Beyond the latest remix of Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road, the app has piqued the interest of social media managers at news publishers. Launched by Chinese tech company ByteDance in 2017, the service merged with Shanghai-based lip-syncing app Musica.ly before its popularity really took off in 2018. It became the most downloaded app in Apple’s App Store and hit one billion downloads on all mobile platforms in early 2019.
To catch everyone up: TikTok allows users to record 15- to 60-second looping vertical video. It has a built in editor to add background audio tracks and augmented reality-inspired overlay graphics. It’s huge adoption has been buoyed by using samples of pop music as background tracks. TikTok has partnered with music studios to navigate the tricky copyright status of those tracks and music stars have used the platform to leverage viral memes to spread awareness.
Why is this news?
Why should news managers care though? “To me, the why is obvious. It’s a whole new generation. [TikTok is] basically Gen Z’s biggest platform. Not all Gen Z likes TikTok, but a lot of them love it passionately,” says Washington Post video editor Dave Jorgenson.
Jorgenson has been behind The Washington Post’s push into the format. “There’s not a lot of news on TikTok. And, for someone who works for a newspaper or a broadcast network, that might seem kind of scary. But for me, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing,’” he says. “I mean, why wouldn’t we use this app that — I think as of Friday — was number one in the entertainment section of iTunes.”
Other brands on the app include NBCNews, E! News, and The Dallas Morning News. Though Jorgenson seems to have truly tapped into the TikTok format, attracting a devoted audience to the Washington Post’s TikToks.
A culture of its own
Users spend an average of 52 minutes a day on the app. And, for Jorgenson, it’s been a way to introduce a newer generation to the venerable newspaper brand. But that’s taken a fairly specific strategy. “I’ve been very heavy handed, you’ll notice a Washington Post literal, physical newspaper cameo and we really want that to stick in there. It is funny how many people think that my name is Washington or something,” said Jorgenson.
The other main benefit Jorgenson sees is a pretty wide open space in the app for breaking news. There just aren’t many competitors. But he adds that anyone interested in using the platform should take some time to familairize themselves with the culture.
“Embracing the culture is really important,” he says. Sure, a brand or newspaper can try and jump to profit off the growing platform without figuring out what that culture is. However, audiences “know when they don’t understand the app, and they don’t know what’s going on.”
The scoop on TikTok
But if a brand is considering the space, there are a couple things to understand about going viral on the platform. Similar to Instagram, there’s an algorithmically organized “For You” section where the app surface relevant content for the user. Videos appear based on the Likes given by the user’s social circle.
There’s another unique way that TikTok puts its own spin on sharing called a “duet.” Users of the platform can record their reactions to be played concurrently beside the original video. And, if an account large enough does that, it ends up being a huge boost to viewing numbers.
“Another tip for a newsroom would be to use popular songs that everyone is using,” said Jorgenson. In fact, TikTok displays videos using the same songs together allowing discovery of content along similar themes.
At the end of the day, Jorgenson sees others in the news space following the Post’s lead. “I’ve started to be pretty open about how I do it because I think competition is good,” he says.
“A friendly rivalry is a good thing on any social app.”
I recently connected with Christa Carone, who joined Group Nine Media as president in 2017, at the Collision Conference in Toronto, Canada. Carone, who came to the media side of the industry after leadership roles on the marketing and agency side, oversees Group Nine’s sales and marketing teams as well as its data insights group. Group Nine is a digital media holding company comprised of four popular digitally-native media brands Thrillist, The Dodo, Seeker, and NowThis. Carone and I discussed revenue and distribution diversification, content strategy, and building a business based on brand equity.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Michelle Manafy: Tell me a little bit about your content
distribution strategy and why you are all-in on social.
Christa Carone: Well, I’d say we’re all-in on omni
channel—and that includes social. Right now, we’re distributing content on over
20 different platforms. That includes Amazon Prime, Pluto, Roku, and distribution
deals with networks literally around the world. So, our approach to being
completely agnostic on distribution is that we want to bring our content to all
of the different places where people are spending their time. And we want that
to be a pretty frictionless experience. Instead of spending a ton of money to
get you to come to my website, I want to bring our storytelling to the place
where you are already hanging out.
Michelle Manafy: Truly connecting with audiences at
scale almost sounds like almost an oxymoron to me. What do you think?
Christa Carone: You can debate that content is king
and distribution is queen and whether they have an equal seat at the table. But
that’s really kind of how I look at it. When both are working together extremely
well, you are able to build successful brands like The Dodo, NowThis, Thrillist,
and Seeker. It’s like really honing-in on higher value content. We’re building
lifetime value of the content, what’s going to keep an audience interested, and
remain totally agnostic on the distribution strategy.
