Wallets get opened

Since the first days of the internet, consumers have generally taken for granted that content is free (the creator of the popup ad even regrets that his otherwise irritating brainchild contributed to this expectation). Now, as the ad-focused revenue model founders, people start to rethink the importance of journalism in a dark political climate, and information-overloaded consumers increasingly seek quality control, publishers are taking a cue from the likes of Netflix and Hulu and betting that customers will be willing to pay either for specialized content or for curation. In part, we have President Donald Trump to thank for this shift. The more Trump relentlessly attacks the media, the more Americans are reminded that they can’t take a thriving free press for granted. Famously, The New York Times, repeatedly disparaged by the commander-in-chief as “failing,” has reported record subscriptions since Trump took office. Moreover, consumers are acutely aware that despite Continue reading "Wallets get opened"

Stop covering politics as a game

If there is one truth about political journalism, it is that the game frame dominates. Politics is covered as a competition between left versus right, Democrat versus Republican; a battle of individuals and political factions, rather than a debate over governing philosophies and policies. For years, political scientists have warned that the practice of covering politics as a strategic game erodes public faith in governmental institutions. And now, with notable brazenness, political elites are exploiting this frame to achieve their own political goals. The loser in this equation is the American public. In an analysis of election coverage of the 2016 presidential primaries, Harvard’s Shorenstein Center found that 56 percent of election news was dedicated to stories of the competitive game, 33 percent to stories about the campaign process, and only 11 percent to substantive policy-based concerns. 11 percent. What started almost three decades ago as an observation about how Continue reading "Stop covering politics as a game"

The year of investing in processes

In 2018, my aspirational prediction is that the journalism industry shifts its focus on innovation toward investing in processes, rather than platforms and products. Currently, too many good ideas are discarded because they don’t fit the dominant model of “scalable” and “replicable,” which is too narrow in scope. Many large newsrooms struggle with the reality that the scale their model requires keeps them focused on stories that have the potential of spreading quickly, but fleetingly, across as broad an audience as possible. VC-backed startup journalism still too often focuses on the development of platforms that show a direct pathway for expansion or to become easily replicable, across markets. And the pressure of many funders’ impact reports not only drive the projects that get funded to think about an immediate pathway to scale and replication, but also shape what even gets proposed. Meanwhile, we have a steady stream of news about Continue reading "The year of investing in processes"

The year of the Instagram Story

There is one clear digital behavior that has seen explosive growth in 2017 and will leave other platforms in the dust in 2018 — the Instagram Story. Even as a local media outlet, Charlotte Agenda’s Stories are being viewed by 10-, 15-, 20,000 Charlotteans at a time, and still we’re just scratching the surface. As new features are quietly unrolled by Instagram and its Facebook masterminds, our team is left to play strategic catchup. We haven’t started experimenting with Story Highlights. The fact that users can now follow hashtags (ours, #cltagenda, has been included in 25,000-plus posts) means we have the opportunity to build a community even beyond our direct followership. And, because we are a business, we’re simultaneously experimenting with how to deliver messages there on behalf of our 25 sponsors. They need to be messages that we’re proud of, that are useful and relevant, and that are labeled Continue reading "The year of the Instagram Story"

Push alerts, personalized

2018 will be the year of personalized push alerts. The average lock screen is full of push alerts. They don’t just come from news apps, but Instagram, Uber, Snapchat, Seamless, your bank. News outlets have sensed a higher tolerance for push alerts and have become much bolder in this area. Many have branched out beyond breaking news — which is competitive to the point that it’s almost impossible to stand out from the crowd — to push analysis, major enterprise pieces, investigations, in-depth features, and other content deemed valuable to their audience. It isn’t hard to see why. Unmediated by third-parties like Facebook and Google, push alerts provide news outlets with one of the most direct, most intimate connections to their audiences. They provide a vital, and highly valued, opportunity to build and maintain brand loyalty. But no news audience is monolithic. The less generous assessment of push alerts is
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Here come the attention managers

The notifications have long since gotten out of hand. The notification managers are laughable. “Do not disturb” mode is a blunt and unwieldy instrument. The apps purport to manage the apps, to manage me, to lock out other apps, to induce what they call mindfulness, to prevent me from looking at any apps at all. I am pelted with offers from artificially intelligent agents, usually with feminine names, that promise to tidy up all the alerts and reminders, to lurk out of view until summoned, learning what I tap and what I don’t, making more and more of the decisions on my behalf. It looks like you’re discussing a meeting, the apps have learned to say. Would you like me to set up a time for you? Concepts like “time management” and “productivity” and “getting things done” grow increasingly quaint. I can feel it: The “attention management” industry is
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Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

As Facebook referrals plummeted throughout 2017, many publishers compensated for that traffic — and then some — with referrals from Google. Historically, the bulk of Google referrals have come from organic search and Google News. But in July, Google introduced its own feed, a direct competitor to the Facebook News Feed that presents content in the Google app and Android home screen based on your search history and topics you follow. A feed driven by your revealed topic preferences, rather than by a list of publishers and creators you follow, represents a big departure from how Facebook’s News Feed works. Google has made a similar switch on the homepage of YouTube, where the channels you subscribe to have become secondary to videos chosen by an algorithm according to your interests. Facebook has even begun to dabble in interest-driven curation on Instagram, where you can now follow hashtags in your Continue reading "Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds"