Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Negative words in news headlines generate more clicks — but sad words are more effective than angry or scary ones
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May 19, 2017, 12:58 p.m.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump met Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York. While the big story in the U.S. that day was the passage of the Republican healthcare bill in the House of Representatives, the meeting was major news in Australia.

As a result, BuzzFeed News decided to send an alert to its app users who have chosen to follow Australia news in its news app. The alert read: “There were some delays, but Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump finally met in person. Here’s how it went down. 👴🏻 ❤️ 👴🏻 ”

Yes, it included the emoji, which has purposefully become a hallmark of the BuzzFeed News app, Brianne O’Brien, the lead news curation editor at BuzzFeed’s London office said on a panel at the ONA Dublin conference on Friday.

After BuzzFeed launched its news app in 2015, two-thirds of the downloads were from people between the ages of 18 and 34. As a result, the company tried to adapt a more conversational tone with its alerts to try and stand out to that readership.

“You have to find your unique voice,” O’Brien said. “For example, emoji is what BuzzFeed does and we’re happy to do it because we’re trying to anticipate the media landscape , which is every changing. We have the flexibility and the freedom, thankfully, to be creative and take risks. You have to really understand your audience and how they’re consuming news. That’s going to change on a day to day basis, it’s constantly evolving, so you have to figure out what kind of new they want to consume, where, how, and adapt accordingly.”

BuzzFeed tries to always answer three questions when it sends an alert, O’Brien said: Every alert must include information a reader must know; it should try to add additional context and information; and, when possible, it should be fun.

Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab associate editor Madeline Welsh, a former Google News Lab Fellow here at Nieman Lab, also spoke on the panel. She detailed The Guardian’s experiments with alerts, including playing live video in an alert, and also said it was important to remember the context of the lockscreen.

“That space is not just for [news] notifications,” she said. “It’s also the place where people get their texts, where people find out if they’re ordering food or something. That’s not just a space where people get news, so to pollute it with bad notifications is not great.”

Nic Newman, a research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, discussed a study he wrote last year surveying news notification usage in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Taiwan.

That survey found that one-third of U.S. smartphone users receive news alerts, and of those, 72 percent said that they “value the notifications they receive and many see alerts as a critical part of the news app proposition.” 59 percent of respondents said the most important reason they get news alerts was to stay informed about topics that are relevant to them.

At the conference, Newman said the Reuters Institute has been studying push alerts since 2012 and predicted that they will only continue to become more popular. “What we’ve seen broadly is that it’s the biggest growing area, basically,” he said. “It’s grown by about three times. In some countries, up to 30 percent of internet users say they’re getting news from mobile alerts. My key theory is that this has a lot further to go. As mobile becomes the primary digital voice, the lock screen, notification center, and software that’s going to come along with that will become the key discovery mechanism for news.

I’ve embedded a video of the full panel below, and you can find other videos of the conference on ONA’s website.

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