In July, The Financial Times ran a 30-day experiment to see what it would take to get people to whitelist the site in their adblocking software. Fifteen thousand of its registered users were split into three groups, each of which had access restricted in different ways. One group, for example, was presented with FT stories that had some of their words removed, a metaphor for the share of revenue that comes from advertising. Other readers weren’t able to access the site at all unless they opted in to ads. Readers were also given a message: “We understand your decision to use an ad blocker. However, FT journalism takes time and funding…”
The Financial Times says readers responded well to the experiment. Forty-seven percent of those who had to read stories with missing words agreed to whitelist the site, while 69 percent of users barred from the site entirely agreed to let ads through. And 40 percent of those whose access wasn’t restricted at all opted out of blocking ads.
The experiment shows that, in many case, the most effective anti-adblocking technique is also the most simple: talking directly to readers. The relationship between media organizations and readers online operates via an implicit contract: Publishers offer readers content for free, and in exchange, readers see those publishers’ ads. Making that implicit contract more explicit reminds readers of that dynamic and encourages them to support the sites they read.
Other publishers have tried variations on the idea, erring on the site of politeness and perhaps even repentance. In a recent campaign, Wired acknowledged why its users want to run adblockers (“We get it: ads aren’t what you’re here for) but reminds readers that “ads help us keep the lights on.”
Beyond asking people to whitelist, Slate (“We noticed you’re using an ad blocker”) and The New York Times (“The best things in life aren’t free. You currently have an ad blocker installed”) have used the messages to encourage people to sign up for their paid products. The Atlantic has also recently applied this idea.
The success of the efforts “show that FT readers accept advertising as part of the reader/publisher value exchange,” argued Dominic Good, The Financial Times’ global advertising sales and strategy director, in a press release announcing the results of the newspaper’s experiment.
Let’s be honest: There is probably no amount of puppy Vines or ducks-on-a-plane that can distract you from anxiety over this election season, if you are an anxious kind of person. But if you’re at least game for trying to make yourself feel a little better, even for only a couple of minutes, there’s a newsletter for that.
There’s only been one issue of Bouncy Castle so far, but it’s racked up nearly 2,000 subscribers in the week since it launched. “I think it’s really because folks need something fun and light to hold onto while we struggle through the rest of 2016,” Main said. She decided to start the newsletter on October 14, spurred by “just a growing general sadness that felt like it was seeping into everyone all over. So we just kind of wanted to combat that as kindly as possible.” She started a group DM, proposed the idea, and they were off.
“These folks are some of the most positive and genuine people I know on Twitter,” Main said, “so I figured we’d make a good team to fight the evils of the world.”
Here, for instance, is @darth’s contribution to the newsletter this week:
but for this, our first tinyletter, and this crazy week we all need a few seconds to relax and i think this one is relaxing so, if u are stressed and need some thing to calm yourself but u do not have a lot of time u should just watch this one:
and if u need something to really calm yourself, and have a bit more time, then just lie back and listen to this longer version. no i am serious take the time u deserve it:
The creators submit to Main and she compiles the newsletter. Readers, too, may send their submissions to email@example.com.
The New York Times on Wednesday released a Facebook Messenger bot to cover the last 19 days of the U.S. presidential election. The bot combines automated updates with dispatches from political reporter Nicholas Confessore.
Each morning, the bot sends users a message with its latest presidential election forecast (which may be a calming or unnerving way to start your day, depending on your political point of view). Users can also ask the bot for the Times’ projections for each state and a survey of recent national polls.
Some publishers, such as CNN and The Wall Street Journal, were quick to jump onto Messenger after Facebook introduced bots last spring, but others, including the Times, have taken a more wait-and-see approach to the platform and messaging in general.
The Times launched an earlier experiment with messaging in August when deputy sports editor Sam Manchester sent SMS updates about the Olympics from Rio. (A year earlier, the Times had experimented with WhatsApp.) At the time of the Rio project, product director Andrew Phelps, a former Nieman Lab staffer, told my colleague Ricardo Bilton that the effort was influenced by Purple, the political news texting service that moved to Facebook Messenger in July.
“If you think about the other text conversations that show up on your lock screen — it’s your mom, it’s your significant other, it’s your friend. I think that if we can be there its a really powerful relationship that we can create,” Phelps said. “We can essentially create these little moments in your life and reconnect you to us and, hopefully, viewing it from more of a product perspective, bring you back to our core platforms to read more of our journalism.”
The politics Messenger bot seems like its trying to follow a similar approach by mixing the automated forecasts with Confessore’s more conversational updates. Marc Lavallee, then the Times’ editor of interactive news, said in August that messaging platforms could allow the paper to talk with many people at once in a way that feels intimate and personal.
“What we’re trying to do,” he said, “is figure out if there a space between broadcast, where everyone gets the same exact thing, and a total human-powered one-on-one interaction — which obviously doesn’t scale easily — to see if we can have the best of both worlds.”
