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Ask not what consumers can do for news, ask news what it can do for the consumer

If there is anything I have learned over the last few weeks it is that the consumer is king. Through my various experiences with entrepreneurship and conversations with entrepreneur Diana Kander, this point has been pushed above all others. So this week I decided to see if I could learn a thing or two about how people consume news on their phones, by, well, talking to a few strangers. I focused my questions on phone use habits to discover how people use their phones during free time. My hope was to gain some insight into the needs and desires of young phone users to have a better understanding of how news companies could target these people. I was especially interested in people my own age because I believe their news consumption will hugely impact the future of the industry.

Tanzi, 20

photo 1

Can you tell me about a time you had a free 10 minutes and were on your phone?

“Usually I go through Instagram or play 2048 because I can’t beat it. Or I’ll go on Twitter. I’m a j-school student and I follow a lot of accounts with news, but I don’t always click on the links.”

Why do you like to visit those sites?

“I like finding a different ways to connect with people and see what they’re doing and see if they’re close by. If I’m on the quad, I’ll post a picture of where I am. I want to share a part of my day with someone else.”

Why do you like to connect with people and share parts of your day?

“I’m a big experience culture person. Even though I’m an introvert, I like to know what people are doing with their life.”

What’s a problem that you have that you think news could solve?

“Sometimes I’ll be sitting and I’ll hear people talking about news, and then I’ll feel behind because I’m not caught up on it.”

Josh, 19

photo 2

Can you tell me about a time you had 10 minutes of free time and were on your phone?

“Usually I check my messages, but I don’t text all that much. Usually I’m trying to avoid looking like I’m not doing something, or I’m browsing the Internet.”

Why do you try to look like you’re doing something?

“It seems in today’s culture everyone has to look like they’re doing something. It’s socially awkward not to be doing anything.”

Why do you think it’s awkward?

“Maybe it’s just become the norm because everyone’s on their phones.”

Why do you think it’s the ‘norm?’

“I just don’t feel productive whenever I’m not doing something. Idle hands are the devil’s play things. Maybe I feel like I’m not progressing enough in life.”

Where do you get your news?

“Usually I go to Reddit because of the vote based system on what gets seen.”

Why do you pick that over local media?

“Well, the Missourian doesn’t really have people’s input. It’s not a community based thing that can rank its importance.”

What’s a news app you think you might use?

“An app or something with local events going on or summaries of world and local events.”

Emily, 19

photo 3

What do you do when you check your phone?

“I check up on Twitter and then when I get to the end of my feed, I’ll go on Pinterest.”

Why do you like to visit those sites?

“Twitter I visit because I follow things I enjoy. I don’t always tweet a lot, I’ll just read. Pinterest, I pin a lot of things and I have a lot of boards.”

Why do you like those sites?

“I really like books and movies, so anything that references those I enjoy, and I also enjoy anything that makes me laugh.”

How often do you read news?

“I don’t really read news. I guess it’s our generation. Sometimes I’ll see things on Twitter, but I don’t pay much attention.”

When you see news links on Twitter do you click on them?

“If it’s something I feel connected to or interested in I click on it, otherwise I just skip over it.”

What’s a problem in your life, big or small, you wish you could solve? How do you think an app could solve it?

“I’m bad with patience. So something that controls patience. Maybe an app that gives rewards for waiting.”


Although I only talked with three young students for a few minutes each, I learned quite a bit about their phone use habits. The thing that was most interesting to me was how technology seemed to be such a go to for people my age. Nearly everyone I saw on the quad was on a phone or computer. Yet, after I approached these people (A couple of them even had headphones in at the time), they warmly responded to my conversation and presence. Josh’s comments about the need to seem busy in today’s world were especially thought provoking.