Michelle Manafy: The trick, of course, is the
monetization. The other side of a distributed model is fragmentation. So, talk
to me a little bit about how managing all of those channels ties into an overarching
Christa Carone: The beauty of our strategy is
diversification. I often say that if Facebook sneezes, we don’t want to catch a
cold. Just like in any industry, you don’t want to be overly dependent on one
particular revenue stream. It’s business 101. Media is no different than any
other type of business. So, that’s why we’ve been so focused on building
audiences across a number of different channels. We’re building audience on TikTok
right now. The monetization strategy there is nascent. But it’s going to come. IGTV
is another great example. We produce great content for IGTV and put it on IGTV
pre-revenue. But I have no doubt at all that Facebook is going to open up
monetization opportunities there. And I want to have established an audience when
Michelle Manafy: You mentioned diversification and that
every company should be focused on diversified revenue. I take it that Group
Nine that’s been baked in from the start.
Christa Carone: Keep in mind that we’re two years old. So, we’ve had the benefit of learning from a lot of traditional companies. And I often say: We’re not pivoting to anything. Some of our brands were born into video so there wasn’t a pivot to video. And the business model was already established. Some of our brands were social first. NowThis, in particular, was born as a social-first distributed brand. We didn’t pivot our business model from taking audience from owned and operated to distributing through external platforms.
Thrillist is the oldest of our brands and it has such a
loyal audience. So, we are looking at diversification around where we can take
the Thrillist brand and make it more of a whole-lifestyle brand.
Overall, our focus is on lifetime value for the content. So,
if we’re bringing in revenue with licensing, great. Bringing in revenue from
the syndication model, great. If we’re bringing in revenue by production deals
with OTT content providers, like a Netflix, that’s perfect. And if we are continuing
to bring in a healthy amount of revenue from advertising, wonderful. And increasingly
we’re thinking about how we can tap into other revenue streams like commerce and
Michelle Manafy: Could you tell me a little bit about
your commerce strategy?
Christa Carone: Our approach to commerce is really looking at brands like The Dodo and Thrillist and saying there’s intellectual property here. There’s a maniacally loyal fanbase. Can we be licensing The Dodo into product? The Dodo clearly has enough brand equity to be producing large scale consumer and canine events. Thrillist has been a friend to people for a long time. It is your recommendation action for food and beverage and travel. So, our ability to take that brand equity and bring it into commerce is already built in. And stay tuned: We will definitely be doing some more on that later this year and we just hired a head of ecommerce.
Michelle Manafy: So, you mentioned that maniacal
audience, that loyal audience. What’s the Group Nine secret? Because, as
publishers, that audience relationship is what differentiates us from the
Christa Carone: It’s such a credit to our editorial
teams. They know how weave a great narrative and tell an amazing story. It
sounds simple but I’m always amazed … A great example is from NowThis. Many
people are familiar with the NowThis video about Beto O’Rourke that went viral.
The raw footage of that video was already posted on Twitter. It already lived
on the Internet someplace. The NowThis team found it and was able to put it
through their storytelling lens. They said how can we construct it in such a
way that viewers are compelled to watch the entire piece? There is an art to
it. There is a narrative that was built in through the use of text on the
screen, through the use of effective editing so that we as the viewer were
compelled to watch it from start to finish. That is the secret sauce that
really exists within our editorial teams and applies to how we produce content
across all of our brands.
I would say the other massive factor for us is that scale
matters. We have such amazing insights that we’re able to glean from the
consumption of our videos that informs how we produce content. Based on our scale,
our data team is looking at 115,000 views of our content every minute. Every minute. We’ve built a very sophisticated
data engine that is able to pull in insights for things like the right color
for the text on the screen, the right size of font, the number of words that
should be on your screen, the fact that videos about dogs have three times
longer watch time than videos around cats. So, the editorial team can say maybe
that dog video should be three and a half minutes but maybe that cat videos
should just be two or something along those lines. You’re able to really start
to use these signals to inform your storytelling.
Michelle Manafy: So,
what’s your growth plan?
Christa Carone: Our business is really becoming much
more analogous to a TV buy. What I mean by that is that we have access to sell
all of the pre-roll against all of Group Nine content across all of the major
platforms. So, you have a television commercial and you are in, say, an auto
company and the pet owner is really interesting to you. You can come to us and
have 100 percent share of voice across all Dodo content on Facebook, on
Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat. You can buy our pre-roll on our channels and
transact that directly through Group Nine instead of the platforms. Brands are
responsive to it because of the importance of brand safety. When you have the
brand safety conversation with a marketer, you need to be able to say here’s
the right audience and it is against premium, brand safe content. It’s
fascinating to me that we’re having more conversations with TV buyers who are
shifting that investment from linear to wherever they can get eyeballs.
Michelle Manafy: I’m finding the distinction between television and all digital video is increasingly blurred, particularly for buyers.
Christa Carone: Completely. I think we have to redefine
what TV means. So, TV is not a device anymore. When the linear players, the
cable players start talking about TV everywhere, we’re in that boat. It
includes YouTube, it can arguably be IGTV, it could be lean-back viewing on
Facebook… It can be TikTok. How define TV going forward is going to be interesting.
Michelle Manafy: Talk to me about how you’re
innovating and how the industry needs to innovate.
