Mobility has made it a very exciting time to be in the news delivery business all of a sudden. Four or five years ago most newspaper, TV news and magazine sites were in the same depressing chase for digital dimes in a commodity business. Brands had less and less chance to distinguish themselves online as the blog roll became the great design “innovation” and search was the discovery tool of choice.
Enter mobility. The app, its ever-presence, and the notification infrastructure that surrounds it, open up a new toy box for news. Suddenly we are seeing some real innovation when it comes to packaging and genuinely rethinking how news can be delivered and absorbed. In just the past few years we have seen NowThisNews pioneer six-second visual journalism in Vine and Instagram. Discovery Digital was among the first to craft genuine mobile-first video shows. Many of their early innovations like animated headlines and audio-off storytelling have migrated into other news venues.
Last election night ABCNews sent out millions of app alerts without pissing anyone off, because they had crafted ahead of time an artful way of opting people into the alerting and then hyper-targeting the content to the person’s district and declared interests. This is the way a news brand prevents commoditization. It is about leveraging the science to make the information so relevant and irreplaceable, that a brand can distinguish itself as a service.
Likewise, Al Jazeera’s AJ+ is using a card interface to drill into a given story without bogging down in too much text. Headlines, animation, polling -- they tell the story. It is a kind of visual news storytelling, closer to pantomime than TV, that is energizing.
Yahoo Digest is using the latest tech to revive a long-forgotten news convention -– the morning and evening editions. Now the app alert does the job of the corner newsboy shouting the headlines or the delivery boy thwapping the paper on the doorstep. While the app suffers some feature creep, its core cluster of main stories is a welcome quick take twice a day.
One of the few real magazine success stories of recent years, Dennis Publishing’s The Week, has finally kicked into gear digitally. It brings the same spirit of curation and concision from print. Their mobile-focused “Speed Reads” are about two dozen daily news posts that are only a couple of hundred words each. Together they feed the FOMO urge.
One of the things I come to value in mobile news delivery is consistency. With both Yahoo’s digest and The Week’s speed reads, I am getting reliably short briefs, not listicles, not features, not blog posts with indulgent three-graph intros, not millennial hyperbole like “I just tried the new Whatchamacallit and I will never Whoozil the same way again.” They remind us there is a need for a brand’s consistent, reliable voice. On a device, you need to know what you are going to get. Online cacophony is not as welcome here.
While some may see mobility as an opportunity to distract users with even more ephemeral and serendipitous “time wasters,” I wonder if the technology is also driving users back to more reliable sources and thoughtful journalism. Several new news products suggest at least a noble impulse towards restoring a place for story context and informed rather than knee-jerk journalism. A new app called Timeline is all about context. It presents stories like the recent Senate report on torture in a timeline that includes uses of coercion back to the Revolutionary War. It gets us beyond the stock talking points.
Another app that caught my eye recently originated in Germany several years ago as a site, The Talks. It is just interviews -- very insightful and researched interviews. As an app is it elegant and absorbing. Reading, discovery, saving, sharing is all so cleanly done, it feels effortless. Alerting allows the app to do bi-weekly updates and still stay in your consciousness.
This is another aspect of app-ification I think works in favor of greater creative packaging and distribution for news and commentary. As a news and information vehicle the Web has always been a beast that required constant feeding of fresh content. And that is the content that struggles to get noticed by SEO, social media optimization, analytics that drive ever more crap writing and hip-shot journalism. All this is made worse (actually enabled) by a programmatic ad ecosystem dove-tailing neatly with publisher greed. The sheer clutter of crap-vertising, slow load times, deceptive linking practices adds up to an atrocious online news reading experience. It has become a vicious traffic-driving monster that erodes standards, undermines style and insight, and may make us all feel a little dirtier for participating.
Mobility offers journalism the opportunity to reboot from both the editorial squalor and sheer ugliness of the Web. It offers the possibility of crafting smaller news experiences for select audiences that maintain their focus and reward quality. And they may reward advertisers uniquely as well.
Which brings me back to The Talks. Here is an app with a sole sponsor, Rolex. In fact that sponsor makes clear to you it thinks your time is too valuable to clutter the app with its ads. So it is satisfied with a diminutive “presented by” logo in a corner and ownership of the saved interviews section, where you will encounter a larger brand presence. And if you sign up for email alerts of new content, you set the day for the reminders on a Rolex interface.
What ads can you remember seeing online today?
Ask me who sponsors one of my favorite new apps.