Paid content, data and knowing your audience

I remember back in the day a number of news websites, the New York Times and the Washington Post included, added registration to their sites. It was long before commenting was common, but the strategy was all about capturing some information, some data, to know more about their audiences.

The Financial Times understands this, which is one of the reasons that it is killing it, and the FT’s CEO John Ridding explains to Poynter how their paid content strategy has helped them capture more data and how that data is helping them deliver more to their audiences.

I don’t think we really understood the power of the data and the audience understanding that came with the subscription model. We’ve been able to build a system of understanding our readers.

They do now, and it is allowing them to add new features that adds value for their readers. If you add value for readers, then they understand the value of paying for content. For traditional media, as my friend Steve Yelvington says, we need to find new ways to add value, and data from subscription services is a powerful way to do that.

Tottenham riots: Data journalists and social scientists should join forces

In the wake of some of the worst riots in London in more than a decade, Ben Goldacre has said on Twitter:

[blackbirdpie id=”100156268534181888″]

Yes, we’re now going to have to suffer through lots of ill-informed speculation from columnists. Brace yourself yet again as they take out their favourite axe from the kitchen cupboard and grind away on it just a bit more until the head is gone and they’re whittling the handle into a toothpick. It will enrage more than enlighten.

I have a better suggestion. With the current interest in data journalism, this would be a great time to revisit one of the seminal moments of data journalism carried out by Philip Meyer in the wake of the 1967 riots in Detroit. As a Nieman fellow at Harvard, Meyer studied not only how social science could be applied to journalism, but he also explored how main frame computers could be used to quickly analyse data. (For data journalists, if you don´t already own it, you should buy a copy of  Meyer´s book, Precision Journalism, first published in 1973 and since updated.) As a national correspondent for Knight-Ridder newspapers, Meyer was sent to Detroit to help cover the riots.

The 1967 Detroit riots stand as the third worst in the history of the US, only eclipsed by the 1992 riots in the wake of the acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King and draft riots in New York during the US Civil War. As the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan said:

The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News threw every resource they had into covering the uprising. And as the disturbance died down, journalists and commentators, most of them white, struggled to understand who the rioters were and why they had taken to the streets. One theory was that those who looted and burned buildings were on the bottom rung of society—riff raff with no money and no education. A second theory speculated that rioters were recent arrivals from the South who had failed to assimilate and were venting their frustrations on the city.

But for many, those theories rang false.

A survey had been done following the 1965 Watts riots. Meyer approached Nathan Caplan, a friend from graduate school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They both had a similar idea to see if a survey similar to the one done after Watts could be done in Detroit. One challenge was that the Watts study took two years, but Meyer wanted it done in three weeks. The ISR has an article that looks at the process in great depth, and what is clear is that the study of the 1967 Detroit riots and the journalism that followed had a lot of support not only from the newspapers but from the university, government and local foundations. They recruited and trained 30 teachers to conduct the surveys, drew up a random sample and interviewed 437 black residents.

The survey debunked a number of theories put forward to explain the violence.

  • One theory was that the rioters were poor and uneducated. No, the survey found otherwise. ¨There was no correlation between economic status and participation in the disturbance. College-educated residents were as likely as high school dropouts to have taken part.¨
  • Another theory laid the blame at recent arrivals from the south who had little connections to the community. That theory was also wrong. ¨Recent immigrants from the South had not played a major role; in fact, Northerners were three times as likely to have rioted.¨

Like Ben, I´m sure that we´ll see hours of speculation on television and acres of newsprint positing theories. However, theories need to be tested. The Detroit riots showed that a partnership amongst social scientists, foundations, the local community and journalists can prove or disprove these theories and hopefully provide solutions rather than recriminations.

APIs helping journalism “scale up”

A couple of days ago, I quoted AOL CEO Tim Armstrong on developing tools to help journalists “scale up” what they do. ?In a post on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, Megan Garber has a highlighted a good practical example of what I meant .

One thing that computers and other technology can help journalists to work more efficiently is to cut down or eliminate frequent, repetitive tasks. Derek Willis at the New York Times talks about APIs (as Derek describes APIs as “just a Web application delivering data). Derek says:

The flexibility and convenience that the APIs  provide make it easier to cut down on repetitive manual work and bring new ideas to fruition. Other news organizations can do the same.

Derek also points how savvy use of data is not just good for data visualisations and infographics, but it is also an excellent resource for New York Times’ journalists.

So if you have a big local election coming up, having an API for candidate summary data makes it easier to do a quick-and-dirty internal site for reporters and editors to browse, but also gives graphics folks a way to pull in the latest data without having to ask for a spreadsheet.

And as he said, the biggest consumer of New York Times APIs is the New York Times itself.

Projects such as building an API can be quite large (although new companies and also organisations like the Sunlight Foundation in the US and MySociety in the UK have great public service APIs and data projects), but with the benefits to both audiences, designers, developers and journalists, it makes it easier to justify the time and effort.

Chart: Who Participates And What People Are Doing Online

Kevin: An interesting chart based on Forrester Research that looks at online behaviours across age groups in the US. One thing that is very interesting is the relatively small group of "Collectors", those who use RSS and tag content to gather information. Even amongst the very active Gen Y group (22-26), the highest group of collectors is 18%.

Future of news innovation in the US is coming from outside of journalism | Journalism.co.uk Editors’ Blog

Kevin: Martin Moore has a great post on journalism.co.uk about new developments in journalism in the US. He looks at the new round of Knight News Challenge winners and broader developments. "Much of the new development is emerging from US universities, such as MIT. At the MIT Media Lab’s Center for the Future of Civic Media, for example. It defines civic media as “any form of communication that strengthens the social bonds within a community or creates a strong sense of civic engagement among its residents. Civic media goes beyond news gathering and reporting”.

Twitter’s International Growth: Becoming the World’s Water Cooler? | Fast Company

Kevin: Some fascinating statistics showing Twitter's international growth. Kit Eaton writes at FastCompany: "Specific events around the world sparked peaks in international growth, Sanford notes–with the February 2010 Chilean earthquake prompting a 1,200% spike in member sign-ups. A 300% spike was seen after Colombian politicians began to use the system, and speedier growth was seen in India after local politicos and Bollywood stars began to Tweet."