News organizations have a huge opportunity to reach people on their phones. Like Josh said, people have a need, especially a social one, to solve the problem of free time using the technology immediately available to them. But even though these consumers were all alone when I talked with them, most of them were in pursuit of a social experience of some sort online. They had free time and they were by themselves, but they didn’t want to feel alone. It wasn’t acceptable to spend free time idly. What an opportunity for news.

Yet, every person I talked to didn’t primarily use their phones for news consumption. And, if they weren’t consuming news on their phones, they also weren’t consuming much news anywhere else. This is troubling because reading the paper used to be a socially acceptable and common way to solve the problem of free time. Now though consumers have an overwhelming amount of distractions to chose from. They want to feel connected to people and they want to pursue their interests. A plethora of social media sites target these needs well, and my generation is hooked. However, they’re not flocking to news apps like they are to social media sites.

I would have to talk to more people to further build research about phone habits, but the experience gave me some thoughts on how news organizations could better target millennials on their phones.

Ideas for news organizations:

  • Emphasis on social commenting platforms like Kinja
  • Competitive elements based around the news consumption (Ex: social consolation of some sort for winning a contest)
  • Tailored news according to location and previous searches
  • Convenience-designed mobile content (Ex: a feature story on a coffee shop that gets pushed to a phone when user is close by)
  • Elimination of paywalls (Paywalls, at least on a mobile phone, will turn users away from a “quick” experience)
  • Partnerships with other apps to include relevant news (Ex: money management tips from experts promoted under a news brand within a banking app)
  • Social emphasis on mobile apps (Ex: voting system exists within news app only)

How do you think news organizations should target millennial mobile users?

What students can learn from the State of the News Media report


Screenshot from PewResearch Journalism Project

Every year, PewResearch releases a State of the News Media report as part of its ongoing Journalism Project. The report researches everything from who is producing the news to new key players to economic models for content. This year the report identified a few key trends including changing revenue models, increasing local TV acquisitions and content sharing, momentum for news videos and growth in digital reporting. 

Although all of the trends are relevant to students, I think the trend of growth in digital reporting is especially important. The report focused on 468 digital publication for its study of the trend. Almost 5,000 full-time positions were created from those companies alone. This statistic is especially exciting when you take into account that from 2003 to 2012, 16,200 full-time newsroom and 38,000 magazine positions were lost. The report also found that:

  • Hiring rates at digital native companies has been explosive

  • Most digital sites are small, new and not-for-profit

  • Digital organizations often focus on niche news needs such as local and investigative news

  • Many sites are investing in global coverage

  • Websites are hiring both experienced and young reporters alike

  • Most job losses are coming from print

  • Growth in digital sites does not mean sustainable business models have been created

It’s hard to not be excited about these findings. The report as a whole even began with a few words of optimism:

“In many ways, 2013 and early 2014 brought a level of energy to the news industry not seen for a long time. Even as challenges of the past several years continue and new ones emerge, the activities this year have created a new sense of optimism – or perhaps hope – for the future of American journalism.” -State of the News Media 2014

I read this report and thought back to the Journalism Interactive conference I attended last weekend. The conference was all about digital media and was packed with ideas about new journalism tools. Digital strategist Amy Webb’s talk stands out the most to me. Webb gave an insightful presentation on top tech trends for journalists and journalism educators. She also said that journalists weren’t moving fast enough and that journalism curriculum was outdated to teach budding journalists how to succeed and better the new media environment. The State of the News Media report shares some promise and optimism about the digital revolution of news, but we need to act fast if we want to capitalize on it. We also must not mistake short term growth for sustainable revenue solutions for news (which the report doesn’t fail to mention). That all being said, I think there are a number of ways young students can take advantage of growth in digital reporting:

Tips for students

1. Experiment with digital tools

This semester, I changed my blog’s theme to focus on the intersection of technology and media. The inspiration came from the combination of classes I am taking (Entrepreneurship, Convergence Reporting and Emerging Media), and also from some personal interests I wanted to act on. Every week I now write about some aspect of technology and news and their intersections, and it has already been incredibly beneficial to me. By holding myself accountable to a weekly blog, I essentially force myself to read about and experiment with new tools. I encourage every student to do the same. If you have more time and motivation to simply experiment on your own, do it. If you can integrate new tools into your reporting, even better. In order to master digital reporting, you have to be familiar with practicing it. You will learn from this application and also demonstrate your knowledge to future employers.

