News organisations and the Facebook app – is it an equal relationship?

I’m very positive about Facebook. I have been for a while now. Working for a news organisation I see how it can reach new audiences, help journalists to engage with users and drive web traffic back to base.

In the past few weeks some of the world’s biggest news organisations have announced they’ve teamed up with Facebook to produce apps, which live within the social network’s walled garden.

This has obvious advantages for Facebook, which gets to keep its users on its site for even longer. It might also, eventually, be a good deal too for the user who gets to read content without being diverted to a third-party site (especially useful on mobile devices!). But thinking about this long-term, if it gains traction and users like it, news organisations may dig themselves into a bit of a hole.

What I can’t figure out here is how the news organisations are measuring success. Jump ahead a few years and assume the idea is massively successful, Facebook has become the place not only to find news but also to consume it, where is the benefit for the news organisation? People won’t need to come to news organisations’ websites for community either, they’ll have that on Facebook and (within reason) will be able to say more than they could on any news site in the world.

At best, news organisations will gain new audience and advertising revenue but the audience will be  loyal to a Facebook/news organisation partnership not to the news organisation itself. If for any reason the partnership were to break up, where would those readers go? In my opinion, if they have become accustomed to finding and consuming news within Facebook, it’s unlikely they’ll follow the news organisation out of the walled garden.

To me it seems like a more unequal relationship than it should be. I understand that news organisations are working with a behemoth, but are we not jumping the gun and surrendering. Do we need to do this right now or can’t we maintain the fairly successful strategy of collaborating with Facebook to guide its users to our content outside the garden? I’m sure news organisations think these apps are targeted at users who currently don’t consume content on their websites, but if the existing tools of sharing and linking are not achieving this I am doubtful an app will be that much more successful and instead will likely attract their current audience.

Perhaps I’m missing something (I know I haven’t discussed the new ‘read’ function etc, but while interesting, the greater value accrues to Facebook not the news organisation)? I am in favour of making news organisations as social as possible but within the context of building sustainable businesses.

I would love to hear more from news organisations about the long-term gains for THEM in such a partnership and how they see this developing.

-Blathnaid

Good storytelling links, 6 May 2010

Boston.com has a very powerful selection of more than 30 photographs on its ‘Big Picture’ feature that show the devastation caused by floods in Tennessee. The series of images convey the destruction and loss clearer than most articles or videos could. Take time to look through them if you can.

Boston.com's The Big Picture

Some Irish users could complain about the time it takes to load these large images. But bear in mind most people in the US have faster connections. (Must return to examine how slow connections could be holding back certain forms of storytelling in Ireland).

The New York Times featured a great infographic showing the inter-linking of European debt. To explain this in  written form would have been taxing for the reader but this, quite simple, graphic tells the story so well.

NYT Inforgraphic; Europe's Web Of Debt

Third example comes from The Guardian’s web coverage of the elections. It has a nice feature where it’s asking voters to tweet when they have voted and tag their tweet with their postcode so that it can be represented on a map to illustrate voter turnout. Good interactive way to tell the story even though it’s limited to Twitter users. (When I checked it out it didn’t seem to include Northern Ireland)


Have you seen any good storytelling this week?

B

Media 2020 Conference – Twitter Stream Highlights

I wasn’t at the Media 2020 conference in Croke Park, Dublin, today.  But using the Twitter hashtag #Med2020 I could follow many of the main points, which were highlighted by tweeting conference attendees as they were made by the speakers.

Here is the summary of points I have picked out from the stream, which I think are relevant for journalists and content producers.

I’ve broken it down by speaker (not all speakers are included) and used one tweeter per speaker to avoid confusion (each point is an individual tweet from the stream). Thanks to all the tweeters for keeping everyone updated!

