podcast discovery and listening app Howl, with a subscription model called Howl Premium that allows paying users ad-free access to the company’s podcast archives and original Howl content. Gimlet runs a paid membership program (though its slate of shows are free to listen to with ads). Some entire podcasts themselves are ads, in the form of sponsored content.
Acast is the official distributor of many podcasts, from shows by established outlets like the Financial Times and BuzzFeed to ones from independent producers. It has a partnership with audio advertising marketplace Triton Digital to bring programmatic ads to its podcasts.
That’s what a resident of Saguache, Colorado — a town with fewer than 500 residents and no local news outlet — told the Solutions Journalism Network in a focus group last fall. This person wasn’t alone in relying on friends and acquaintances for local news: More than any traditional news outlet, including newspapers, people in very small rural communities “cited word-of-mouth as their primary source of local news.”
“There’s things that happen throughout the whole week that I would love to know about, but I hear about it at the brewery and I get a partial story — and then a tangent and a partial story,” a resident of Philipsburg, Montana, said. “So I think it’s important that there is an access to information some way.”
Studies of how people get local news often focus on urban areas, especially those in the Northeast. This new report from SJN looks at the particular challenges faced by rural communities in the intermountain West. SJN’s research, conducted for the LOR Foundation, looked at news environments in the border area between northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, as well as in western Montana.
The report identifies a few broad problems: Only 20 percent of the 1,540 people surveyed “think their local news is consistently relevant and valuable.” Many also found the news coverage to be too negative, focused on crime and corruption, and they wanted to see more stories about the local economy. There was also “virtually no formal Spanish-language media.”
SJN conducted Google surveys, in-person focus groups, one-on-one interviews with members of local government, and meetings with local newsroom leaders last fall. It also analyzed content from 26 news organizations.
One of SJN’s findings was that “people living in rural places rely more on newspapers for news and information than those who live in urban or suburban environments.” Rural residents were also less likely to get their news from websites or blogs than residents of urban areas.
Social media — particularly Facebook — has filled some local news gaps. Last year in Saguache, for instance, “a countywide search for a missing hunter played out in real time on [a community Facebook group page], with family members posting updates and asking for information — a news event that, in a larger town, might have headlined a local news outlet’s website with breaking updates.”
As a result of the report’s findings, SJN and LOR will launch a new project this year: “a network of seven newsrooms across New Mexico and Colorado collaborating to produce solutions-oriented reporting on issues facing rural towns in the intermountain West.”
When it comes to political news, there’s not just one Facebook, but dozens.
Facebook’s News Feed works best when it shows users things they’re most likely to want to see and engage with. That’s great for baby pictures, but it’s potentially dangerous for news: it’s hard to keep an open mind about current events when you only see posts shared by your like-minded friends.
To illustrate the disparity in political news on Facebook, The Wall Street Journal created “Blue Feed, Red Feed,” a tool that gives users a side-by-side look at how conservative and liberal news sources are talking about divisive topics such as guns, ISIS, Donald Trump, and Facebook itself. It’s not a complete reflection of the average person’s Facebook feed, which draws from many sources, but for many users, it will be an eye-opening, likely uncomfortable peek at another reality.
“This is something that’s just not easy to see,” said Jon Keegan, a visual correspondent at The Wall Street Journal and creator of the project. “If you wanted to widen your perspective and see things from a broad range of backgrounds, you would have to go and like the pages yourself. Facebook’s product makes it hard to do this.”
Facebook, for its part, is well aware of the outsize role it plays in people’s news consumption. The data for The Wall Street Journal project comes via a 2015 Facebook study that examined the sharing behavior of 10 million Facebook users who identified their political leanings. Facebook tracked the users over six months, monitoring the content they shared and determining whether it was very liberal, liberal, neutral, conservative, or very conservative. Pew also covered the topic back in 2014.
The project won’t stay static. The Wall Street Journal plans to keep the tool up through the election season, adding new topics that would benefit from a side-by-side view. “We’re not editorializing with this,” Keegan said. “We’re just putting it out there and shining a light on it using Facebook’s own tool and its own data to highlight something that everyone’s experienced.”
Google recently began giving AMP stories — optimized for fast loading on mobile — further preferential treatment, featuring them in a special carousel on Google News. In other words, it’s a good time for publishers to get their content AMP-ready, if they haven’t yet.
Still, the process of getting set up on AMP is fairly involved and time-consuming. But on Wednesday, the New York–based digital agency Postlight released a free tool, Mercury, that promises “instant AMP results with zero development.”
“It takes real energy, time, and money to get on AMP,” said Rich Ziade, cofounder (along with Paul Ford) of Postlight, which counts publishers like Time Inc. and Vice among its clients. “The bigger publishers are starting to earmark resources and putting them in motion, but smaller publishers, or publishers that don’t have the resources, are kind of hesitant, or taking a wait-and-see attitude.” It had been taking some of Postlight’s publisher clients two to four months to rewire their content systems to support AMP. (Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news, says small teams with homegrown CMSes can implement AMP “within a few days.”)
To install Mercury, all you have to do is fill out a form on Postlight’s site, get a line of code, and drop it into your template page. The tool works with any CMS, including WordPress (which already has an AMP plugin that “spits out a generic look and feel,” Ziade said; he encouraged publishers to test both).
Postlight considered releasing a free tool for Facebook Instant Articles simultaneously with the AMP tool, but “it would have taken us about twice as long to implement,” Ziade said. (Working with the open-source AMP was easier.) Instant Articles support could be included in a future version of Mercury, though.
“One of the goals of this kind of tool was to empower publishers a bit when the game’s changed on them yet again,” Ziade said. “We were seeing people freak out, and we were just like, why don’t we give them a tool that makes it easier for them to react to what’s happening out there.”
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