2. Gain experience at a digital-native company

I can’t begin to count the number of students who have told me they want to work at the New York Times or the Washington Post.  These are the same students who got really amazing print internships the summer after their freshmen year. First of all, they rock. I myself came into the journalism school with print experience from high school thinking I would only be successful if I could get a job at one of these big name news publications. I believe that journalism organizations will always need talented writers and reporters who don’t want to stray from their craft in these changing times. However, I also believe that students should look beyond the kinds of journalism jobs they are familiar with and explore digital-native companies.

This fall I had the opportunity to contribute to a digital publication called Silicon Prairie News, which covers technology and entrepreneurial news in the Midwest. Over the summer I became interested in entrepreneurship when I helped with Maker Faire in Kansas City. I initially looked at the position as a chance to meet people who were as excited about entrepreneurship as I was. The position was unpaid, and it was not nearly as shiny as some of the other positions my peers had the previous summer. However, I gained a wealth of connections in a field that excites me, and I also fell in love with non-traditional media. As part of a small team, I had a lot of independence and freedom to make a story my own. I also sharpened my online media skills through experience with content management systems, for example. Experience at a digital publication shows an employer that a student is adaptable, explorative and risk taking. The first step to eventually becoming an innovator in your field is getting your foot in the door at an organization already practicing innovation.

3. Think entrepreneurially

A panel on teaching media entrepreneurship was also one of my favorite presentations at Journalism Interactive last weekend. The panel made clear that not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but that students can help an organization by thinking entrepreneurially. The industry needs more people who understand the business so that they can use new tools to not only produce quality content, but also bring eyes and money to that content. In my opinion, every student should take at least one basic entrepreneurship class. If you’re not looking to spend too much money, consider participating in a Startup Weekend. Columbia has a booming Startup Weekend every fall. Mizzou also has an exceptional class called the Entrepreneurship Alliance which focuses on experiential entrepreneurship. At the very least, walk into Museao and talk to literally anyone in the building about the businesses they are building right here in Columbia. Traditional news skills are great; however, a skill set is only beneficial if it can be applied in unique ways. One of the panelists said it best:

“I’m not interested in your clips. I’m not interested in what candies you can put in the box. I’m interested in the box you can make.” -Lisa Williams, digital engagement editor Investigative News Network

What are you waiting for? Go out there and get digital!


Journalism Interactive 2014

Screenshot from Journalism Interactive

This weekend, I have the incredible opportunity to attend the Journalism Interactive conference at the University of Maryland. The conference was founded in 2011 by the aforementioned school’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and has since expanded into a partnership with the University of Florida and the University of Missouri.

The conference has a little bit of everything concerning journalism education and digital media, and it has a particularly exciting entrepreneurial focus this year. The conference’s website states its goals as follows:

  • Advancing the national discourse about how journalism schools are preparing students for a rapidly changing industry
  • Expanding the knowledge of media educators through training in digital media teaching strategies and technologies
  • Creating a community of journalism educators engaged in teaching and using digital media and providing them with meaningful networking opportunities to share teaching strategies and techniques

Throughout the weekend, I will share key takeaways as I can. I will also be sure to post pictures and multimedia if possible, including an excited selfie when I see digital strategist Amy Webb speak live Friday! Follow the fun along with me this weekend on my blog!

Vlog review: Huffington Post Live

I lived without a TV for a year and a half in college. I only just recently bought a TV, mostly at my parents’ insistence. Video blogs on YouTube (also Netflix and Hulu), particularly make TVs seem like a non-essential item, especially for people of my generation.