Snapchat is planning to switch up the payment terms of its Discover section, Recode reports — but that might not be a bad thing if it provides publishers with a little more certainty about their revenue from the platform.
Instead of sharing ad revenue that section produces, Snapchat wants to pay content partners a flat license fee up front and keep the ad money for itself. It’s the same model that TV networks use when they buy programming.
That’s a switch from the terms Snapchat has offered since it launched Discover in 2015. Up until now, it has let publishers sell ads against their own content, and Snapchat has also sold ads against the same content using its own sales team. Splits have varied depending on the deal and who sold the ads.
Snapchat Discover is only open to around 20 publishers, including BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, The Wall Street Journal, Food Network, and the NFL. While numbers have ebbed and flowed, publishers have generally raved about the amount of traffic they get from Snapchat: In September 2015, for instance, Snapchat was BuzzFeed’s third biggest traffic source, and the company said in June that its Discover video views were up 33 percent this year. Vox has a deal with Snapchat to feature content from all eight of its publishing brands on its Discover channel, and created a “Snapchat Studio” this year.
Snapchat has already tweaked its Discover payment model: The Information reported in May that Snapchat was already requiring some publishers with Discover channels “to pay Snapchat a guaranteed minimum amount of money over a specific time period.” Then, earlier this month, Snapchat updated its app to make publisher content much less prominent. It’s unclear whether the publisher payments reported by The Information would go away with a new flat licensing fee, and different publishers might be able to negotiate different deals. But if Snapchat is already making Discover content less visible on its platform, then a flat license fee could conceivably be a steadier source of income than ad revenue.
Still, the move raises the same old concerns about giving platforms too much control over publishers’ content; this isn’t a fight that’s going away any time soon.
One news site after another has given up on commenting altogether in the past year. (Meanwhile, comments are still coming in on our year-old roundup of what happened after seven news organizations got rid of comments.) But at least among the organizations surveyed by WAN-IFRA for its latest Global Report on Online Commenting, comments sections have been kept intact. Eighty-two percent of those sites still allow commenting, and 53 percent of organizations surveyed believe that comments sections contribute “to the debate” and “provide ideas and input for future stories.” WAN-IFRA worked with a total of 78 organizations across 46 countries for the report.
First, the bad news. Unsurprisingly, most organizations (65 percent) reported that their journalists were subject to online trolling, with opinion pieces often generating the most comments. Sensitive topics were often the target of trolls: Russian trolls, for instance, bombarded the comments section of the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, prompting it to close its comment section.
Good comment moderation requires time and money. WAN-IFRA highlighted The New York Times as a success story, but only about 10 percent of Times stories are open to comments, and dedicated community editor Bassey Etim and his team do a meticulous job. (Take the Times’s comment moderation quiz — it’s not easy.) Other outlets, like Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper, outsource the job:
What persuaded Helsingin Sanomat? ‘It was money. It was so much cheaper than having to own your own staff,’ said Jarkko Rahkonen, the paper’s Head of News Archive and Moderating.
It is not the only one. The Financial Times has a team of moderators based in the Philippines, which works with a community manager in London. For years, companies such as Facebook and YouTube have hired low-cost temporary staff, often in other countries where labor is cheaper, to moderate content for them.
As more and more news organizations abandon their own commenting platforms, some are voicing concern. ‘It’s a symptom of something fundamentally wrong,’ said Emanuel Karlsten, a Swedish journalist and digital strategy consultant who has worked with Expressen and Aftonbladet. He observed that many Swedish media houses have either shut down commenting, minimized the function or outsourced it completely to external companies.
Still, many news organizations are aware of the value of reader input and are working on best practices to bring in reader voices and input, whether that means investing more money into better technology or moderating reader contributions on a smaller scale. Guardian stories are open to comments for three days; New York Times stories are open for only 24 hours. And despite shutting down comments after the Russian trolling, Süddeutsche Zeitung is still offering outlets for readers to comment, albeit in a more contained and controlled format:
It is now organizing three to five topics a day for focused discussion with its readers. It also polls its readers for story ideas and questions about its reporting. For its groundbreaking Panama Papers reports, after receiving questions from its readers, the paper reacted by answering and packaging the answers into several follow-up news reports. ‘It’s an enormous resource,’ said Krach of Süddeutsche Zeitung. ‘We are convinced it is worthwhile doing, maintaining this connection to readers.’
The New School launched its Design + Journalism undergraduate degree program two years ago with an ambitious, yet straightforward mission: to teach journalists to think like designers — and vice versa — in the hopes of rethinking how stories are presented online.
