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Three reasons news organisations became conversational

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Three reasons news organisations became conversational

Innovation is no longer a luxury for some news organisations but a matter of survival as the social and mobile revolutions continue to drive rapid changes in consumer behaviour. These shifts have amplified the already fierce competition for attention around the world, and in markets like the US and the UK, this competition has led to disruptive shifts in advertising away from news organisations to Google and Facebook.

Don't miss out on WAN-IFRA's upcoming webinar featuring Kevin Anderson to find out more about the future of chatbots and conversational interfaces for publishers.

He will examine the case studies presented in this post in more detail, and shed some light on new and innovative ways of connecting with your audience. The webinar takes place on 30 March, 15:00 CET. Click here to register

To look at how news organisations were managing the challenges of operating in this period of rapid change, the Reuters Journalism Institute used the lens of innovation “Beyond the Article” in its latest report as a way to examine how news organisations – from scrappy start-ups to storied legacy groups – were managing to operate at the forefront.

We looked at how 140journos in Turkey, Helsingin Sanomat’s youth-focused service, Nyt, and Rappler in the Philippines were trying to adjust their strategy as their audience's use of social media rapidly changed. We looked at how Quartz, Atlantic Media's digital born business brand, shifted its mobile-first strategy to try to secure a place on their readers’ lock screens. And we looked at how major news organisations including El Pais, the New York Times and the Guardian tried to maintain their leading position as journalism innovators by embracing VR.

No money, no product

When I first started talking to the Institute’s research director Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, I told him I was fond of saying: If you don’t have revenue, you don’t have a product. Rasmus asked, “Can we put that on the first page?” For that reason, we also looked at the commercial models for the projects. This was not just innovation for its own sake but as part of a comprehensive product strategy.

Unsurprisingly, display advertising played a small role in these projects. The report outlines how in the face of not only a challenging commercial but also political environment, 140 journos in Turkey is rolling out a raft of new revenue initiatives in 2017. Many of the projects are focused on native advertising, and Quartz has an in-stream ad format that is as novel as its conversational app.

In an upcoming webinar for WAN-IFRA, I will be discussing the projects that used conversational interfaces, including chatbots and mobile conversational apps. It will give us an opportunity to look at a wide range of news organisations, a range of business models and three very distinct projects.

Overcoming the limits of Facebook’s algorithms

All three projects we looked at in the report show news organisations grappling with rapid changes in audience behaviours. For Rappler in the Philippines, they have been racing to adapt to the collapse of Twitter use in the country and a shift to Facebook.

In response, they have embraced Facebook’s chatbot platform. They created their RapRap bot to surface more of their content to users than Facebook’s newsfeed algorithms does, said Gemma Bagayaua Mendoza, who heads up Research and Content Strategy at Rappler, and they also want to use the bot to communicate their editorial priorities more clearly than the newsfeed allows.

In addition to having a highly distributed model for their news, they also use social media for several crowdsourced reporting projects. They have also recently launched a chatbot to gather reports for their the #NotOnMyWatch corruption and good governance project.

Reaching youth audiences in Finland

Nyt, the youth section of Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, found that Facebook was no longer helping them reach teens, news editor Jussi Pullinen said. "If you want to reach young masses, Facebook is increasingly not the way, if we’re talking about teens," he said.

As with many countries, teens in Finland are moving from more open social networks like Facebook to messaging platforms. For Finnish teens, their messaging app of choice is WhatsApp, which some 80 percent of them use, Pullinen said.

They initially launched an experiment using WhatsApp. With little marketing and low expectations, within a week, they had 3000 users, and had to cap the experiment at 5000 users due to management challenges. With no editorial management tools, “(i)t became a manual labour hell pretty quickly,” Pullinen said.

The experiment was unsustainable. Not only did they struggle to manage 20 separate distribution lists, but they also were reluctant to advertise on the platform out of fear of breaking WhatsApp’s terms of service. “We realised that we were outgrowing the WhatsApp platform, but maybe we should build [an app] around the same content,” Pullinen said.

They worked with an external firm and were able to build the app in three months. Adoption was rapid, and they quickly got between 20,000 and 30,000 downloads. They are still working to try to match the engagement levels that they got on WhatsApp, but unlike the messaging platform, they can commercialise their own app.

Quartz’s conversational play for the lock screen

Atlantic Media's rapidly growing global business-focused news service Quartz launched in 2012 with the belief that “mobile is king”, but it opted for a responsive site rather than an app. “You might get a decent user base, but then [app usage] tail[s] off really quickly. They forget that they have [the app]”, said Adam Pasick, the push news editor for Quartz.

However, in the years since Quartz launched, getting into the notification stream of their users has taken on increasing importance so they finally decided to launch an app. But inspired by conversational apps like fitness app Lark and the rise of messaging apps, they launched an app that tries to deliver an experience as close as possible to having a conversation with the Quartz news team on Slack, the enterprise internal messaging and collaboration platform.

The app has strong engagement, with their core, daily users accessing the app for two minutes at a time, once or twice a day.

The organisations had different ways of managing these projects and also different ways of delivering them. But the one thing that tied all of the projects together wasi clear editorial thinking about why they were doing them that spoke to a maturing method of product development and management.

As for the business models, it was great to see the same creative and innovative spirit in terms of finding ways to support their journalism as they had in creating it. For many of the business models, it is too soon to evaluate them, but these organisations are ones to watch as the industry looks for ways to diversify and rebuild the business that supports independent journalism.

Correction: This article initially stated that The Atlantic owned Quartz; Atlantic Media is the owner of Quartz.

Kevin Anderson is an international journalism and communications consultant with more than 15 years of global digital journalism experience. His clients have included Al Jazeera, India's Network18, Reed Business Information, CNN International and Trinity-Mirror.

From 2014 to 2015, he was a regional executive editor with Gannett, the larger newspaper publisher in the US. From 2006 to 2010, he held a number of digital leadership positions with The Guardian, and from 1998 to 2006, he worked for the BBC, including more than six years as the BBC’s first online correspondent outside of the U.K.

Register here for his upcoming WAN-IFRA webinar on 30 March, 15:00 CET.


WAN-IFRA External Contributor


2017-03-02 13:08

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