Christa Carone: Maybe for some media companies,
diversification is innovative. It’s different at Group Nine because we were
born that way. We’ve learned so much from how past companies have run that we
know what we need to do as a media company. I feel like innovation is really
coming through how companies are able to scale intellectual property.
Christa Carone: I mean that’s been such an advantage
coming into a company like Group Nine. What I’m able to tap into is the
perspective of a marketer and think of everything we’re doing from the
perspective of the client. Will an advertiser really buy into this? I come from
companies with significant brand equity so I’m a massive believer in
intellectual property and that’s what appeals to me about Group Nine. these
aren’t four media companies. These are four brands. So: How can we look at
building brand equity that isn’t just about one particular revenue stream? That
has been super helpful to me to bring more of an innovative marketing approach
to building brands.
Publishers use social distribution to keep up with consumers’ news consumption habits.Anddespite the annoyance and uncertainty of platform policy changes (e.g. Facebook news-feed changes), publishers continue to align their business strategies and social practices.
To better understand this alignment, the Reuters Institute explores distribution strategies across 12 news publishers in six European countriesin their new report, Digital News Project.
While distribution strategies may vary in approach, they center on one of three core objectives:
driving on-site traffic through referrals
driving off-site reach through native formats, and
driving digital subscription sales.
Based on this sample,social platforms offer limited opportunities for publisher monetization. Nevertheless, news organizations can receive indirect benefits in terms of traffic, off-site reach, and/or subscriptions.
Understanding and differentiating between platforms is important for social diversification:
Facebook accounts for the largest share of publishers’ social media traffic. It also delivers higher levels of audience engagement and is considered more cost-effective at driving digital subscription sales.
Twitter offers the most value for generating off-site reach and greater visibility with breaking news.It’sthego-to platform to reach journalists, opinion leaders, trendsetters, and influencers.
Instagram hasthe potential to deliver high audience engagement and promote news brands, especially to younger audiences. It’s a great fit for light content like entertainment news. Publishers view Instagram as experimental.
The Digital News Projectalso examines publisher practices on Facebook after the January 2018 policy change to deprioritize news publishers’ contentin favor of family and friends’ posts. Analyzing these practices provides a performance review ofnews sites’social platform strategies.
For example,Iltalehti, the Finnish tabloid,continues to publish as often on Facebookafterthe policy change.However, Facebook’s new policy resulted in a 28% decline inIltalehti’saverage daily interactions. Unfortunately, Iltalehti’s bottom line is severely impacted since the publication relies heavily on social traffic referrals for monetization.
In contrast, the French publication, Le Monde, decreased the frequency (13%) of their Facebook posts after the policy change. The decline in Le Monde posts resulted in a 29% decline in average user interactions. Le Monde is deliberating on their long–term Facebook social strategy since they too use traffic referrals as a significant part of their overall monetization strategy.Insert le monde chart
It’s important for news publishers to identify their objectives before implementing social distribution strategies. The social approach should allow publishers to experimentwith new opportunities to driveon-site traffic, orto build awareness and brand recognition or to engage users to subscribe to paid service.
The story format is a dominant force in social media because stories-style content facilitates user interaction, which drives engagement. The proof is in the numbers with close to a billion Snapchat, Instagram (and IGTV), WhatsApp (Status), Facebook and Messenger, and Google AMP Stories accounts create and watch Stories. According to a new INMA report, Stories Format: News Media’s Next Social Opportunity, the format proposes a shift in journalism and a new venture for news publishers.
Stories are a mobile-centric social media storytelling format. It’s about using multi-media (video, audio, text, photos, emojis, etc.) across multiple social platforms to tell your tale. Stories also differ from newsfeeds in that they:
stay posted for at least 24 hours.
project the personality of the reporter
serve as an overlay and not dependent on newsfeed algorithms
can offer interactivity
receive top placement on every social media app
News organizations can use the Stories format as an way to connect with a younger, mobile centric audience. In particular, the news media should look to Stories users as a special force to channel real-time, fresh content around breaking stories. In this experience, the user also controls the pace and the order in which they consume the Stories content. News publishers can experiment with Stories and participate in the lean-forward Stories experience.
The Story Principles
The INMA report identifies eight key principles (creates the Snapchat anagram) for the news media to use to create effective Stories:
Suspense and Engagement – build intrigue about your story. Think about developing Stories with multiple uploads throughout the day to build suspense and keep your audience engaged.
Native and Niche – create exclusive content for Stories, nothing repurposed.
Artistic flair – exhibit artistic expression in your Stories.
Personality – ensure your Story captures the reporters personability.
Consistency – make sure your story is update and consistent with what’s happening in the world. Stories live for at least an hour.
Hype – build excitement for your story. Use your Stories as teasers for longer pieces.
Arrange and Prepare – think about storyboarding your Stories to help tell the linear narrative.
Thumb – include interactivity and use the thumb for clicking and scrolling. Polls, voting, quizzes and others are great ways to interact with users.
Who’s Telling Stories?