First off, some overview points that seem to be coming back a lot from the #Med2020 twitter stream:

1) Experiment, cheaply, quickly, if you fail do it fast and learn from it
2) Mobile is going to be massive
3) Revenue models are not clear yet

By speaker:

Maeve Donovan, Former Managing Director, The Irish Times
Tweeter: Niamh Smith (@niamhsmith)

-Can newspapers make the necessary changes? Maeve believes they can based on her 30 yrs experience in the industry

-Roles of newspapers to make the most of the immense opportunities offered by emerging technologies

-Digital revolution has much broader implications than its effect on newspapers or tv

-Hardest words to say are ‘I don’t know’ – and she doesn’t know for sure the future of newspapers

Jonathon Moore, Guardian News & Media
Tweeter: Hugh Linehan (@hlinehan)

-Guardian Eyewitness iPad app: very simple app publishing one photo a day. Video: Jobs sings its praises

-You live or die by user recommendations on the app store

-Big traffic spike on Guardian app at 10.30pm. Technology changing how and when people consume content

-Moore: We expected migration to our app would cause fall-off in use of web browser. Hasn’t been the case

Mark Little, Storyful
Tweeter: Gareth O’Connor (@garethoconnor)

-#Med202 hears from @marklittlenews that basic reporting skills still needed by curators and super-users in new age

-New business opportunities for storytelling @marklittlenews tells #med2020

-@marklittlenews tells #med2020 that 2010 marks turning point in journalism

Ronan Higgins, Local, mobile social software start-up
Tweeter: Niamh Smith (@niamhsmith)

-Apps store – a new walled garden. iTunes-simplicity, quality, speed-applied this ethos to iPhone

Matt Locke – C4 Commissioning Editor, New Media & Education
Tweeter: Hugh Linehan (@hlinehan)

-Facebook picks up tiny snippets of attention and rolls them up into something gargantuan

-Very intelligent stuff – but a bit depressing that the experimental groundbreaker cited is Embarrassing Bodies. Blecchh

-Bingeing on cult content – four or five episodes at a time (I think I recognise myself in this presentation)

-Cult content. The Wire first TV series passed around like a 1970s rock album from friend to friend. User content around Lost

-Events-driven initiatives like ITV’s election debate worm – broadcasters comfortable with that

-What broadcast does well is events. So we’re seeing the eventisation of TV, from talent shows to Lambing Live (!)

-Locke: broadcasters used to own the audience. But with new technology, old platforms have to learn what it is they really do well

Múirne Laffan – Executive Director, RTÉ Publishing
Tweeter: Eoin Purcell (@eoinpurcell)

-Laffan: 3.5 million uniques a month for rte.ie and 1 million of those are overseas!

-Laffan: RTE has a hub and spoke model. Create content in hub and reuse as much as possible

-Laffan: Boundaries to entry are very low. Global opportunities. But getting to market quickly is important. Mobile is huge

-Laffan see every tv connected to the internet in Ireland in 10 yrs!

-Laffan: Consumer expectations are through the roof

Note: Compiling this post this evening has reinforced my feeling that Twitter streams are much easier to follow live and are hard work to use as an archive – looking forward to some journalists’ and bloggers’ analysis of the conference.

**Update – Two good pieces about yesterday’s conference: The Irish Times’ Hugh Linehan (including video of Minister Eamon Ryan) and Fin O’Reilly.**

-B

What’s happening in hyperlocal…

Yesterday, the New York Times announced a collaboration with New York University to cover local news in the East Village.

NYT journalist Richard G Jones will edit the Local East Village site, developed by staff and faculty at the University’s Arthur L Carter Journalism Institute. The site will ‘live’ on nytimes.com.

The Times has already collaborated with another journalism school on a hyperlocal project in Brooklyn, it has a venture in Chicago and an upcoming Bay Area link-up in San Francisco.

Speaking about the most recent announcement, the Editor of Digital Initiatives at NYT, Jim Schachter, says:

We want to continue to expand our network of collaborations, in the New York area and across the country, through associations with individuals, companies and institutions that share our values — foremost, increasing the volume and scope of quality journalism about issues that matter.

The new East Village site is not the only recent development in local news.

AOL is expanding its local news venture patch.com. According to a report last week from Business Insider, the group is planning to grow the number of local news websites from 30 to ‘hundreds’.

Citing an internal communication with employees, Business Insider reports that AOL said it wants to be ‘the global and local leader in sourcing, creating, producing and delivering high quality content.’

Insider says:

Patch is already growing fast. It served just 12 communities in New Jersey and Connecticut as of October 2009, when it announced plans to expand to another 11. It currently covers about 30.

