Here is a word that does not come up often enough in journalism-tech conferences:
Empathy for readers, for advertisers and for colleagues in other departments. (That last one is a big deal if you want to get innovative things done at work.)
Empathy is simply the ability to understand the feelings and perceptions of another person. And it is a key ingredient to making products a person (who is not you) might hope to use and enjoy.
Yesterday at Poynter’s Mobile News Summit (#mobilenews15) in NYC the concept came up quite a bit. Not everyone used the exact word, but their meaning was quite clear. The day was putatively about mobile, but it focused extensively on putting readers and their needs first.
One of my favorite quotes of the day was directly on that topic.
Question: Is there a business case for investing in user experience? Answer from Jim Brady of Billy Penn: Yes. Frustrating users is not a strategy.
Millennials like news. They just don’t like you – the legacy newsroom.
Don’t take it personally. By all accounts the under-40 crowd and many over forty (API millennial study here) read and value news. But they are not paying for it in larger numbers, and they are certainly not nearly as loyal to a small handful of digital news sources as their parents were to print.
We can argue that the Internet, and even more specifically mobile phones are the leading cause of this disruption. But that takes agency away from journalists and places it squarely on “technology.” And framing it as a tech problem drives us to try and solve it with technology.
“Throw another Snapchat on that mobile template. The young people will love it. Did you check how it looks on the Apple Watch and Google Glass?”
Which is odd, because we know why people read the news, or seek out other types of information: relevancy. Technology is just a convenience that lets us access that information 24/7 in almost any location or context.
Gary Kebbel at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is organizing a conference this Fall: Mobile Me & You and I have been thinking about news, smartphones and relevancy in preparation for a talk there.
So let’s propose a maybe not too controversial theory: While much of the journalism being produced by legacy news organizations is of value to younger readers, it does not entirely speak their language nor fully reflect their lives.
Here’s a tongue-in-cheek test: open up your local printed newspaper – how many comics on the page were launched prior to 1960? FYI – that list includes B.C., Dennis the Menace, Beetle Bailey, Blondie and Prince Valiant.
Comics aside, our failings are sins of omission as much as commission.
Many newspapers are still built to cover “community” as defined seemingly generations ago as rigid beat structures constrained by geography and by local government services. Advocating a change to that system is nothing new; numerous blog posts have covered the ground. Unfortunately, experimentation has come largely but not exclusively from digital news start-ups.
These days, digital-savvy readers live seamlessly between online and offline. Amazon.com is their local market and Netflix their local theater. The problem is neither Amazon or Netflix are “local” in a sense that is recognizable by local media. But, chances are about 30% of your hometown have shopped at Amazon in the past year. And Netflix has 40 million U.S. customers. There is a reason suburban malls are in trouble and Blockbuster went out of business.
Any local media out there covering new Netflix releases that aren’t House of Cards? HuffPo does.
Speaking of video: Good Mythical Morning. Never heard of them? The North Carolina pair appeared recently in an advertising campaign for Wendy’s and have 7.3 million subscribers on YouTube. They have received a smattering of local media coverage. A smattering. Keep in mind the top rated cable TV show last week received 4.9 million viewers.
One last category: games. Mobile games are estimated to be a $25 billion industry this year. Globally the movie industry is a $100 billion business, about $10 billion domestically.
Any local media out there covering mobile games? Vox does – Polygon.
The list goes on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are all communities of interest comprised at least in part by your neighbors. Why do we spend so little time highlighting the conversations and content our local readers create on those platforms?
Uber, Yelp, and Pandora all have to some extent supplanted services that were previously hyper-local. But local people still continue to use them. So why don’t we cover them like we cover local taxis, business listings or radio stations?
By ceding “things that happen online” to Internet blogs and digital news start-ups we have washed our hands of a huge swath of human existence. And, we have done so for reasons that are as much due to structure and vision as resources.
This is not a “millennial” problem. It is a gap we face with any digital-friendly audience. It is not a “mobile” problem – though many of these users are mobile-first. It is not a “UX” problem as your user experience doesn’t much matter if readers find nothing of interest to read. The problem is the news industry has gone for years without needing to examine who its audience is or what they want. And our organizations have calcified to the point that it is difficult for us to even ask, much less answer the question.
Without a change in our approach and more attention paid to local lives lived online we will remain in a downward attention spiral. As readers migrate more and more to a hybrid digital/physical existence they will continue to leave us behind. Not because they don’t care about us, but because we don’t seem to care about them.
This Apple, the post-Jobs Apple, has become risk-averse, its innovative capacity reduced to making small tweaks on products it has already brought to market. Though its leadership still talks a good game, it has so far been unable to deliver on the kind of knock-your-socks-off products for which Apple was once famous.
