Tag Archives: case studies

iPhone News Apps Compared

We’re all being told that mobile is the next big thing for news, but what does it mean to have a good mobile news application? Jonathan Stray reports.

Just as an online news site is a lot more than a newspaper online, a mobile news application is a lot more than news stories on a small screen. The better iPhone news apps integrate multimedia, social features, personalization, and push notifications.

Not all apps get even the basics right. But a few are pushing the boundaries of what mobile news can be, with innovative new features such as info-graphic displays of hot stories, or integrated playlists for multimedia.

Here is my roundup of 14 iPhone news offerings. I’ve included many of the major publishers, some lesser known applications, and a few duds for comparison.

NYTimes
The New York Times Company
Free

The New York Times iPhone application

The New York Times iPhone application

The Times doesn’t do anything new with this application, but they do everything fairly well.

The app is designed around a vertical list stories, with a headline, lede, and photo thumbnail for each. Stories are organized into standard news sections, plus the alway interesting “Most Popular.”   Banner ads sometimes appear at the bottom, plus occasional interstitial ads when appear when you select a story.

The focus of the news is of course American. There’s no personalization of news content based either on interest or location, which may well prove to be a standard feature for mobile news applications. Fortunately, the app includes a search function, though it only seems to go a few days back.

Downloaded articles are available when the device is offline, which is a useful feature. Favorites stories can be saved, or shared via email, text message, Twitter, and Facebook.

The UI has a few quirks. The “downloading news” progress bar is expected, but the sometimes equally long “processing news” phase makes me wonder what the app is doing. The photos in a story very sensibly download after the text, but the scroll position jumps when the photo appears,which is hugely annoying.

There’s little innovation or differentiation here, but the experience is smooth.

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Five factors that foster innovation in the online newsroom

I recently heard a newspaper chief editor say something quite shocking. I attended a meeting arranged by the Norwegian consortium New Media Network where the chief editor of the second biggest national tabloid in Norway, Dagbladet, was to give a speech. And believe it or not, chief editor of Dagbladet, Anne Aasheim, said: “I have been a media executive for 20 years now and I must say; it’s more fun today than ever before!”

More fun today than ever before?  Everybody at the meeting knew that Dagbladet has suffered massive losses in recent years – much more than their competitor VG, which is the flagship of Schibsted, one of Europe’s most successful and innovative newspaper publishers, according to The New York Times. Dagbladet is probably the newspaper that has suffered the most in the Norwegian newspaper market in recent years. What could possibly be fun about that? Was Anne Aasheim joking?

Anne Aasheim wasn’t joking. She soon explained what she meant: “When the crisis becomes big enough you no longer just mend things. Your tear everything apart and then you re-construct it. We are now searching for the power to do disruptive innovation. It’s going to be a cut-throat competition to have the greatest power of innovation.”

Then she smiled before exclaiming: “And we are gonna win that competition!”

I thought this was an interesting argument – especially since I have conducted much research in the Dagbladet newsroom during the last four years. Dagbladet is one of those newspapers that always wants to be the first mover. When new technology comes around Dagbladet jumps on it. Dagbladet was the first Norwegian newspaper to launch an online edition, it implemented bloging as the first online newspaper in Scandinavia, etc, etc. Dagbladet’s position in the shadow of the bigger and more successful newspaper VG has forced it to push for innovative initiatives.

The key question for Dagbladet and any other firm that push for successful innovations, is of course: How do you know if a innovative initiative will be a success? I shall not claim that I have the answer to that question (if I did, I would probably be very rich man). However, I have done some research in order to pinpoint the factors that influence processes of innovation in newsrooms. In an article in the current issue of the journal Journalism Studies I argue that there are five factors that affect whether an innovation is diffused successfully or not in an online newsroom:

  1. Newsroom autonomy: are innovative projects initiated and implemented within an autonomous newsroom and with relative autonomy within the online newsroom? (If not, the project is less likely to succeed)
  2. Newsroom work culture: does the online newsroom reproduce editorial gatekeeping or are alternative work cultures explored? (reproduction of “old media” work cultures is likely to prevent innovative initiatives from being successful)
  3. The role of management: is newsroom management able to secure stable routines for innovation?
  4. The relevance of new technology: is new technology perceived as relevant, i.e. efficient and useful? (New technology can be costly and time consuming to utilize)
  5. Innovative individuals: is innovation implemented and understood as part of the practice of journalism?