This week in my emerging media class, we are exploring different styles of video blogs with the hope of making our own vlogs about media trends in the weeks to come. I started watching vlogs more regularly when I came to Mizzou and heard more and more about the Columbia-based video aggregation website Newsy. 

I decided to explore other news-esque type blogs this week to see how they might compare to a site like Newsy which has found great success through its video news techniques. Huffington Post Live is a good example of a site that is engaging its audience through vlogging. Each of HuffPost Live’s videos  feature a reporter sitting in what looks like a newsroom, summarizing a news event or presenting previous reporting in the video.

HuffPost Live on YouTube is the main platform for the videos being produced. Viewers can digest a short bit of news present in a more casual way than a formal newscast. While Newsy integrates information from multiple sources, and puts it into one video, Huffington Post does original reporting, but in a similar casual style. The background of a busy newsroom seems to be popular in news vlogs.

For the typical millennial, the setting gives the videos a credible feel without the commitment of watching a half hour long newscast. The audience for these style of videos is definitely regular news consumers in their 20s and 30s. While this style is highly engaging for a younger generation, I doubt the Huffington Post has nearly as many middle-aged viewers.

Overall, I think this style of vlog targets a specific audience well. In my own vlog, I would like to include casual reporter narration paired with other sources and videos possibly.

Digital tool review: Meograph



As online readers become more exposed to marketing techniques on the Internet, it has become increasingly important for websites to engage audiences in new ways. For my Emerging Media class this week, I spent some time experimenting with a “multimedia storytelling” tool called Meograph that was designed to engage readers online. The tool allows any user to easily create multimedia pieces. Many sites including NBA and PBS have even used the tool to drive competitions based around content readers create using the tool. Readers can combine their own video, photos and audio or pull elements from online to create short multimedia response pieces that react to competitions or stories.

I personally used Meograph to create an audio slideshow. For my Convergence Reporting class I used a tool called Soundslides to put together photos and audio I took of a local store called Valhalla’s Gate. I have used Soundslides before, and I don’t mind the program. The interface is ideal for creating audio slideshows. It easily allows the user to drag, drop and time out photos and audio. However, the free version of the Soundslides program doesn’t provide you with any sort of publishable link to your work. I spent quite a bit of time on the project, and I wanted to be able to share my photos and audio, so I decided to try Meograph. Here are a few of my thoughts on the tool:

Meograph pros:

  • Social media ease- Meograph allows any finished product to be easily shared on almost any social network. This is especially nice for a journalist looking to share a simple project (in my case). The tool also seems to be mobile friendly which is always a plus.
  • Live chat help- I used the “need help” function on Meograph’s site twice while making the project. I was surprised to find that the help came in the form of a real life person and not an FAQ menu. I later realized that the CEO of Meograph was actually the person chatting with me. The chat feature was extremely convenient and made the tool feel more personal.
  • Potential for audience engagement- As I said earlier, I only used Meograph for a simple project. However, a number of websites have used the tool as a way to invite readers to create multimedia pieces. Instead of posting comments or even photos, users can use Meograph to engage with a website. The tool invites an audience to engage in new ways.

Meograph cons:

  • Small glitches: Through out my project I experienced several small issues that Meograph may still be working to resolve. I first found that my photos were displaying in the tool for longer than I wanted even though I set the display time for the photos myself. After chatting on the help tool, I learned that photos are automatically set to display for three seconds, but this information was not made clear. I also noticed that viewing the project during editing at any point other than the beginning often caused the playback to jump over photos. Finally, I was a bit disappointed with the fluidity of the program. It was a bit challenging to drag my photos and audio exactly where I wanted. The program took me a bit of extra time overall to drag around everything where I wanted it. The final project also felt a bit jumpy between photo transitions.
  • Embed code issue- This may be an issue exclusively related to a small group of users, but my free WordPress blog does not allow me to use the iFrame embed code that Meograph generates.
  • Lack of instruction- Given that this tool was designed primarily for users new to multimedia, I think it would be helpful if the tool had either a more detailed written manual or video instructions explaining how to use the tool in more depth. I struggled a few times through the creation process, and had to use the chat function for help. If the tool has a chance of further expanding to a broader audience, it will need to be made either slightly more intuitive or it will need to provide more in-depth instructions.

A new world of adaptive journalism

“Adaptive journalism is what I would call the ultimate in delivering – to the greatest of our technical and journalistic abilities – the best storytelling for the user at that moment.” -Cory Haik, executive producer and senior editor of digital news at The Washington Post*

Social silos – The most and least connected each of us can be in each second of our online existences. First there was the filter bubble. Put into use by Google to ensure that my search of “activities in Columbia, Mo.” is different than yours. I started to think that only art galleries and organic food markets were open on a Saturday, while you could name every Go-Kart place in town. I know plenty of artists and vegans now, but our paths never crossed. You never showed up on my Facebook timeline because our interests don’t overlap – according to the algorithms. 

I exist. For this I can be certain. I am the search results that confirm my interests, the calendars reminders that remind me to be present. And my world is reality. For this I can be certain. Truth is the news alerts I signed up for; fiction the alerts I never see. The world is sense, empiricism, instant gratification. A silo. A social silo…

Sites including Google and Facebook have been utilizing filter bubbles for several years now. Algorithms examine an online user’s past search and social behavior and then present calculated content to that user. The idea is especially promising for ad sales. If a website can determine what a user’s interests are, it can show unique ads to viewers. Many users are wary of the amount of online data that is being stored about them. If a user’s search habits are stored, they can, theoretically, be shared for purposes other than a targeted ad experience. This fear was especially heightened this year, after Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA surveillance program.

This year, many experts began to predict that the world of journalism would start to utilize user data to provide more targeted news experiences. The Washington Post focused its efforts on implementing adaptive journalism techniques, in which content is adapted according to the device and location of the user. For instance, during a baseball game earlier this year, the Post provided live baseball score updates only to viewers who were browsing the sports section on a mobile device while in the baseball park. The site also unveiled an application called Topicly which visually groups together breaking news topics and refreshes topics every 15 minutes. These efforts show how the Post seeks to personalize the way readers view news. Other apps, such as Breaking News,  take these individualized options further. The app allows users to turn on and off “breaking news” push notifications for select keywords, topics, names, etc. of their choosing. 

This exploration of adaptive journalism has great potential to revolutionize the way websites provide news. If a news site prioritizes user interest and experience, readers will likely flock to the site knowing they can easily find pertinent information. Since the beginning of journalism, there has always been a clear distinction between who knows best about the news. Before the information age, the reporter was considered the expert about breaking stories and given full power to determine what information readers would see. Now in 2014 and beyond, trends such as adaptive journalism have the potential to give a lot of power back to readers. Engagement and increased readership are likely results of this trend.

On the flip side, however, is the possibility of the social silos I referred to in the dramatized imagination of a future world in the beginning of this post. As content in search engines, social media sites and now news sites becomes more and more specific to each user, it is entirely possible that members of society will actually understand a more limited scope of the world that only confirms perceptions they already have. If adaptive journalism is implemented in extremes, I imagine that pieces of news would become known to only certain communities. The Internet is already good at grouping searches and people based around interests. While journalism niche sites can help readers find information that is relevant to them, this news segmentation has the potential to limit exposure to important news stories. In this way, adaptive journalism has great promise, but also has many undetermined effects which may drive our world further apart rather than closer together.

*This post was written as a response to the following prompt for my Emerging Media class: “Imagine a journalistic world in which your trend has caught on and is widely used at a fictional media company of your choosing/creation. Explain the impact of its use and why it is either wildly successful or the end of the world as we know it.”