Now, a fresh $2.6 million in funding (half of which will come from the Knight Foundation, which also helps fund Nieman Lab) will help the New School expand its program to other journalism programs in the U.S.:
With Knight funding, The New School will create a model for college educators across the country to use design thinking as part of their journalism programs. The university will share curriculums and syllabi and provide mentoring and collaboration opportunities. It will also develop learning opportunities for journalists across the country and expand the Journalism + Design program on its campus, positioning The New School as an innovation and design learning hub for professional journalists.
Design thinking is an approach to product design in which feedback from users is factored into the creation process. The hope is that, by factoring in user needs into the earliest stages of product design, media companies can create new ways to engage readers. It’s focused on putting the user first, proponents say.
Heather Chaplin, director of the the program since its start, explained some of the programs approach in an interview with Nieman Lab in 2014:
Design can be thought of in a couple different ways for journalistic purposes. When people talk about design, they often talk about visuals, and visuals are obviously important. But we’re really talking about design beyond the visual.
You can think about design as audience engagement. Designers always start by asking who they are designing for and why. So when we think about audience engagement and wanting to know our audience, design as a discipline can really help us. I also think about design as new product development: Nobody knows how people will consume news as we move forward. What might it look like, and what are the newspapers of the future? Design processes can help us come up with that.
During the first presidential debate last month, Hillary Clinton said she hoped “the fact checkers are turning up the volume and really working hard.” Now Google is unveiling a feature that might make their work a little easier to find.
On Thursday, the company announced that it would begin labelling fact checks in Google News. The fact check tag is appearing on the Google News website along with the Google News & Weather app on iOS and Android. It’s initially rolling out the fact check tags in the United States and United Kingdom.
In a post, Google head of news Richard Gingras explained how the company is categorizing fact checks:
Google News determines whether an article might contain fact checks in part by looking for the schema.org ClaimReview markup. We also look for sites that follow the commonly accepted criteria for fact checks. Publishers who create fact checks and would like to see it appear with the “Fact check” tag should use that markup in fact check articles.
While Google is introducing the fact check tag to Google News, Facebook has repeatedly had to deal with surfacing fake news stories in its Trending section since it fired its editors in August. Since then, The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser and Caitlin Dewey have been running The Intersect, an excellent email newsletter which tracks trending stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
In a story published Wednesday, Dewey wrote that they’ve discovered numerous fake stories trending on Facebook in recent weeks, though they’ve admitted that their study is inherently limited since they only tracked trends during the workday and Facebook trends are individualized for each user:
As part of a larger audit of Facebook’s Trending topics, the Intersect logged every news story that trended across four accounts during the workdays from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22. During that time, we uncovered five trending stories that were indisputably fake and three that were profoundly inaccurate. On top of that, we found that news releases, blog posts from sites such as Medium and links to online stores such as iTunes regularly trended. Facebook declined to comment about Trending on the record.
It’s too soon to tell what kind of impact Google’s fact check tags will have on news consumption, but tagging different story types since 2009. Google News now features tags such as opinion and in-depth, and earlier this year it introduced a Local Source tag for stories from local news outlets.
BuzzFeed’s politics team is producing a live show to be streamed only on Twitter on election night, November 28 (just kidding, November 8). BuzzFeed is one of many news organizations being paid by Facebook to help fulfill the platform’s live video dreams, but Twitter is the “heart of this giant American conversation,” “the beating heart of the election,” and the place where “[e]veryone obsessed with politics will be,” on election night, Ben Smith, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief, repeated to a number of media outlets on Thursday.
BuzzFeed’s election night special will feature BuzzFeed News reporters discussing returns and will include ads (Twitter and BuzzFeed will share revenue from advertising), The Wall Street Journal reports:
Unlike the Facebook Live payment arrangement, Twitter and BuzzFeed will share in advertising revenue for the event, according to a Twitter spokesperson. Twitter will take the lead in selling mid-roll video ads in the live stream, and advertisers can also sponsor BuzzFeed-produced news clips across Twitter. No advertisers are signed up yet, since the event has just been announced, the spokesperson said….
Planning for the Twitter event, which starts at 6 p.m. on Nov. 8, is in its early stages. But BuzzFeed has brought on TV veteran Bruce Perlmutter, who has worked on live events such as the Royal Wedding and the 2012 Summer Olympics, as executive producer.
For its November 8 live Twitter broadcast, BuzzFeed is partnering with Decision Desk HQ, a volunteer-powered election results-tracking operation founded by conservative blogger (and former truck dispatcher) Brandon Finnigan.
Amid a storm of sales rumors, Twitter has been trying to bulk up its livestreaming offerings in an effort to position itself as a destination for the most immediate conversations around live events. It’s been streaming the presidential debates, NFL games, Wimbledon, the Democratic and Republican conventions, and even golf (some events have attracted a decent viewership).
“We’re not trying be entirely contrarian, but regularly running those pieces that give a different perspective than people are used to hearing is really important and a big part of what we’re trying to do overall.”