These factors derive from an ethnographic case study of a process of innovation in dagbladet.no – the online edition of Dagbladet. The findings of this case study are compared to all other research on innovations (or lack of innovations) in online newspapers. This body of research consist of – among many other studies – the research done by Pablo Boczkowsi in his book Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers; David Domingo’ Ph.D-thesis Inventing online journalism: Development of the Internet as a news medium in four Catalan newsrooms (which can be downloaded here); Lucy Küng’s When Innovation Fails to Disrupt. A Multi-lens Investigation of Succesfull Incumbment Respons to Technological Disconuity: The Launch of BBC News Online; and Jody Brannon’s quite old, but still very interesting Ph.D.-thesis Maximizing the medium: assessing impediments to performing multimedia journalism at three news web sites (parts of it available on here website).

One last point: Innovation and crisis tend to go hand in hand. Businesses, organisations and nation states alike have always pushed for innovations in times of crisis. There are two reasons for this assumed causal link between recession and innovation, according to an article by Geroski and Walters published in The Economic Journal. First, in times of recession the value of existing rents usually falls, thus making it more attractive for firms to implement new products and processes that hopefully will yield higher returns. Second, to invest in innovations requires a firm to divert resources from activity/production to product development. Such a diversion of resources is more likely to be feasible when the current production is less profitable, e.g. in times of recession.

No wonder why the chief editor of Dagbladet, Anne Aasheim, was so enthusiastic about the opportunities for disruptive innovation…

Text still rules

This is a really excellent reminder of a web basic, which is unfortunately often forgotten as websites add and add and add and in the process become bloated.

“Think of your Web audience as lazy, selfish and ruthless,” said Michael Gold, West Gold Editorial principal quoting usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s apt description of today’s impatient, task-oriented Web audience during his remarks at a recent ONA panel. “Web audiences are on a mission—they’re task-oriented.”

Text matters on the Web from Martin Ricard on Vimeo.

HT: ONA

The shaping of an online feature journalist

What happens when an online newspaper decides to implement web-only feature journalism? Will the role of the online feature journalist be different from that of a print feature journalist?

These questions form the topic of a recently published article in a special issue of the academic journal Journalism focusing on the changing conditions of work and labour in the global news industry (the introduction to this special issue can be downloaded here). In the article, I argue that academic research into online journalism has been biased towards exploring online journalism as breaking news journalism, thereby to some extent neglecting the magnitude of new styles and genres that emerges in online news sites (see David Domingo’s excelent Phd dissertation (pdf) for a thorough overview of the academic research into online journalism). An increasing number of online newspapers across the world
now for instance include sections like “special reports” (e.g this section on the St. Petersburg Times online edition), “multimedia features” (like The New York Times online multimedia/photo section), ‘travel’ (e.g The Guardian online’s travel section), etc., where breaking news and immediacy in reporting are not core activities.