Insider also reports that AOL is out at events (recently in NYU) seeking to hire journalism grads.

Writing about the AOL news, GigaOM’s Matthew Ingram says if patch.com is a failure it will be the biggest blow to hyperlocal yet.

Across the Atlantic, guardian.co.uk took its first steps into the world of hyperlocal with its Leeds website. Sites for Edinburgh and Cardiff are on the way.

Journalism.co.uk says Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger told Twitter the move was a ‘tiny toe in local web water’.

On her blog, Director of Digital Content for Guardian News and Media, Emily Bell says:

A hugely important part of this project has been the involvement of MySociety, who we’ve collaborated with to provide customised versions of their civic tools, allowing and encouraging local residents to report issues, contact their representatives and generally become engaged in the governance and care of their locality. This is an important partnership for us because we share many of the same values with MySociety, and it has been very valuable to work with them on a project like this.

I think hyperlocal has a big future – I have thought that for a long time.

I find it bothersome, however, that it mostly, at least in the US, remains the preserve of citizen journalists, journalism students and recent grads. Aside from the person tasked with being the editor, it seems the big names or more established journalists tend to be missing.

How do organisations expect readers to take local news seriously if they are not throwing major muscle, including journalists, behind it.

Local news is important. After all it can have the most immediate impact on readers’ lives and could possibly drive them to other parts of a media organisation’s operation.

B

The Skiff Reader – a saviour for newspapers?

The Guardian has a profile today of the Skiff electronic reader. The article says some of the world’s biggest newspaper groups are eyeing the device.

Gil Fuchsberg, the former journalist and new media deal-maker who has overseen Skiff from its origins as an R&D project within Hearst Corporation, argues that the time is right for magazines and newspapers to follow books, which are available on electronic readers such as Kindle. Fuchsberg says he looks forward to travelling on the tube in London surrounded by commuters reading touchscreen tablets.

Personally I don’t think Mr Fuchsberg is going to see that sight.

At one point I thought there might be a role for a device like this, but that was more than five years ago – when the digital media landscape was less developed. If people are going to consume news digitally they are going to do it on whatever mobile digital device they currently own (that also does video, audio and is in colour!) or on one they purchase that does everything else too – newspapers are not books – they can’t be treated in a similar way. People may pay for an e-reader for books because they are used to paying for them in the first place. Books have a different place in people’s lives. They won’t pay for a special device for newspapers because they are used to getting that for free (aside from connection charges).

The only market this device has is the group that still buys newspapers. Why re-invent the wheel for them – they already buy your device (a newspaper). The Skiff is about selling hardware not content. This is not the solution – newspapers steer clear!

Guardian seeks public’s help in expenses probe

Guardian.co.uk is calling on its readers to use its research tools to search through some 700,000 MP expenses documents to see if there are more instances where a claim needs investigation.

It is asking people to read through the documents and when they see a possible irregularity hit the ‘investigate this’ button and the Guardian will take a closer look.

There are so many documents to review that the Guardian’s crowdsourcing move makes sense – and what a great story to use it on.

Looking forward to seeing how this project develops! And to the future twists, turns and revelations in the expenses story.

If you want to help the Guardian with its research click here

Guardian launches Open Platform

The Guardian has launched a new commercial venture, which will enable ‘partners’ to reuse guardian.co.uk content for free while carrying its advertising.

Guardian News & Media Director of Digital Content Emily Bell says the move will help to weave its content into the ‘fabric of the web’.

The Guardian’s Kevin Anderson writes:

A content application programming interface (API) will smooth the way for web developers to build applications and services using Guardian content, while a Data Store will contain datasets curated by Guardian editors and open for others to use.

More from the Guardian about Open Platform here.

What others are saying:

Wired says this is not a new move citing that it comes ‘on the heals of a similar move by the New York Times and seems to point toward a new kind of approach to online news — give away your content and send the advertising with it.’

Tom Watson calls it ‘revolutionary’ and ‘leap into the future’.

My initial thoughts:

It will further consolidate content.

Open Platform like the NYT’s Developer Network could push the wires into doing something similar.

The data store element of this initiative is very interesting and is worth keeping an eye on.