Just to review the timing here:
iPod – 2001
iPhone – 2007
iPad – 2010
So it has been four whole years since they released a product that revolutionized an entire industry. That is less than the span between the iPad and the iPhone (6 years), but more than the iPhone and the iPad (3 years.)
Fair enough then, we should be expecting something more soon. Unless the magic was lost with Steve Jobs as Nocera insists.
But expecting the next big thing to be a mobile device misses the point. Sure, Apple could and probably is moving into wearables. Maybe their next big announcement changes everything about t-shirts or sneakers or whatever.
Or, maybe they continue to build their iTunes ecosystem by disrupting the TV industry as they did with music. (Would that even count as ‘disruptive?’ It is really an evolutionary innovation that is more about lawyers than tech.)
Or, maybe with iBeacons and 600 million iTunes credit cards on file they are about to blow up the world of retail transactions and tie together digital and physical commerce.
An iPod is a divergence device; an iPhone is a convergence device. There’s a big difference between the two. In the high-tech world, divergence devices have been spectacular successes. But convergence devices, for the most part, have been spectacular failures.
Since it launched, Zite has been one of my favorite apps. Keying off my Twitter stream the product does an absolutely amazing job of finding stories I am 1) interested in; 2) had not seen already; 3) from sources I was unlikely to stumble across.
That sort of personalization – saving time by accurately filtering information – is of huge value to readers. If you can reduce the number of clicks (the currency of the web) needed to find stories of interest, I am likely to return. No surprise that most media organizations have recommended story lists on their websites.
But in many cases these lists are of minimal value. Browsing Salon.com just now – five of the suggested stories were more than four months old. And I was reading about the Affordable Health Care Act.
The challenge is, even the most prolific news sites (say the NYT) only publish 1000 – 1500 stories daily. Even over a week or a month, there is not enough variety to make an effective recommendation in every case. So, older or less relevant stories are surfaced. But as a pure aggregator Zite is not restricted to a single news source. A billion new pages are added to the world wide web daily. That is more than enough to recommend 50 – 100 highly relevant stories to me each day.
Doing some news math, the filtering value (or number of potential clicks saved) to the user is not comparable:
Yes, that is a farcical equation and the news site still returns a positive value — but not enough to be competitive.
For news publishers, there are three ways to improve our odds: 1) Improve the algorithms to eliminate outdated or irrelevant articles; 2) Reach outside your own CMS and aggregate stores from other sources; 3) Start focusing your metrics less on raw page views, and more on efficiency and value created for the reader ‘clicks saved.’ (See Cory Bergman’s ‘time saved’ take on this earlier this year.)
Yes, those aggregated links will need to be highly relevant (see improve the algorithm above) and they will lead visitors away from your site. But, all Zite does is send me away. And yet I return every day.
Both of those headline link-bait questions and more answered (or at least addressed) in a below roundup of somewhat recent academic research. I am not including links as most of these are behind paywalls. If you have access, the citation is below the publisher-provided abstract in each case:
Focusing on the Reader: Engagement Trumps Satisfaction.
Satisfaction is commonly monitored by news organizations because it is an antecedent to readership. In fact, countless studies have shown the satisfaction-readership relationship to be true. Still, an essential question remains: Is satisfaction the only, or even the critical, thing to focus on with readership? This research indicates that the answer is no. Two other related constructs, reader experiences and engagement, affect reader behavior even more than does satisfaction. The discussion provides examples of how to increase engagement and calls for experimental research to understand how news organizations can positively affect engagement and thereby readership.
Mersey, Rachel Davis, Malthouse, Edward C., & Calder, Bobby J. (2012). Focusing on the Reader: Engagement Trumps Satisfaction. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 89(4), 695-709. doi: 10.1177/1077699012455391
Do Satisfied Customers Really Pay More? A Study of the Relationship Between Customer Satisfaction and Willingness to Pay
Two experimental studies (a lab experiment and a study involving a real usage experience over time) reveal the existence of a strong, positive impact of customer satisfaction on willingness to pay, and they provide support for a nonlinear, functional structure based on disappointment theory (i.e., an inverse S-shaped form). In addition, the second study examines dynamic aspects of the relationship and provides evidence for the stronger impact of cumulative satisfaction rather than of transaction-specific satisfaction on willingness to pay.
Homburg, Christian, Koschate, Nicole, & Hoyer, Wayne D. (2005). Do Satisfied Customers Really Pay More? A Study of the Relationship Between Customer Satisfaction and Willingness to Pay. Journal of Marketing, 69(2), 84-96.
