Inside the World of "Responsible" News Startups

Responsible news is how I refer to the group of organisations striving to un-bias news consumption in an age defined by political polarity and an apparent unwillingness to engage in constructive, structured dialogue with opposing parties. You’ve seen this too, everywhere from Twitter to the most high-profile news on the planet. To provide news in this way is irresponsible. Yet, in a political climate as turbulent as ours, adapting practice is hardly a priority for much of top-tier journalism.

It may come as a relief that there is a group of news organisations striving to simplify access to quality reporting, by aggregating that of our most reliable sources or by creating their own. These organisations value quality over quantity, in both quality news and quality time spent with their platform. In this piece, we focus on three organisations: Tortoise, Kinzen and Curio. Their subversion of traditional models makes our access to world-class reporting simpler than ever. Each could fit into our lives in a totally seamless way.

Tortoise

James Harding, the former Director of BBC News who co-founded Tortoise, coined the term ‘slow news’. It refers to an observation he has made lately in his decorated career: that the stories which took the longest to complete were consistently those that bore the most significant impact. “It was a lesson that said, actually, when you take the time, you can do journalism that is really valued and valuable – so that was the thinking [behind Tortoise Media],” he told Press Gazette.

Tortoise Media Responsible Journalism

First, we need to clarify that as Amol Rajan of the BBC correctly points out, “slow news has been around for years. It’s called the ‘Features’ section”. You know that, so you’re right to wonder why we need platforms like Tortoise: the labour of love belonging to Harding and Katie Venneck-Smith (former President of Wall Street Journal). Tortoise members contribute directly to the editorial process thanks to what Hardy calls a ‘system of organised listening’.

Tortoise’s ‘Daily Edition’ - the daily AM news bulletin - won’t be a digest of top stories of the day. Instead, it will go in depth on five - possibly under-reported - stories. Tortoise hosts a daily “ThinkIn” from 6:00pm-7:40pm, encouraging attendees not to just ask questions, but to share strong opinions. It is broadcast live.

To tackle the ‘echo chamber’ effect, Tortoise plans to eventually take its ThinkIns on the road to prisons, clubs and schools.

Tortoise will be “non-party-political” with “no proprietor” and no “subtle relationships with advertisers”. Harding wants to shift from the focus on “liberty and fairness” of news organisations of the past. “Dignity - the idea that everyone has a right to be recognised and respected”, is his priority.

All of this output will focus on five broad areas: technology, finance, natural resources, identity and longevity.

Staff

With 20 top staffers full-time already, Tortoise hopes to employ over 40 permanent staffers by mid-2019. 10 editors will get a budget to bring in contributors, and Tortoise’s staff team of reporters and researchers will handle a significant portion of the original journalism.

Tortoise has disavowed breaking news but will still aim to break the type of stories that will be covered elsewhere.

Business Model

Tortoise’s business model is all about membership - a “high-quality, low volume” business. Harding “doesn’t believe in native content” and he doesn’t want Tortoise to “become an ad agency”.

Revenue is also driven by commercial partnerships with big institutions, for whom Tortoise will organise on-site ThinkIns, which resemble the TED Talks model. The aim is to strike up 8 to 10 such partnerships with industry leaders.

Tortoise is currently in beta phase - it’s unclear if a free trial version will be available once the platform launches properly. We don’t know when exactly that will be, but Tortoise’s offer of a discount for founding members ends on March 31st, implying a launch soon after.

To help outline the myriad merits of the platform, we spoke to Liz Moseley, Tortoise’s Members Editor. Consider this an outline of what the app aims to achieve, and how that distances it from the news pack.

Mathematics: Can you elaborate on what James means exactly when he refers to a “system of organised listening” - that is, how precisely users contribute to the editorial process?

Liz Moseley, Members Editor: When somebody joins Tortoise, they become a member of the newsroom, which means that they are active contributors to what we do.

My job, which I think is unique in news media, is a case in point. I’m an Editor, I’m in the daily conference, the long term planning conversations, and my sole focus is to act as the conduit between the members and the journalistic effort. So, I find people in the member base who can develop stories with us, and we gather their feedback.

At the moment the main channel in the product for this is the ThinkIn. We host them four times a week at the moment, usually (not always) in the newsroom itself. So members come in around 5pm, when we’re still at work, and we have a conversation. In the course of that conversation - sometimes on a predetermined topic, sometimes on the news of the day - we will form a point of view. Informed by what people say.

Frequently, members raise questions that warrant follow up journalistically, so we write pieces that come directly off the back of what’s been said. We use footage from the Thinkins within the stories, it’s important the members can see themselves in the process and the work itself. We use our members as fact checkers, and actually as our conscience too. One of the first features we built in the beta app was “WDyT” which stands for “what do you think”. We’ve been bowled over by the amount of and quality of input we’ve had. I’ve worked in media for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. Members are incredibly committed to it - they won’t let us rest on our laurels for a second.