Such sections signal a coming together of two apparently widely different practices of journalism: feature journalism and online journalism. Feature journalism is often associated with glossy magazines and newspaper weekend sections where readers are invited to spend time, relax and take pleasure in their reading. The dominant discourses of feature journalism therefore seem to contrast with the discourse of online communication as it so far has been portrayed in research on the practice of online journalism and the evolving role of the online journalist. (For a more thorough discussion of what feature journalism is, see the paper What is feature journalism? that I recently presented at the 19th Nordic Conference for Media and Communication Research in Karlstad, Sweden)

In the article in the special issue of Journalism I investigate how the implementation of feature journalism in an online newsroom influences the role of online journalists and how the role of an online feature journalist is thus shaped. The article is based on a longitudinal, ethnographic case study of the production of feature journalism in the Norwegian online newspaper dagbladet.no (which, as the first Scandinavian online newspaper, launched a section entirely devoted to feature stories in 2002). What is interesting with this online feature section is that most of the production is web exclusive – it is produced by especially assigned online feature journalists. Feature stories that emerge online elsewhere (e.g Soundslides- and Flash-productions) tend to be spin-off products of already published newspaper productions. The dagbladet.no-case therefore represents a unique opportunity to explore how (or if) an online newsroom establish a new, online-based understanding of what feature journalism is or should be when they are left to explore the genre without influence from old media editors and journalists.

The empirical material gathered from the case study (six weeks of observation in the newsroom of dagbladet.no in four different periods from 2005 to 2007), 28 interviews with newsroom staffers, and document analysis) reveals that – in this particular case – the online feature journalists became heavily influenced by the productions routines and role performance of their online colleagues. Hence immediacy became a virtue for them – they developed a production routine where frequent publishing of new stories became important. However, the online newsroom at large was influenced by what the feature journalists brought to the table: The other online journalists felt that the feature section ernhanced their status and gave them a competitive advantage over other Norwegian online newspapers.

The findings can further be summed up in these points:

  • In order to provide their role with status, the online feature journalists in dagbladet.no felt a need to distance them selves from how feature journalism is understood and practiced in conventional media in general and in the Dagbladet (print) feature journalism supplement “Magasinet” in particular. This lead to, amongst other things, a dismissal of the reportage as genre. The online feature journalists felt the readers provided the same kind of ‘human touch’ to their stories as the method of field reporting and face-to-face interviewing did for their print counterparts, as the readers were allowed to comment on and attach personal stories to the feature pieces. An interesting examples of this strategy can be found in this story on the troubles of gay people in rural areas in Norway, where the comments at the end of the article are dominated by personal experiences on the topic from gay readers (the story is in Norwegian).
  • Even though they became heavily influenced by the work routine of their online colleagues, the feature journalists of dagbladet.no felt a need to distance them selves from the standards of online journalism in general which they perceived to be too inaccurate and shallow. They therefore became intensely occupied with for instance backing up there stories with a sufficient amount of sources and hyperlinks. They perceived their role as being pioneers in the process of increasing the standards of online journalism. This was appreciated by the other online journalists in dagbladet.no as they felt the feature journalists enhanced the overall status of online journalism.
  • The online feature journalists of dagbladet.no developed a strategy implying that close relations with readers became more important than close relations with sources – the latter being a more common virtue in conventional feature journalism, where close encounters with people and milieus are common elements in the discourse. Even though they based their stories on many sources, the majority of the sources where second or third hand and largely assembled from other websites (reflecting a copy/paste practice common in online journalism at large). In stead of searching for first hand sources, the feature journalists devoted their attention to the audience. Readers were perceived as content providers both in the sense that the discussions the stories generated were regarded as valuable content and because the journalists ‘outsourced’ the human touch reporting to the audience. Thus, the readers to some extent became the sources.

The article concludes that the web exclusive feature journalism of dagbladet.no is a “multi-skilled practice of feature journalism entailing a devaluation of reportage as genre and emphasizing audience participation. This marks a shift from source-driven to audience-driven feature journalism, where debate and sharing of information and knowledge replace intimacy and adventure as dominant discourses.” (p. 715).

The case study is framed by an understanding of labour in general and media work in particular as undergoing substantial change and entailing a more individualized and random style of work. This development can be traced both in a historical axis of factors that have shaped the role of journalists throughout history, and a contemporary axis of the particulars of labour in modern society at large. Thus, the case study of how the role of an online feature journalist was negotiated within the online newsroom of dagbladet.no, serve as an example of these more general trends in media work.