BBC News, NBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Financial Times are all employing Stories as part of their news storytelling repertoire. Examples include NBC’s Snapchat news show “StayTuned” has 4 million subscribers. BBC News runs a Friday quiz on Instagram Stories, which questions the audience on recent news facts.
Stories offer a huge opportunity for audience growth and a clear path to user engagement. More features will be introduced, and new experiences will evolve (think Augmented Reality). Monetization must now be a focus and there is a need for a new type native ad experience.
When one thinks of local news, the immediate distribution points that come to mind are local TV, local newspapers and local radio. According to the Knight Foundation’s new research, Local TV News and the New Media Landscape, Local TV news is the most profitable one. Local newspapers are on shaky ground, continually losing circulation (and advertising dollars) and local radio is holding its own. However, it is significant to note that local TV news stations are looking to digital for innovative ways to tell their stories and to attract new audiences.
The Knight Foundation cites findings from the Radio Television Digital News Association Annual Survey that 65% of station innovations are focused on digital platforms. The other innovative areas include technical (17%), alternative approaches to newscast presentations (14%) and new organizational structures (4%). Clearly, local TV news is building a digital presence.
An important strategy for local TV news is the digital first approach. Many local stations are broadcasting their content, especially bigger projects, first on digital platforms before on air. This type of strategy shifts focus on audiences and where they want to access their content.
Further, more than three-quarters (78%) of TV news directors report putting new and important content online now. Their strategies include:
Moving newscasts online: More newscasts available online or conducting live events online.
Web-only content: Local TV news stations are also creating content specifically designed for web and mobile platforms.
Leveraging digital to improve storytelling: Stations are experimenting with user generated content for new POVs and storytelling opportunities.
Developing new properties for younger audiences: Stations are also developing digital assets to target younger adult,
Social Media Strategy
In terms of attracting a younger audience, 55% of local TV news stations are emphasizing social media. Fifteen percent are pushing specific social platforms or features (e.g. Facebook Live, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and others). Additional efforts also include content creation on digital social platforms targeted toward millennials.
Knight’s social media analyses indicates digital strategies are paying off for many stations in terms of reach and audience engagement. Further, in a content analysis of more than 1,100 posts (on human interests, entertainment, politics, public policy, etc.) for four stations with the highest engagement levels shows increases when social media components are added.
Efforts on social media are paying off and ratings are highest on local news stations when there’s activity on social media. This suggests that the content on social media is additive and not necessarily replacing the local station as an access point of information. Still, local news stations need to find a balance in using social media to find audiences and deliver news.
In efforts to quantify the spread of false information online, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, examinesthe reach of fake news in France and Italy. Both countriessee fake news as a serious issue. However, thereport, Measuring the reach of “fake news” and online disinformation in Europe, determined the reach of fake news websites as less than 1 percent of each countries online population.
The study based its analysis on 300 websites in each country that independent fact-checkers identify as publishers of false news. The research combines analytics from ComScore and CrowdTangle to measure usage of both established news and fake news sites. comScore, a web analytics company, uses a combination of panel-based and server-side measurement to provide usage data and CrowdTangle, a web tool, collects engagement data for Facebook accounts using the Facebook API.
The data also shows that the total time spent with fake news websites each month is lower than the time spent with established news websites. Online users spend an average of 178 million minutes per month with Le Monde (France), and 443 million minutes with La Repubblica (Italy), that’s more time than 20 fake news sites combined.
Still the impact of social platforms must also be accounted for in this analysis. Unfortunately, Reuters cannot measure Facebook’s average monthly reach or time spent for any website or article linkFacebook. (Only Facebook has access to this data.)
However, Reuters did examine the average number of Facebook interactions (shares, comments, reactions) with each news outlet to access user engagement. Importantly, based on this analysis, Reuters determined that a few of the fake news websites generated more or as many interactions as established news brands. In fact, one fake news site in France generated an average of over 11 million interactions per month, at least five times greater than established news brands
While the research suggests that articles from fake news sites registered low reach and social engagement in these countries, there are still those one-off articles that reach high levels of engagement. The problem poses serious implications and what still needs to be determine is the impact of the false information on people’s attitudes and beliefs.
Nearly half of all editors, CEOs, and digital leaders (44%) are even more concerned with the powerful role of social media than they were a year ago, reports Reuters’ Journalism, Media & Technology: Trends & Predictions 2018. Publishers note their disappointment with social platforms, particularly with Facebook because of the platform’s role in the circulation of fake news, the lack of promised video revenue, and the decline in referral traffic to many news websites. As a result, publishers plan to be less dependent on social platforms. As one executive summarizes, “Expect more news organizations to pull out of deals with Facebook, Apple, and Snapchat that they consider are not delivering sufficient financial return, focusing instead on building more direct readership.”
Predictions for Publishers:
Restore consumer trust in journalism
Publishers are continuing to strengthen consumer trusts in news brands. Unfortunately, too often quality journalism is posted side-by side with low quality content and misleading information. Most social platforms fail to distinguish between the two. In 2018, publishers will continue to pressure social platform companies to set standards and do more to differentiate brand news content.
Less reliance on advertising
Publishes are working to diversify their revenues to ensure less dependence on advertising sales. In fact, 62% of publishers say that advertising will become less important over time. Publishers need to shift their strategies from reach and advertising engagement to subscription models and tenure.
Improve data capacity
Publishers believe that data is important to their business needs. Nearly two-thirds of publishers (62%) report that improving data capacity is their most important initiative this year. It’s also imperative for publishers to understand and comply with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) starting this May. The GDPR requires that publishers ask users for consent to use email addresses, to profile and to share their data with third parties working on their behalf.
Predictions for Social Platforms:
Expanding into TV programming
Social platforms are moving into the television business. While Facebook’s early attempts at Facebook Live failed and Facebook Watch has yet to become a must-view entertainment hub, the company is still forging ahead. Facebook is actively looking to secure broadcast programming rights and plans to develop new content to compete with Netflix and Amazon.
New social messaging offers
Growing messaging and access to news is important for social platforms. Reuters Institute data, shows messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Messenger are growing not just for messaging purposes but for accessing news as well. Facebook is launching a tween messaging app specifically targeting this demo. The idea is to draw the tweens in early and eventually expand their usage to age appropriate entertainment and education content.
Publishers and social platform alike are thinking about new business practices and monetization opportunities with their user base. Importantly, as they shift their strategies to meet 2018 goals, it’s key to keep a consumer focus, especially in the development of new content offerings, personal data information and GDPR compliance and new technology implementations.
“At this point, I start from a position of distrust in dealing with Facebook as a company.”
Regrettably, I found myself sharing these thoughts last Friday with reporters who were working around the clock to process the latest Facebook news. And I’m not alone. Even the most trusting publishers have gone from giving Facebook the benefit of the doubt when they rolled out Instant Articles a few years ago, to a “prove it” mentality today.
This is unfortunate considering the power and influence that Facebook has on our lives. Like it or not, Facebook is effectively the largest public square where nearly two billion people around the world gather to exchange information. And there is certainly merit to the argument that the world benefits from the success of Facebook’s experiment to create an open and connected world.
So, what changed?
Business as Usual
Ben Thompson wonderfully captured the heart of the question several years ago, “Even if Zuckerberg is right, is there anyone who believes that a private company run by an unaccountable all-powerful person that tracks your every move for the purpose of selling advertising is the best possible form said global governance should take?”
Our industry is at an important crossroads. In many ways, the Facebook announcement to reorder News Feed priorities isn’t very different from Google’s early shifts and changes (remember Panda?). Many times search engines have been more impactful to the finances of publishers than anything a publisher could control directly. But really, despite some early utopian proclamations, these platforms are just doing business as usual. They lean in heavily to innovation that aligns with their own business interests and has a positive product outcome while slow-walking anything that creates risk to their own financial interests. Why wouldn’t they?
Yesterday, I sent an email to the members of DCN that was quite critical of Facebook. Implicit in my concern is the parallel that can be drawn to Google (something I highlighted in a Washington Post op-ed last October). These two companies are the front door to information for billions of people. So, when they make a tweak or announce a significant shift, the entire information industry needs to pay close attention.
We are paying attention.
Moonshots, Money and Responsibility
Unlike business as usual, “moonshots” are intended to drive real break-throughs that go beyond the horizon of the more cautious bets constrained to basic organizational needs or that don’t inject risk into the cash cows. Last November, we asked Google and Facebook for moonshot-level thinking and initiative to address the fake news and other garbage flowing through their platforms. Yes, the fake news was starting to erode the solid foundation our members’ business is built upon. But the problems go well beyond business. The issues in play resonate deeply through our society.
To put it bluntly, both companies have failed to step up to the task. As a result, there are increasing levels of tension in the press, in Washington, and in Brussels as this distrust spreads. And this isn’t good for anyone.
There are two platform pressures that work against trusted publishers and, importantly, public interest:
Platforms are biased towards solving problems for the lowest-common denominator “publisher” so the solutions can be applied to the wider web. This often creates collateral damage for publishers playing the long game – cultivating brand and engaging customers – and not just focused on immediate financial gain. We’re seeing the impact now as Google attempts to solve for ad blocking or how the industry has dealt with measurement issues.
Platforms also have incredible growth expectations, as they really have one goal to surpass Apple as the most valuable company on the planet. These revenue and profit obligations create an inherent bias toward their own products. In fact, the European Commission already found Google guilty of this. Facebook will always drive consumer intent and publisher interests to the most profitable outcomes. This is why video was Facebook’s #1 priority last year. And now it’s not.
There are also two big issues that affect the entire ecosystem and, importantly, public interest:
Americans don’t trust “the media.” In fact, they trust it less and less each day. The research says they do appropriately trust many of our members and the journalists and creatives they employ. However, what Americans think of as “the media” continues to change and now includes platforms, distributors, advertising technologies, artists, advertisers, and publisher brands. And the public doesn’t separate or even understand where the buck stops with each. Every ounce of research I’ve seen shows that more and more consumers are going to places like Google, YouTube, and Facebook to get their news and information despite trusting these platforms significantly less than other outlets. This distrust in platforms and ad technologies extends into the media at large.
Facebook and Google are the two most significant sources of traffic to publishers. Facebook drives about 17% of the inbound visits to DCN members; Both companies share less than 1% of their revenue with DCN members. They are very important for the discovery of news and entertainment. Yet they feel it is very unimportant to pay for the creation of it.
These gaps aren’t going to be closed through hearings in Washington. They’re also not going to be closed by walking away from dialogue. Ultimately, we need major platforms to decide that moonshots matter and be both humble enough and comfortable enough with their own vulnerabilities to work with publishers and academics on solutions. I don’t see that happening yet but I believe that we’ll get there in time. It’s just that important.
When your employer is first and foremost in the television business, and your job is to manage the company’s entire digital presence, you’ve got your work cut out for you. That’s precisely what Jay Yarow, CNBC’s SVP and Executive Editor, Digital faces on a daily basis. He is responsible for everything that appears online outside of what is being broadcast. That means CNBC.com, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – everything.
Yarow says that the objective of the brand is tracking everything related to business, finance, and investing. “We are aiming to be the most trusted brand when it comes to everything money.”
And his approach seems to be working: In September 2017, CNBC Digital reached the number three position in the Business/Finance News category for the first time ever and delivered a record 49.2 million unique visitors in September, which was up 74% year-over year. CNBC Digital also saw impressive growth in mobile with a record high of 30 million mobile unique visitors in September, up 105% year-over-year. And so far this year, traffic from social platforms to CNBC.com has grown 83%.
Keeping it simple
When he came on board in February 2016, Yarow’s goal was to keep a good thing going and expand upon and improve what he could. “They had a great digital brand in place [when I got here]. It was growing before I got here. I helped to accelerate that growth. They have been doing digital for years. I tried to come in and add some extra,” he explained.
Sometimes, the seemingly small things make a big difference. For example, when you read a CNBC story and you see the bulleted data points summarizing the story at the top of the page, that’s something that Yarow added. “From my perspective, it’s super valuable. Investors or business leaders tend to be busy and don’t have time to absorb a lot of information,” he said. This way, readers can quickly get the gist of a news story on the way to a meeting when they might not have time to read the whole thing.
He also recognizes the importance of social media in reaching his busy audience. “I’m fortunate in that I really enjoy doing these things. It’s not like it’s a chore to check Instagram and check Twitter or Facebook or CNBC.com. These are all things I would do either way and I get to influence that.”
Keeping it real
Yarow says his primary focus is putting together a strong news team that breaks a lot of stories. As he joked, “We are first and foremost a media company. We never have to pivot to video.”
Above all, his focus is on producing high quality journalism. Then, he asks if “the journalism we are producing being rewarded with an appropriately large audience.” As he points out, it is important to be able to support the production of this journalism so reaching a significant audience and monetizing them is essential. “When you are building something, you have to make sure there is a business there,” he said. To that end, Yarow stays in sync with the business side to ensure that whatever he is doing has their support.
And, with so many media properties struggling and announcing layoffs, CNBC has been a marked positive contrast. It’s been growing and adding reporters like Chrissy Farr and Alex Sherman as well as a slew of new reporters to its tech coverage team in the last year. When it comes to different social channels like Instagram and YouTube, Yarow says he tries to hire good people and empower them to do good work. “We have great leaders we trust and empower them to run the different channels. My goal is to have nothing to do.”
“We have really focused on news and making sure we are breaking news. We built out our tech section and made it a strong team. And we are always systematically assessing business news and where we can get stronger,” Yarow explained.
One of the great advantages of being part of CNBC is that we have a lot of great platforms. I see a lot of different tech pieces being built and see what produces the best results.” He added, “We focus primarily on journalism and building a technology platform and tech stack.” And while the company is growing fast, he emphasizes that they are doing so it in a responsible way. “We are not saying, ‘Here is a $100M. Set it on fire and see what happens to our traffic’.”
Fraudulent news poses new challenges in today’s digital society. As such, there is a need for best practices and practical solutions to repair tainted digital information streams. In an effort to develop effective solutions and remedy the information disorder, the Council of Europe commissioned research to delve into the digital information and communication process. The newly released report, Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy, offers a detailed insights at a global scale and examines the agents, messages, and audiences involved.
The term “fake news” was intentionally not used in the report. Instead, three new terms were introduced to better define the reporting and sharing of false and inaccurate information.
Dis-information is false information purposely created to harm a person, a social group, an organization or a country.
Mis-information is false information not created with the intention of initiating harm.
Mal-information information that is based on reality used to bring harm to a person, a social group, an organization or a country.
The phases and elements of information disorder
Three components are identified in the process of information disorder: the agent, the message, and the interpreter. Agents are involved in all phases of the information chain from its creation, production to distribution. It’s important to explore and provide context to agents to identify them and their motivation. Discovering who the agent is, and the purpose of the message is an important part of the evaluation to help stop the information disorder process.
Evaluating the agent
Is the agent acting as an official person/group (e.g. intelligence services), a politician, a news organization or an unofficial person/group?
Is the agent organized as an individual, an official business group (e.g., PR firms or lobbying groups) or a group casually organized group around common interests?
Is the agent motivated financially to profit from the information, politically to discredit a candidate, socially to connect with a specific group of people or psychologically to gain status?
Is the agent human, automated by technology or both?
What audience is the agent targeting?
Is the agent’s intent to mislead??
Is the agent’s intent to harm?
Examining the message
The message itself also needs to be examined. Analyzing the content for key characteristics is important to determine the accuracy of the information. Asking these questions will also help to identify intent of content.
Is the message for short-term or long-term intent?
How accurate is the message?
Is the message legal or does it include hate speech or privacy infringements, etc.?
Is the message posing as an official source to appear credible?
Who is the intended audience?
Factoring in interpretation
The last component to evaluate in the process of information disorder is the interpreter, the recipient of the message. Audiences, individuals or groups, all react to messages in different manners. Understanding how individuals and groups consume information is critical to understanding the flow of the information. Further, identifying what audiences do with the information, such as commenting, or sharing, are an important part of understanding the intent of the content.
A few efforts were introduced last year to stop the information disorder. They include Tim Cook’s, CEO of Apple, call for Public Service Announcement about dis-information, new technologies to take down bots, and the addition of labels to identify different types of content on social media. Facebook and Google have also announced ways to prevent fake sites from earning ad revenue through their advertising platforms. Unfortunately, none of the programs impede the continuous flow of fraudulent content.
The issue is complex and efforts toward solutions need to work across multi-levels using technology companies, consumers, educational institutes and others. Importantly, it’s essential for all constituents to receive steady reminders
Most adults today use a combination of different sources and platforms to get their news reports the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017. The global report is based on a survey of more than 70,000 people in 36 markets, with added qualitative research in many of the countries. Social media is a big part of this media mix, as are TV, websites and apps. In fact, two-thirds of social media news users in the United States also watch television news (67%) and two-thirds also visit mainstream websites or apps (66%). Further, only a quarter (24%) of the respondents think social media does a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for the news media.
News brands struggle with their branding on distributed and social platforms. Reuters tracked over 2,000 respondents in the UK to see if they could remember their path to a news story found on Facebook, Google, or others. Only 37% of respondents could recall the name of the news brand when coming from search and 47% when coming from social.
Trust in the news media varies greatly across countries. According to the report, less than half the population (43%) trust the news media. Trust in the news is highest in Finland (62%) and lowest in Greece and South Korea (23% each). There appears to be a strong correlation between consumer distrust in the media and perceived political bias, especially in countries with high political polarity like the U.S where trust in the news media registers at 38%.
The news also appears to be impacting the consumers’ emotional psyche. Close to a third of respondents (29%) state they often or sometimes avoid the news. Many say the news negatively impacts their mood and heightens concern over their inability to rely on the news to be true.
Outside the U.S. and UK, growth in social media for news is leveling off many markets. In its place, messaging apps that are more private and do not algorithmically filter content are gaining in popularity.
Mobile access for news is increasing in many countries. Mobile news notifications have grown significantly in the last year, especially in the US (+8 percentage points), South Korea (+7), and Australia (+4). This has many news publishers working with third party distribution like Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP for quick efficiencies for content loading on mobile devices.
Mobile news aggregators show usage growth, notably Apple News, and Snapchat Discover for younger audiences. Both have doubled YoY usage with their target audience.
Smartphones are now as important for news inside the home as outside with 46% of consumers using their smartphones to access news in bed.
Voice-activated digital assistants like the Amazon Echo are emerging as a new platform for news, outpacing smart watches in the US and UK.
Overall, YoY growth of digital news subscriptions across all demos, especially among those under 35 years old. Specifically, online news subscriptions in the U.S. grew from 9 to 16% subscriptions. Across all countries, approximately one in ten consumers (13%) pay for online news.
Ad-blocking growth has leveled off on desktop at 21% overall and is only 7% on smartphones. Interestingly, in some countries, more than half state they have temporarily disabled their ad-blocker for news in countries like Poland and Denmark (57% each) and the United States (52%).
Melissa Bell, Publisher and co-founder, Vox Media comments on this analysis “if we work to rebuild trust with our audiences, we may find our way to more stable, significant businesses.” She’s identify a few key questions for publishers to think about and address as they continue to provide quality news content across platforms.
What is currently not being offered to audiences? How can content appear essential to them?
Can the sense of community be recreated for audiences around the country – or the world?
How do publishers help audiences seek knowledge instead of simply publishing information?
How can publishers help audiences feel less anxious with today’s news content?
Importantly, publishers need to solve problems for their audiences. Digital news publishers’ focus on quality, transparency, and accountability will allow audience trust and engagement to follow.
Make no mistake, Trump’s words and blatant disregard for the free media sends chilling signals and has a ripple effect with real consequences for reporters around the globe. He has that power. On the other hand, MSNBC exercised its right to effectively block Trump’s attempt to rewrite Charlottesville history by switching over to its studio for context and commentary about half an hour into his remarks.
It should be noted that you—the audience—have the right to turn off MSNBC if you don’t approve of its broadcast. This is how a free media works. Much the same, you can choose to read Trump’s tweets, ignore them, or block his tweets if you don’t want to see them at all. This is how open technology works. You have that power.
But in Silicon Valley, where technology companies pretend to stay “neutral” to avoid these messy issues, things are only getting more complicated. The platforms continue to assert that they are not media companies, or at least not “traditional” media . And this distinction is important because, as Josh Constine pointed out, pure technology platforms receive greater immunity regarding the content they serve, both legally and in the public eye. Media companies are considered more directly responsible for their content although ironically the platforms often get undue credit for delivering it.
Yet—in part because of moral outrage, and pressure from media watchdogs and international governments—tech platforms do step up willy-nilly to exert their control over content. Well-intentioned or not, the loose rules and vague promises of technology companies threaten to block the important role of the free media and the ability of the public to stay informed.
Closed for Good
While our President was struggling to adjust his messaging to speak out against neo-Nazis and white nationalists marching in Charlottesville, these abhorrent humans had their favorite website, Daily Stormer, effectively shut down.
“Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.”
These are the words of the CEO of network security company CloudFare, who decided early last week to remove its protection and stop defending an indefensible website as a client. This followed after two other companies, GoDaddy and Google, refused to provide DNS services for Daily Stormer. These technology companies have the ability to silence this viewpoint. And they did.
However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called these moves “dangerous.” I agree. Take a look at EFF’s Free Speech weak links and you’ve got a jackpot situation of intermediary technology companies, and their CEOs, that possess the ability to shut down a site. No one should have that power.
Make no mistake, I’m as pleased as anyone that the website Daily Stormer was reduced to zero audience. I do not have an ounce of worry for their fate and I do hope the site sinks to the bottom of the garbage heap that is the dead web. But there is an underlying concern that has been exposed here.
“One of the problems with defending free speech,” the celebrated author Salman Rushdie said, “is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting.”
As the EFF wrote: “Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because we believe that no one—not the government and not private commercial enterprises—should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.”
Simply put, no intermediary should be able to single-handedly shut down a website. Unfortunately, our beloved open web appears to be broken. And because of flaws in its own brilliant design, they can.
Neutral or Not
The FCC is in the final step of throwing out the Open Internet Order, which will effectively gut Net Neutrality. Make no mistake, this will allow a broadband provider to block content it doesn’t like. Broadband providers have promised they would never do this, and I trust that most, when left to their own judgment, will not. But we need only to look towards the Middle East and China for the reasons we must not sit idle and blindly trust such promises. No one should have that power.
Much the same, it is impossible to run a successful web media business without being discoverable on Google Search. Any publisher who turns down Google’s business rules for search is effectively off the grid – much the same as the Daily Stormer. No one should have that power.
Ultimately, we need a modern framework for when it’s acceptable for an intermediary to shut down a website or silence a voice. Search and social platforms are inexorably intertwined in our web experiences. So, they must—like the media companies with whom they so greatly rely upon—fully grasp and support freedom of speech and the open web.
Power and Social Responsibility
In fact, we need a new framework for public officials on Twitter. Right now, we have a situation where White House spokespeople, from the controversial advisor Sebastian Gorka to the President himself, block individual Twitter users. This is simply not the same as an individual blocking a troll. This is a case of public officials silencing an emerging channel for the public discourse that is a pillar of our system.
But beyond blocking individuals, politicians are also blocking reporters on Twitter. This shouldn’t be seen differently than a reporter blocked from a White House press briefing. Twitter is part of the modern media ecosystem and in fact has been declared official statements of the White House. And all media has a responsibility to share the statements of political officials with the public. Yet somehow, we find ourselves in a place where the single American who wields the most power is now able to block the public from reading and engaging through our modern media. No one should have that power.
Even if you accept the idea that public officials should have the right to block accounts on Twitter (which I don’t) then there at least needs to be public disclosure of the accounts they’ve blocked. It is significant that any blocked users are permanently unable to read the official statements for these officials. No one should have that power.
The Internet has created a global forum for communication, expression, and the dissemination of information. It has triggered the emergence of exciting—and dispiriting, even dangerous—technologies. It has transformed the very definition of media. Yet none of these developments has diminished the importance of the First Amendment. Technology evolves. The medium for media evolves. But our commitment to our fundamental American values must remain steadfast. This is far from the last time we will be called upon to consider these values in a new context. Let us do so in a way that supports progress along with public discourse and an open Internet. Therein lies the real power.