News Audiences Revisited: Theorizing the Link Between Audience Motivations and News Consumption
With a plethora of news outlets today, audiences have more choices than ever. Yet, academic and professional understanding of news audiences from a uses and gratifications perspective remains limited. Using a national survey (N = 1143), this study uncovers distinct news consumption patterns across 4 types of motivations, and predicts media uses across 30 sources with noticeably higher explanatory power as compared to previous uses and gratifications studies, answering the question: Who is using what type of news, and why?
Lee, Angela M. (2013). News Audiences Revisited: Theorizing the Link Between Audience Motivations and News Consumption. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 57(3), 300-317. doi: 10.1080/08838151.2013.816712
News-seekers and Avoiders: Exploring Patterns of Total News Consumption Across Media and the Relationship to Civic Participation
This study examines patterns of news consumption across multiple media platforms and relates them to civic participation. Analyzing a national sample of close to 25,000 respondents, nearly half the adult population in America is classified as news ‘Avoiders,’ and the other half as ‘News-seekers.’ Testing the relationship between civic participation and news consumption for each of 6 media platforms individually, and to an overall index combining those sources into 1 measure, the results show a positive relationship with civic participation, but the influence of Total News Consumption on civic participation is greater for Avoiders than for News-seekers.
Ksiazek, Thomas B., Malthouse, Edward C., & Webster, James G. (2010). News-seekers and Avoiders: Exploring Patterns of Total News Consumption Across Media and the Relationship to Civic Participation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54(4), 551-568. doi: 10.1080/08838151.2010.519808
Young Adults’ Reasons Behind Avoidances of Daily Print Newspaper And Their Ideas For Change
Focus groups in three cities were conducted with young adults (ages 18-29) to understand why they, don’t read daily print newspapers. The study examined news media avoidances, like “inconvenience” and “lack of time,” to uncover underlying meanings. Results showed prominent nonuse reasons have dimensions. Participants also suggested ways newspapers could improve. Participants were studied as two age groups, 18-24 and 25-29. Small group differences did emerge. The older group wanted less negative news, while the younger group justified it; the younger age group was more skeptical of the news and mentioned needing greater effort to understand it.
Zerba, Amy. (2011). Young Adults’ Reasons Behind Avoidances of Daily Print Newspaper And Their Ideas For Change. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 88(3), 597-614.
Exploring News Apps and Location-Based Services on the Smartphone
This study investigates how young adults use news and location-based services on their smartphones, in addition to examining how many news organizations offer mobile news apps with geo-location features. Based on the survey findings, young adults are consuming news on their smartphones. Furthermore, there is a high use of location-based services by smartphone consumers, but news organizations are only using geo-location features in their mobile apps for traffic and weather. This study highlights that a gap exists between what news consumers, particularly young adults, are doing and using on their smartphones and what news organizations are able to provide.
Weiss, Amy Schmitz. (2013). Exploring News Apps and Location-Based Services on the Smartphone. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 90(3), 435-456. doi: 10.1177/1077699013493788
Mobile News Adoption among Young Adults: Examining the Roles of Perceptions, News Consumption, and Media Usage
Using the frameworks of innovation diffusion and technology acceptance model, this study examines the predictors of mobile news consumption among young adults. The results show that the perceived relative advantage (especially content), utility, and ease of use of mobile news are positively related to its adoption. The young adults’ news consumption patterns and preferences, as well as media usage, all play a role in the adoption of mobile news. This study also validates the importance of examining the adoption outcome from multiple perspectives.
Chan-Olmsted, Sylvia, Rim, Hyejoon, & Zerba, Amy. (2013). Mobile News Adoption among Young Adults: Examining the Roles of Perceptions, News Consumption, and Media Usage. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 90(1), 126-147. doi: 10.1177/1077699012468742
Are News Media Substitutes? Gratifications, Contents, and Uses. Journal of Media Economics
Internet is generally expected to have one of two effects on traditional news media: It displaces them, or it forces them into distinct market niches. A shared assumption underlying both expectations is that news media displacement, or substitution, is a function of the degree to which news media are functional equivalents. This article explores this assumption from a niche theoretical perspective, using survey data from 2 student samples as illustrative cases. Findings indicate that, for these students, news media substitution does not depend on functional equivalence of media in providing gratifications and gratification opportunities or types of content. Post hoc analyses suggest instead that, for this particular audience, media use depends on habit and media accessibility. Follow-up studies should further investigate these relations for representative samples.
van der Wurff, Richard. (2011). Are News Media Substitutes? Gratifications, Contents, and Uses. Journal of Media Economics, 24(3), 139-157. doi: 10.1080/08997764.2011.601974