Category: newspapers

Why personalization is hard (and why you need to aggregate.)



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 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:

Zite: (one billion possible stories / 100 filtered stories) = 10,000,000 clicks saved.
News site: (one thousand possible stories / 10 filtered stories) = 100 clicks saved.

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For news publishers, there are three ways to improve our odds: 1) Improve the algorithms to eliminate outdated or irrelevant articles; 2) Reach outside your own CMS and aggregate stores from other sources; 3) Start focusing your metrics less on raw page views, and more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.

Flipboard and Medium are not fighting for app v.s. web supremacy

Yes, apps and web have different features and user experiences. Yes, some people prefer one over the other. Yes, we love to talk about this fact endlessly. And yes, Flipboard is a mobile app, and Medium is a website – as PandoDaily pointed out last week:

So if you’re looking for a contest to watch as the “native vs Web” debate ramps up, keep your eyes on these two. Are you a Flipboard or a Medium?

Sure – keep your eye on them, but either’s success or failure is irrelevant to the question. There is no native apps v.s. web death cage match going on with Flipboard and Medium as combatants.

The two products may be chasing the same readers, but they are targeting very different authors, and that content strategy is what drives their platform choices.

A few of the content-specific differences:


  1. Aggregated content
  2. Content largely generated by legacy media organizations
  3. Content is available elsewhere on the open web
  4. Discovery of content happens only within the app


  1. Original content
  2. Content created by individual contributors
  3. Content is initially unique to Medium
  4. Discovery of content occurs through multiple social and SEO channels.

Would Flipboard work on the web? It might. But only in direct competition with the websites of its legacy media partners. Being confined to an app and lacking social and SEO referrals is a feature not a bug.

Would Medium work as an app? It might. But without social or search engine discovery it would have a challenge attracting contributors and readers. The perceived usability advantage of apps would be useless.

For publishers, having platform choice is an opportunity to serve different audiences (and potentially different content) with different technologies, business models and user experiences. For many, deploying both platforms is the right answer.

But for now, if the web works better for your business, great. And vice versa. Each brings specific advantages and can fill different roles. Think of it as hiring the right platform for the right job. Bottom line: this is not a zero sum game and we don’t need to seek or declare a winner.

Could apps and web sites reach feature parity in a few years, and effectively end the debate? Sure, but until Apple can figure out how to make $5 billion per year on web apps — don’t hold your breath.

Why do people read news, why do they pay for it?

Courtesy of NS Newsflash on Flickr.
Courtesy of NS Newsflash on Flickr.

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

ONA was mobile-friendly but what does mobile-first look like for news organizations?

Only a handful of presentations at #ONA13 had ‘mobile’ in the title, but none of the many others I attended (or heard about) ignored the obvious: Mobile is now.

Sessions from tech trends, human design, breaking news, revenue models, sponsored content, product management, academic curriculums and the Latino boom talked about mobile in part or in whole. It’s fair to declare ONA13 officially mobile-friendly.

In my Thursday afternoon panel with @fionaspruill @corybe and @etanowitz – mobile was in the title  and ‘mobile first’ was the theme.

But a problem it turns out, is defining what mobile-first actually looks like. We talked a lot about the artifacts of a mobile-focused newsroom: titles, equipment, processes etc. But it is harder to describe the new mobile native reader experiences we have yet to invent.

As @jmm said in a Friday session, responsive web design is a publishing solution not a mobile strategy. It is still up to us to invent new ways to tell stories on these devices.

As more news sites move to responsive web design the need is an immediate one. A Thursday morning session highlighted the challenges for data visualization. For example,  a map-based timeline may be a great on desktop, but merely shrinking it to smartphone size does not make it a mobile experience. Aside from the interface problems (fat finger vs tiny cursor) the screen size removes context and reduces informational value.

The Boston Globe’s leading RWD and mobile-friendly interactive graphics efforts were noted, but even the best industry-wide examples are desktop-centric. What is needed are entirely new story forms, or at least some that are completely reimagined for mobile.

Two examples in the direction we need to be headed:

The Geo-list

The Boston Globe recently ran a feature rating local schools. In print the article ran with a list of the top schools geographically filtered for the Globe’s North, South and West regional editions. On it ran as an interactive database of the results. On mobile, is the list or the database a better approach?

Given the screen size and the desire to create snackable information for mobile, a solution could be to offer a list but filter and sort it by GPS location. So readers in the South Shore would see the top ranked schools closest to them, much like in print. But the list would also simply be the default view for an interactive allowing in-depth browsing of the full data set.

The Direct Me Map

WNYC won an Online Journalism Award on Saturday night for their coverage of Hurricane Sandy. Among other things the digital team created a map of evacuation zones and evacuation centers which looked great and worked nicely on desktop and mobile. Media organizations create similar maps every day.

But citizens actually fleeing a natural disaster are unlikely to do so while browsing an interactive color-coded Google map. A better solution for smartphone users would be a turn-by-turn navigation tool. The phone knows where you are, would know your best evacuation route or shelter location, and could direct you to safety.

That is “news you can use.”

Neither of those ideas is particularly revolutionary or technically challenging – and each relies on the GPS chip alone. But, smartphones include a host of other sensors variously including those for motion, acceleration, orientation, sound, direction, light, proximity, humidity, temperature and barometric pressure. What new or mobile-enhanced story forms can we create using any or all of those? The potential is endless, but will require intense organizational focus to invent and implement. To be successful these story forms need to be integrated into our CMS’ not just regarded as one-off projects each time they are needed.

Being mobile first requires us to think about mobile as something different than just digital on a small screen. And it requires us to use all of the capabilities of smartphones to tell better stories and better serve readers. That is an organizational challenge as important as the original transition to the web.