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June 21, 2023, 11:53 a.m.
Aggregation & Discovery
LINK: blog.mozilla.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Sophie Culpepper   |   June 21, 2023

For more than a decade, Pocket (fka Read It Later) has served as a tool for news consumers to curate and save content from different sources — an organized alternative to, among other things, keeping 800 tabs open, or filling your bookmarks with chaos. On Wednesday, Pocket, which is owned by Mozilla, launched a partnership with the American Journalism Project to bring its adherents, and Firefox browser users, more of a type of story that previously flew under the radar of its recommendation system: local news.

Because Pocket recommendations typically draw on evergreen content and stories “users are saving and reading in aggregate,” the smaller, more targeted audiences that local news sources often have “can make it difficult for local news stories to rise to the top,” Carolyn O’Hara, Pocket’s senior director of content discovery, told me in an email.

But through its new Read Like a Local initiative, Pocket and the American Journalism Project — a venture philanthropy focused on rebuilding local news in the U.S. — select news articles published by the AJP’s 37 local nonprofit news grantees to promote to Pocket’s readers, and will organize these stories into collections with different themes each month through the end of 2023. The initiative’s first three themed collections are: “Bringing systemic injustices to light, one long read (or listen) at a time”; “Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is on the rise. Here’s how activists are fighting back”; and “From death doulas to opera directors: the changing face of community heroes.” Each of these themes encompass stories that show “how issues with national resonance play out in local settings,” O’Hara said.

Pocket will not geo-target stories; rather than showing readers local news specific to their area, Pocket and the AJP are selecting stories with “broad appeal” and aim to expose readers to “news that may have a local lens, but national significance,” O’Hara said. “By connecting readers with the information they may not have discovered on their own, or from publishers outside their immediate geographic area, we hope to encourage a deeper understanding of the issues and events that shape our communities.”

To create the collection themes, the Pocket and AJP teams also took into account which content already appeals to Pocket users, O’Hara noted. “What we’ve found, based on articles saved in the last few years, is that human-interest stories tend to perform quite well with Pocket audiences,” she said.

Patty Slutsky, the American Journalism Project’s chief advancement officer, told me in an email that the organization saw Pocket’s local news idea as “an opportunity to expand the reach of the remarkable work our grantees are doing.” AJP grantees featured include Block Club Chicago, Mississippi Today, The Kansas City Beacon, and Capital B News. Beyond the work the organization’s grantees do to build strong connections in their communities, “for national audiences outside of these communities, reading these stories is an opportunity to experience a day in the life of another region, learn about major policy issues in local governments across the country – and learn about how local leaders are creating innovative solutions in their communities,” Slutsky said.

Pocket will push these local stories to audiences by promoting the collections on channels such as its Pocket Hits daily email newsletter, which has more than 3 million subscribers, and Firefox’s New Tab, which is viewed by more than 40 million people per month, O’Hara said. Approximately 60% of Pocket’s monthly active users are based in the U.S., she added.

According to O’Hara, Pocket readers save approximately “34 million pieces of content to Pocket each month, and more than 7 billion have been saved since Pocket first launched.”

Local news has “long been a space we’ve wanted to expand into with our recommendations,” O’Hara said. “This initial foray in partnership with AJP will help inform our future direction in the space.”

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