Does Tortoise’s membership fee risk fostering coverage of stories that only affects a certain bracket of the population?

The full suite of pricing isn't live yet. At the moment it's £50 for three years for u30s, and the same if you get a gang together as join as a group of 10 or more. That's pretty good value. We'll be rolling our student pricing, pricing for social enterprises and so on as we build out. So we are being very deliberate about making sure Tortoise is accessible. The diversity of the member base is crucial to the success of the whole thing.

James Harding Responsible Journalism News
James Harding of Tortoise Media

How will Tortoise strive to keep access to its services democratic?

Our home is in central London and it would be easy, or at least easier, for us to create an experience that is London-bound. Inviting people into the newsroom is one thing, but when we take Tortoise on the road and host ThinkIns in other places - even those that are still in London strangely - the conversations we have change.

For those people who can't make it to us, we're bringing the Tortoise to you. So, for example, we hosted a ThinkIn in a school that is particularly affected by knife crime. This week we did a ThinkIn in a church. We're going to a care home in Norwich. We have events coming up in Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol. In the next couple of months we're having ThinkIns in Amsterdam and New York. They’ll all be livestreamed.

The decision for a new company to host a conference (the ThinkIn) every day is a bold one. What measures will you take to keep this up in spite of how busy we can all be, or how tired after a hard day at work?

Strangely, we're more worried about scaling it up than keeping it up. We want to be able to host ThinkIns wherever the members are. At the moment, demand is high and the quality is getting better all the time as we learn more about how to bring people into the conversation. When it comes to 5pm and we start to welcome people in (we're all still working when the members arrive), it doesn't feel like an effort, it's exciting. Because it's different every time. There's a buzz about it.

Do you view Tortoise as a competitor to other, more established newsrooms, or as a complementary service?

At the moment it is complementary. People will always want their breaking news and they can't get that from us. Quite a lot of our founding members are self-professed news junkies. They're building the Tortoise habit at the moment, and we are starting to hear that some of them are easing off some of their previous news sources now they're enjoying Tortoise. But that's not what the business model is based on. It's not an instead, it's an alternative.

Kinzen

Kinzen Responsible Journalism

Unlike Tortoise, Kinzen is a news aggregator, as opposed to a newsroom in its own right. Kinzen utilises machine learning to allow a user to take control of their news consumption routine. That's what they see, when they see it, how much of it they see.

Kinzen hope to “make users empowered, giving you the ability to construct some form of filter and ranking system that reflects your intentions and not your instincts.”

Users can respond positively or negatively to news they’re provided with in Kinzen’s different topic channels. These are what’s analysed to present users with news they want. But you can also integrate your Twitter feed, where Kinzen’s algorithm will watch topics you follow.

However, it is still in the testing phase, so Little and his team are building a pre-launch community over the next two months, inviting people to test pre-release versions of the iOS app.

Kinzen currently has two long term goals, not outlined in detail as of yet: to reward valuable curators in the community, and to interest news organisations, presumably into partnership of some kind.

Business model

Kinzen launched in January on a £5 subscription basis. Before launch, they were seeking donations in exchange for six months of access to Kinzen’s subscription services after launch.

In order to better understand Kinzen on a conceptual level and situate it clearly in the responsible news landscape, we reached out to CEO and co-founder Mark Little.

What type of content are Kinzen actively looking for, and what publications are you looking to court?

Kinzen’s mission is to connect the active news seekers of the world with the sources who reward their trust and attention. In other words, to build a user experience of news worth paying for. Our perfect partner is a publisher who wants to build deeper personal engagement with members of the communities they serve.  

How does Kinzen benefit publishers?

Kinzen is purpose-built for publishers who want to develop reader revenue products based on personalisation.

Our first product is a personal news app which offers users a highly curated experience of the open web. Initially, this drives traffic to publisher websites, and will soon become a sales pipeline for publishers offering subscription content. It will also help us perfect and refine Kinzen’s unique brand of ‘personalisation with a purpose’.

In parallel, Kinzen is developing a ‘white-label’ version of its user experience for partners. This technology solution will help publishers develop personalised newsletters and audio briefings, and can be eventually integrated into publisher apps and websites.

How can publishers monetise using Kinzen?

First, publishers can use the Kinzen app as a lead generation tool for their reader revenue products (without sacrificing revenue or user relationships). Second, publishers can use Kinzen technology to build new reader revenue products or enhance existing ones.  

Do stories link directly to publishers à la Flipboard, or is all news viewed within the app?

All stories in the app link back to the publishers’ websites. All potential premium subscribers are directed to the publisher paywall/gate.

Technically speaking, how does a publisher get its content onto Kinzen? Do they provide an RSS feed, or is there more to it than that?

Kinzen’s data team can scrape, tag and organise content from any existing open website without any special relationship with the publishers. But RSS feeds will be core to any relationships based on reader revenue.

In an era when publishers are building loyalty and striving to retain valuable audiences of their own, why would you recommend a publisher work with Kinzen?

Kinzen’s founding team are old-school journalists who have worked for both traditional publishers and social platforms. We have a deep understanding of the problems facing publishers in a world dominated by big tech companies and aggregators. Kinzen doesn’t sell your ads, sell your content or ‘own’ your audience. We judge success by the value of the personal bond we help create between news seekers and publishers.

Users are encouraged to build their own channels, to explore what matters to them. How does Kinzen avoid turning each user’s experience into an echo chamber?

One of Kinzen’s founding goals is to help people see beyond the usual sources, and discover journalism they never knew existed.

We do not have an ad-funded business model. Our algorithms don’t need to fuel outrage and emotion. Kinzen does not track your browser history to keep you addicted to the same sources and opinions. We don’t rank news and information on the basis of what your social network is thinking.

Instead, we have a Discovery section in the app which surfaces expertly curated sources and channels and an Emerging Topics feature which engineers serendipity based on editorial choices rather than popularity. Explicit user feedback and conscious choices drive our recommender systems.

Curio

Curio Responsible Journalism

Curio stands out in the lineup as it’s audio-led. There isn’t quite the same amount of information about Curio available online as Tortoise and Kinzen, but their site tells us that Curio creates “Intelligent Audio For Busy People". It offers thousands of high-quality audio stories from the best publications in the world, no annoying ads, offline listening, all hand-picked by editors and read to the listener by award-winning narrators. What we know for certain is Curio’s sources are among the planet’s most reliable, including the Guardian, The Financial Times, The Economist and The Washington Post.

Naturally, we wanted to be able to provide some concrete information explaining how the platform is of use to publishers. We were put in touch with Tainá Vilela, Curio’s Head of Brand, who helped make the service’s operations totally transparent.

How does Curio provide value for a user, from the perspective of the people working on it?

It's easier to discover great timeless stories with Curio, stories are often buried under a large volume of information. We are passionate about choosing content that is relevant to our lives and what goes on in the world.

Our unrivalled collection of audio format stories, from some of the world’s most respected media outlets, gives people an opportunity to engage with great journalism on the go.

Does Curio view itself as a competitor to other ‘reading-led’ news apps such as Kinzen and Tortoise, or a complementary service?

Audio versus reading is not an "either or". There are parts of our regular daily lives when screens are not ideal or easily accessible, like when we are commuting, cooking, performing chores around the house or before going to bed. That is when audio shines.

Who are your ‘award winning narrators’ and how are they selected?

Several of them are Audie Award winners who have worked for brands like National Geographic, BBC, Disney and others. They are trained actors and performers who are able to bring empathy, gravitas and life into any story.

Is an emphasis placed on individual publications within the app, or on your own curated playlists? In other words, are users encouraged to prioritise one over the other?

We help listeners find stories they love and publications to reach new audiences, increase engagement and create a new stream of revenue.

We uncover great ideas, well crafted pieces which can instigate interesting debate and personal growth. Good quality comes from established outlets like The Guardian, which was founded almost 200 years ago or AEON, a magazine around philosophy and culture which launched in 2012 and is still pretty much under the radar.

How will Curio ingest and consider user feedback?

At Curio we are always listening. Our listeners are more than just “users” to us, they are stakeholders who trust us to provide them with the best content out there. Their feedback has a daily impact on our product, so we make sure to listen, learn and work on becoming better.

Elsewhere in Responsible News

In 2013, Jessica Lessin founded The Information: a subscription-based digital news organisation which Tortoise seemingly owes a lot to. The Information shares only a small handful of news stories per day. It earns 90% of its revenue from subscriptions, and an estimated 10,000 subscribers pay $399 per year for the service. It has been profitable for over two years.

The 900,000-subscribers team at The Financial Times are interested in The Information’s strategy. They have reportedly discussed ways they could help to accelerate growth.

Agate, is another startup that allows users to pay for individual articles as they go. It’s a digital wallet for which publishers can set their own pricing on a story-by-story basis. Agate aims to make it easier to consume premium content without blockage from an unaffordable paywall. But, in a crowded market of micropayment startups, they have a tough job ahead of them.

Spaceship Media isn’t a platform, rather a form of consultancy that helps news organisations remain unbiased. They do this using ‘dialogue journalism’ - a process developed by founders Eve Pearman and Jeremy Hay - to “[go] to the heart of social and political fractures” and “[build] journalism-supported conversations between regular people about the issues of deep consequence to all us”. Their belief is that establishing a journalism-supported dialogue between communities in conflict helps solve that conflict. In their words:

We work with media organizations and others on several different levels. We design and manage engagement conversations from the ground up; we provide design and ongoing consulting support; we provide consulting around our engagement values and methodology and project visioning.

Vigilant won the 2018 Startups for News contest at the General Editors Network conference. The platform offers ‘real time search and monitoring across thousands of public data sources’. This makes it easier for journalists to locate stories and angles.

In some ways, it’s a dark time for news journalism. You’re reading this because you know that the boundaries between truthful reporting and spin are blurrier than ever. Luckily, there is a vanguard of organisations whose functionality helps identify news brimming with bias. The purpose of this piece is not to depict one service in a more favourable light than another; we merely want to help you consume responsible news, and ensure your own journalistic output is consumed responsibly.


The Complete Publisher's Guide to Apple News+

On Monday, 25th of March, 2019, Apple gathered the press and figures of highest influence in tech to its California headquarters for some significant announcements. The headline acts of the evening for publishers? A new territory for News - Canada - and the introduction of magazines to Apple News. Say hello to Apple News+.

Now live in the US and Canada, Apple has launched with 320 magazines and newspapers including Time, Vogue, People, National Geographic, Billboard, The LA Times and Wall Street Journal. Following a one month trial, access to all titles will cost $9.99 US and $12.99 in Canada.

So what does Apple News+ mean for publishers?

First of all, full disclosure. We’re the team behind FlatPlan - the system that allows publishers to get onto Apple News with any CMS - and we were delivering content to Apple News+ Canada from launch - so you could certainly say we’re fans of Apple News. But we’re a business that’s powered by publishers, so we have a good understanding of both the platform and the implications for the industry. Here’s all the information you need from the announcement.

What’s changed?

Open the new app and you won’t immediately notice a difference to the UI. The free tier in Apple News still takes centre stage, offering curated and algorithm driven news and content recommendations. Magazines appear within the app, neatly flowing into the Today feed. Publishers are given “New issue” and “Featured issue” screen estate to showcase covers, chosen for readers based on their interests and from Apple News editors’ curation.

"Live covers” allow publications to create moving versions of their covers, using motion to leverage their storytelling capabilities and entice readers to click through. The reader that wishes to dive into the magazine is led into a contents page and can view articles in Apple News Format - Apple’s own format that that allows pages to be presented in beautiful, screen-optimised pages with animations, behaviours and custom styles to bring an immersive experience.

Apple News Format?

It’s Apple News Format that sets Apple News+ apart from competitors that offer PDFs which require users to zoom in and out of pages that were destined for the printed page – not designed to be legible in screen. Publishers that make the most of this format will benefit most from Apple’s revenue model, as they’ll offer an experience that builds loyalty and increases dwell time.

So what is the revenue model?

Apple takes 50% of all revenue from Apple News+ subscriptions, with the rest of the revenue going into a pool to be divided between publishers. Revenues are dished out to publications based on the amount of time users spend engaged with articles - dwell time, basically. This gauge for payment isn’t perfect - visually-led articles will rarely attract the same dwell time as long-reads, and weekly publications will arguably have more opportunity to rack up views, but the simple fact is that the more compelling the publication the more revenue the publisher will receive.

It will be interesting to see how publishers react to this new model. We could see a shift to longer versions of articles delivered into Apple News+, or specially produced Apple News+ articles with behind the scenes video and extra photography. The smart publishers will use Apple News Format to go much further than just presenting stories, working with Apple News editors to showcase stories that make full use of the system. We find our FlatPlan ‘Feature’ stories that make full use of Apple News Format offer very high dwell times on Apple News at present - using the format to compel readers and increase revenues is key to success in Apple News+. One thing's for sure - by focusing on dwell time over pageviews Apple will counteract clickbait - the aim of the game is to keep readers engaged.

Is this damaging to news brands?

Different publishers have different takes on this. Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith have jumped feet-first into the new offering. Wall Street Journal's approach has been to use Apple News to build new subscriber bases. New York Times aren't posting to the paid tier at present, but still seeding content on Apple News+ free tier.

What's clear is that consumer behavior is changing. Netflix has changed how people watch television. Gone are the days of following a schedule - people are now getting used to a world where they control what they consume and when they consume it. Apple News+ is at attractive proposition to the consumer, so while it won't be right for every publication it's going to be hard to ignore its impact.

Do we need to share everything?

You don’t. Wall Street Journal is delivering a ‘curated’ selection of stories to the platform. WSJ editor Matt Murray will dictate the stories that make it into the app but William Lewis, publisher of The Journal suggesting that the selection will be a mix of general, political and sports stories, based on stories that do well on the free tier of the platform at present.

How much money could publishers make?

This is hard to predict so early on, but assuming that 2% of the 90 million monthly users of Apple News will subscribe (1.8 million), with 320 titles currently available. If a title was to receive a 1/320 of total dwell time, they could each expect to receive around $28,097 per month.

Assuming the distribution of dwell time were to follow the 80/20 rule, we would expect the top publications to receive roughly $112,387 per month, whilst the majority (80%) might expect to receive around $7,024 per month.

How big could it be?

Apple has a huge user base - 1.4 billion active devices as of January this year. Apple Music has over 50 million paid subscribers, thanks to Apple’s promotional clout. The app will come preloaded with a free trial on all iPhones, iPads and computers, and features push notifications to drive users into the platform. 90 million people use the free tier of Apple News+, racking up 5 billion pageviews every month, so expect this launch to make an impact.

What does the launch in Canada entail?

Canada is Apple's fourth territory (after the US, UK and Australia). What's unique about this territory is the addition of a new language - French Canadian. We're now delivering content for 90Min into both English speaking and French speaking channels. Apple plans to roll the app out into Europe soon, so we'll see more language support soon.

How do we get onto Apple News+?

Apple News+ magazines is available to publications by invitation at present. Drop us a message if you'd like to talk about how FlatPlan can help your bring your publication into the system.


Measuring Success in Apple News

Winning out in distributed publishing requires solid evaluation of how each platform contributes to your goals as a publisher. Naturally, digging into data is key to understanding if your approach is working and how to build further growth. With this in mind we asked Barney Perkins, our Data Analyst, to guide us through an in-depth look at Apple News analytics.

The Dashboard

Apple’s commitment to preserving user privacy means integration with Google Analytics isn’t possible. Analysis takes place within Apple’s own analytics dashboard or by manually downloading data for use in systems like Data Studio.

Let’s look at some of the key metrics we monitor within Apple News.

Views

Apple News measures both the unique and total views an article receives. We have observed significant differences between unique views on Apple News and how the same content performs on its publisher’s website. These figures often correlate negatively, perhaps indicating differences in audience interest and the way that Apple News promotes content.

The former is difficult to establish given the limited ways Apple allows us to segment audience data. To drill this down you’ll need to manually track content and performance, which will allow you to better understand the Apple News audience and identify untapped potential for content on other platforms.

Reach

Apple News defines reach as headline views plus article views. Reach closely matches unique views and both are inversely correlated with the proportion of traffic that comes from recirculation. The articles that do a higher proportion of traffic through recirculation don’t seem to get as much reach as those that get the majority of their traffic from the Today Feed, as more users tend to discover content from their personalised topic feeds than the ‘Related’ section at the bottom of an article.

Follows

A user that taps to Follow a publication will be shown more content from that title across the Today Feed — the homepage of the app. A direct link to the publication’s channel in News will also appear in navigation. Naturally, then, building followers is key to driving growth.

The accumulated Follows a publication receives prior to the date an article went live exhibits a positive correlation with unique views. By monitoring data across the publications we handle, we believe Follows don’t just affect reach for those that follow, they send a signal to Apple’s algorithm to expose more stories to other users, too. As your number of followers increases, you can expect to see the size of spikes in traffic increase significantly.

Upon opening your publications’ Follows page, you’ll be presented with a simple chart displaying net follows per day in a given time period, and net follows across the whole of that period. Audience segmentation is available by territory. At the moment this comprises the US, UK, Australian and Canadian audiences, where Apple News is currently available.

The grey dots along the x-axis (above) mark significant events for your articles — being featured in Spotlight, being featured in an Editorial Group (eg. News Editor’s Picks or Top Videos), appearing in an Apple email, sending out a push notification or being ‘boosted’ by Apple Editors.

An “Editorial Group” — News Editors’ Picks

Notifications

Notifications can be sent to followers by publishers who have been invited by Apple to deliver them. Click-through rate tends to be consistent across publications, but frequency of these notifications needs to be considered; ‘over-notifying’ will lead users to remove notifications for your publication. Notification click-through rate appears to be weighted significantly in favour of iPhone users and in particular males aged 25–34.

Notifications can be used to increase the lifespan of articles that aren’t time sensitive. We believe an effective strategy is to monitor the performance of a piece within its first 24 hours in Apple News, then send a notification. This will give you much more of an indication around interest in the story than sending immediately or following website analytics, as popular stories on Apple News can vary significantly.

Shares

Shares relate to users clicking the Share button within the app, with analytics grouped according to the platform they were shared through: Mail, Messages, Twitter, Facebook and Other. For most of the publishers we work with, the vast majority of these shares are categorised as ‘Other’. Often as high as 98%, this inhibits comprehensive analysis of shares. Given that the majority of Apple News users are on iPhone, we suspect that ‘Other’ shares come from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or other dark social.

Shares outside of Apple News aren’t trackable in Google Analytics, but at FlatPlan we include trackable links in template footers, allowing publishers to track user behaviour if they leave the platform to visit the publisher website.

Discovery Source

Discovery Source breaks down how users land on your content. Traffic is broken down according to multiple measures: the Today feed (the homepage and default view on Apple News), your channel page, topic feeds (the Entertainment topic page, for instance), recirculation (the area below articles), push notifications, Spotlight, the Today View (the most prominent area of the main page controlled by Apple News editors) and “Other” (which could include external shares to the app article).

Being featured in Spotlight means Apple News editors’ have chosen your story to sit alongside 4–5 others, sitting within a very prominent tab in the app. While being featured here can be a significant traffic driver — particularly if a story is featured on the weekend — don’t regard Spotlight as the holy grail. We often see much higher spikes of traffic to stories surfaced through recirculation, the Today Feed or Topic Feeds — in essence the whole ecosystem works well to help expose certain stories.

On the whole, there is limited demographic data available in Discovery Source to advise on how a channel retains readers, or — in conjunction with other metrics — identify how popular articles can drive traffic to the rest of one’s content. But, with significant deviations from the norm regarding gender or age, for example, an estimate of how traffic flows through the channel can be established.

Loyalty

Apple News calculates loyalty by dividing users by the number of articles they’ve read in the past 28 days, or by the number of days they’ve visited out of the past 28. These numbers will match up almost exactly, and you can use either approach to gauge the loyalty of your users.

At Mathematics we group users by Casual, Loyal, Brand Lover and Subscriber, and using similar measures in Apple News we find Brand Lovers are generally more stable, although this varies a surprising amount across publications. Whilst there is a strong correlation between the behaviours of Casual, Loyal and Brand Lover users, the correlation relaxes significantly the heavier the user, suggesting that it will take time to build core audiences, but that those audiences will follow normal behaviour and spend more time with your content.

Aside from the ways in which we can monitor and drive growth with News Publisher, here are some other points to consider when using the platform:

Article Lifespan

Articles featured on Apple News tend to have a three day lifespan. A feature in Spotlight, Editorial Group or a notification can extend this lifespan up to a couple of weeks, however — effectively doubling its number of unique views.

The Significance of Date

The distribution of unique views over days of the week differs from title to title. After accounting for the significant differences in traffic across a number of publications, the following distribution was found for the the month of October, 2018:

Demographics

There are notable demographic discrepancies across current Apple News’ territories. US audiences seem to be considerably older than in the UK and Australia, with the UK’s audience the youngest. UK and Australian audiences were also generally more likely to use Apple News on iPad. When these are significantly different for a given article, it is possible to predict traffic flow by identifying similar discrepancies. This can be done by cross referencing with other metrics like discovery source and/or time.

It is worth mentioning that there can, at different times, be significant differences in what content audiences find appealing according to territory.

In Conclusion

Apple’s commitment to privacy limits the level of analysis or correlation with other analytics tools, but by focusing on overall publisher goals, tracking these and using Apple News analytics carefully, it’s possible to measure and increase growth on the platform.

Building loyalty from the right audience is key to driving consistent growth, with Follows having the most significant effect on the increase of loyal users. Understanding which content works well on Apple News involves manually processing article data, and stories that spike can often differ heavily from content that does well elsewhere, which can be used to help social teams try to resurface content that didn’t gain traction elsewhere.

Spotlight and other Apple News curated areas can drive huge spikes of traffic but the ecosystem as a whole works very well for exposing good stories and depending on the niche of the publication huge spikes from general audiences tend to be less value compared to solid traffic from audiences directed by specific interest or through similar publications.

We offer Apple News analysis as part of our Pro package at FlatPlan, delivering reports that help align Apple News analytics with overall analytics and offering actionable advice on driving growth  — just drop us a message if you’d like to discuss this.


Apple News redesigned — and now on Mac

Apple has rolled out two big changes to Apple News in the last few weeks, following their annual Keynote event in Cupertino. We felt it would be useful to give a quick rundown on these changes and how they might affect your Apple News strategy moving forward.

Change 1: iPhone/iPad facelift

Open Apple News now and you’ll notice a number of changes to the look and feel. On iPhone, navigation is now reduced from five icons down to three — Today, Spotlight and Channels. Today replaces “For You” and Spotlight works as it did before, with Channels now offering a route into publications, topics of interest, saved stories and search. On iPad, navigation is now displayed as a slide-out drawer, with Channels listed in order of priority on-screen whenever navigation is expanded.

Apple News

The app now displays a wider range of stories across a number of views. More space is given to topics and areas like Your Briefings, News Editors’ Picks and News Top Stories help guide users into content arranged by interest or browsing history.

Change 2: Apple News on desktop

Last week Apple launched Mojave, a new operating system for Mac computers. News is now bundled with this OS, appearing prominently on a walk-through of the new system, with an icon appearing in the dock at all times.

Apple News

The macOS version is similar to News on iPad, making use of slide-out navigation and a window that opens at a similar view to iPad portrait. Users with linked Apple accounts will notice the app is linked to their devices, sharing publications, interests, saved links and viewing history. Notifications from publishers appear on desktop whenever the app is open.

How does this affect your Apple News strategy?

Apple’s updates to look and feel are likely to aid users to find a wider range of content they’ll enjoy. The new setup means your stories have a higher likelihood of appearing within streams of content and topic groupings give more opportunity for stories to appear to those who don’t follow your publication. Apple’s algorithms and natural language processing handle how these appear, so aside from creating well-written, clearly defined content, you don’t need to do anything more here.

Channels give more opportunity to drive users to your channel, particularly on iPad and Mac where your publication name appears prominently. Apple recommends uploading an icon to drive brand recognition — if we look after your publication on News we’ve done this for you already.

More prominent channel links put more emphasis on ensuring the page users arrive to is as compelling as possible. Our advice is to ensure all stories appear on the first tab — removing sections completely may even make sense in many cases. Promoted Articles allow you to maximise impact by pushing your very best stories to the top of your channel. To promote an article, log in to News Publisher and hit the star icon. Promoted articles remove themselves from the top of the page after a few days.

Apple News

If you’re a Preferred Partner, Apple News appearing on macOS gives a new opportunity to reach a ‘bored at work’ audience. We’d recommend testing notifications at times users at work are likely to be looking for a short distraction. Analytics on your main site will give clues to these timings but behaviour may differ on Apple News so trial a few times and dig into Apple’s analytics for data. It’s worth keeping an eye on competitors if they have notification functionality — users who arrive through notifications may, of course, dive into the article stream (and potentially see your content), so avoiding crossover could help increase impact.

As Apple News grows we’d suggest a focus on increasing publication follows. The user that clicks the heart icon is much more likely to see your stories and if you have notifications enabled they’ll receive this prompt. FlatPlan is the only system that allows Call to Actions for this in footers and we’re testing functionality to help increase follows which we’ll be messaging about soon, but it’s certainly worth thinking about how to drive follows from an editorial perspective as well.

One final thought from us — behaviour is likely to change as more people use the app across new devices. Apple News doesn’t sync with Google Analytics so make sure your team keep an eye on Apple’s analytics. You can set your team up to receive a daily, weekly or monthly analytics report by email — to do this head to Analytics > Recurring Report or just hit reply if you’d like us to help.


The Complete Publisher's Guide to Facebook Instant Articles

Earlier this week Facebook opened Instant Articles up to all publishers, allowing mobile users to view articles within the Facebook app. Wondering if it’s for you? Here’s a short Q&A.

What is it?

Instant Articles allow publishers to host their content within Facebook’s app for users on mobile. A little like Google’s AMP initiative, the main aim is to speed up loading times for mobile users.

How will it help?

Facebook say the result should be a 20% increase in opens, a 10x faster load time and a 70% decrease in abandonment. The Wall Street Journal have reported a 30% increase in shares, too.

A 20% increase in opens?

According to Facebook, yes. And Facebook claim they haven’t (yet) boosted the visibility of Instant Articles. Facebook uses the number of shares and how long people look at an article to decide how much visibility to give a story, so all three metrics working together to increase open rate.

Who is it open to?

Any publisher with a Facebook Page.

Can we run ads across Instant Articles?

You can. Publishers keep 100% of the revenue generated by ads they sell themselves, which can be served through most ad servers, including Google DFP. You can also incorporate Facebook ads, with profits from this split between Facebook and the publisher.

What’s the downside?

By handing our content over to Facebook user reliance on the platform is increasing. Our reliance has led to a shift in the way Facebook monetises the network.

When the platform first launched, Facebook banned native advertising and their guidelines only allow for one ad per 350 words. But native advertising is now allowed, and honestly, their ad policy helps the end user. It is however a reminder that Facebook will be in complete control of your content, so if you come to rely on it for traffic, then expect the model to change relatively regularly.

Publishers have to fit content into a template that leaves very little room for branding and feels ‘very Facebook’. There’s a real risk of losing a certain amount of connection with readers – you get a logo bar that appears near the top of the page, some typeface and colourway choices, but that’s about it (you can see our design for Mixmag at the bottom of the page, showing customisable areas). From a commercial point of view there’s also a real worry that publishers are giving away the very identity that often drives advertisers to work directly with their teams, too.

And from a technical point of view, full mobile navigation isn’t allowed, infinite scroll isn’t possible and the ‘related articles’ area is limited, so opportunities to draw users into further clicks are limited.

Any advice?

Despite the downsides we feel Instant Articles should certainly be tested by publishers – but it’s the testing that’s important.

Keep a very close eye on Google Analytics. Segment by Mobile, then look at how Instant Articles perform over time, taking particular note of Pages Per Session and Bounce Rate.

It’s possible to set your feed up to allow editorial to decide whether or not a post should appear on Instant Articles, and while this doesn’t allow A/B testing in a traditional sense, this level of control will help you direct certain articles through to your site. You may find certain types of article perform much better when removed from Instant Article templates, so it’s well worth experimenting with this.

The lack of navigation or space for related article plugs means it’s more important than ever to weave related stories into articles. Assure your linking practice is on top of its game, and continually experiment with different internal to external link ratios, as there's no one-size-fits-all rule for all publications on that. As your content starts to be distributed across platforms like this it’s a good idea to revisit article structure with editorial and design teams.

How do we get started?

Facebook’s microsite is a good place to start with Instant Articles. Your options from here depend on your CMS and your budget. Take a look at Facebook’s dev portal for a rundown of options or, of course, feel free to get in touch with us for a chat.

Facebook instant article


The Complete Publisher's Guide to Google News

Google News still tends to be a great source of traffic for publishers, and with the advent of Accelerated Mobile Pages – and a few key changes to the product – it felt the time was right for a post on the product. We've included some tips on how to treat breaking stories, a lowdown on Accelerated Mobile Pages and some advice on increasing – and sustaining – visibility across the platform.

In a past life, Google News was only really beneficial for news organisations in the traditional sense. But things have since improved! Google News now welcomes all manner of publications that cover stories on specific cultural areas. For instance, here's the NME rubbing shoulders with BBC and Sky News as its story appears in Google's rich cards:

Keith Flint Google News

If you want your publication could benefit from what Google News has to offer, then here's all our advice for getting the most out of the service.

Google News for Publishers

First up - is your sitemap in place?

You need an XML News Sitemap to ensure Google can actually list your content. News sitemaps are similar to standard sitemaps but with one big difference: they only contain articles published in the last two days. Google will still scan your standard sitemap for overall content, and scan your News sitemap separately. Google keeps each article on Google News for 30 days as standard.

If you don't run a News sitemap, take a look at Google’s introduction to sitemaps – this will take you through the basics and includes a number of links to sitemap creators. If your site runs on WordPress we'd recommend working with Yoast’s News SEO plugin. It costs $69 per site and creates a sitemap Google will love after you spend a little time configuring the product. For the likes of Craft, Drupal, ExpressionEngine or more bespoke content management systems, it’s worth taking a look at Google’s documentation or getting in touch with us for a chat.

Submitting your site to Google News

Once you’ve got a sitemap that follows Google’s guidelines, head to Google News Publisher Centre to submit your site. Prepare a brief description of your site and wait for approval, which can take several weeks. Once you’re live, it’s time to look at how to optimise your site to attract News traffic…

Accelerated Mobile Pages

Site speed is an important ranking factor for Google and Accelerated Mobile Pages (or AMP) is Google’s latest initiative in its drive to speed up the web. AMPs are designed to serve users stripped-back versions of pages from your site. Design, Javascript and lots of functionality (like contact forms and comments) will be removed from the AMP version of your site, so this limits the amount you can do with users once they’ve arrived. But as AMP compatibility is a now a search-ranking indicator for mobile, it’s well worth providing AMP sooner rather than later.

Depending on which CMS you use, you may need a bespoke plugin built for AMP, though plugins are available for some systems. We recommend Automattic’s plugin for WordPress.

While lots of content is stripped from pages, ads served on certain networks can still be shown. Most notably Google Adsense, Doubleclick, AOL AdTech and Amazon A9, with more on the way. A full list is available here.

Standouts and Editor's Picks

Google News for Publishers

Google News now allows you to select certain stories from your site as “Editor’s Picks” to appear on the Google News homepage. Google’s aim is to help their users discover new sources of news, and as part of this aim they allow users to set preferences. If your publication makes it into their preferences you’re much more likely to gain clicks from the News homepage.

To participate, you'll need to create a custom RSS feed with up to five chosen stories. The feed needs to include your logo, an authors name and must always contain three articles. Google allows older stories in the feed but it only shows the feed if an item is added within 48 hours. More information on that here.

The Standout tag works similarly, but on individual stories. You can only use this on seven stories a week, but using this tag in your setup allows you to signal to Google that a story is original content produced by your team, giving it a higher chance of ranking on Google News.

And finally, some tips on extending your reach

Google crawls certain news sites more often that others, and one big factor appears to be the amount of articles it finds on each crawl, so posting plenty seems to have an effect on how quickly your articles are listed. As with SEO as a whole, however, avoid attempting to game the system. Posting fewer articles of a higher quality is in the longterm more beneficial to your ranking than frequently firing out low quality stories.

Getting listed quickly helps increase your chances of attracting users as a story breaks, but how should you run a breaking story that updates during the day? The best approach is not to create a separate article for each update, but instead update the original article each time. What’s important, however, is that Google knows you’ve updated the story. Make this clear by updating the title of the article. Google is essentially looking for one URL that serves as the best possible source of news on any given subject, rather than multiple separate articles. This helps divert search traffic away from Google News, too, as these sorts of articles tend to work better across search engines.