Local news reader survey

Survey Highlights Changing Reader Sentiment Toward Local News

How do readers feel about local news outlets in their own communities, what makes them want to engage, and why do they prefer certain digital publications to others?

To answer these questions, and gain a better understanding of how local news organizations can be more transparent with readers, the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin recently teamed up with the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Together, the two organizations surveyed more than 4,500 people in three areas in the United States — Fresno, California; Kansas City, Missouri; and Macon, Georgia.

What they discovered through their survey should be enlightening to anyone who has been tracking the local news industry in the past few years. It turns out that readers have better impressions of local news than news in general, but their opinions skew more negative when asked about specific publishers in their own communities. Here are other key findings from the survey:

Readers consume national news more frequently than local.
In News Co/Lab’s survey, “most” people said they consumed national news about once a day, on average, and local news “slightly less often.” That’s not what most digital publishers will want to hear, but it is valuable information nonetheless.

Knowing that readers are less likely to visit a local news website multiple times a day, publishers should be looking for ways incentivize that behavior. For example, rather than publishing all of the day’s stories at once each morning, the publisher could dole out content on an hourly basis throughout the day. This publishing schedule requires readers to visit multiple times during a 24 hour period in order to stay up-to-date on the latest news around town.

Engagement has become an issue for local publishers.
Survey respondents rated local news outlets poorly when asked how they engage with their communities, giving them an average score of just three-out-of-five.

Why does that matter? For one thing, recent research has shown that engagement is tied to perceptions of bias in local news. The more engaged a digital publication’s readership is, the less editorial bias is perceived by readers. Therefore, local news outlets that can engage readers are shrinking the perception bias that often plagues the industry.

Here at Web Publisher PRO, we’ve talked a lot about reader engagement, and we know that digital publishers thrive when they have devoted audiences. A few of the ways we recommend that digital publishers work to improve engagement are by inviting readers to become active participants through commenting and guest posts, covering local stories that other outlets are missing, and adding job boards as a way to position their websites as community portals.

News literacy skills are often lacking.
Almost across the board, News Co/Lab found that survey respondents were overconfident in their ability to understand the news. Readers who showed the lowest news literacy skills were also the least interested in receiving help.

Local publishers shouldn’t be surprised by these findings. In a separate survey, researchers at the American Press Institute found that almost one-third of Americans can’t tell the difference between news and opinion articles.

Frustrating as it might be, these findings actually show us that a great opportunity exists for digital publishers. When local news outlets increase transparency and utilize tools to improve engagement, they create more informed news consumers. Those news consumers have a greater understanding of how local journalism works, and with that information, they should have an easier time pinpointing which news sources are credible and which are not.

On a smaller scale, we recommend that publishers consider web design as a tool for improving news literacy. Simple changes to a digital publication, like drop down navigation bars and a more functional layout, help readers find the content they are looking for on the first try.

Although the News Co/Lab’s findings show that trust in the local news business is low, digital publishers should remember that there are ways we can increase reader confidence. Seemingly minor changes to web design, such as adding visual breaks and getting rid of large pop-up ads from third-party websites, go a long way in changing reader perceptions and improving trust in the local news industry as a whole.

Local Websites Sell Stock to Readers

When Should Local News Sites Sell Stock to Readers?

Rather than chase investments from outside financiers, a small number of local publishers are turning inward and asking for help from readers in their own communities. But whether local news sites should sell stock to readers is still a hotly debated topic, and as of now, there doesn’t seem to be a one-size-fits all approach.

Questions over whether local news sites should sell stock to readers have swirled for years, but the topic made national headlines again this past week, when The New York Times covered Sonoma County publisher Rollie Atkinson’s decision to do a direct public offering to the readers of The Healdsburg Tribune, The Cloverdale Reveille, The Windsor Times, and Sonoma West Times & News. With the capital raised in the direct public offering, Atkinson is hoping to make necessary website upgrades and raise his staff’s salaries.

What Is a Direct Public Offering

A direct public offering is an investment technique that allows outside investors of all sizes to buy shares of a company. Direct public offers are made to both accredited and unaccredited investors, which is what makes it possible for everyday readers to invest in a local news website. Direct public offerings don’t have to cost much more than traditional reader membership programs, but they give readers a deeper connection to the publication by giving them a financial stake.

While the term ‘direct public offering’ is relatively unknown in the outside world, most people have heard of crowdfunding. Investment crowdfunding and direct public offerings are very similar.

How a Direct Public Offering Works

A local publisher’s decision to sell stock to readers is never an easy one. In the case of Sonoma West, the process started with the hiring of a broker. That broker placed a value on Atkinson’s four community publications, which have a combined paid circulation of 9,900.

Next came setting a financial goal. Atkinson set his at $400,000, with the direct public offering open until March 2019. Usually, publishers will offer a certain dollar amount worth of preferred stock as part of a direct public offering, and then they will let people in a certain group—for example, California residents—buy into their publications.

Readers need at least $1,000 to buy into Sonoma West. Shares of the company cost $4 each, and the minimum purchase is 250 shares. (A prospectus is available to let readers know what the financial requirements are to invest.)

The local news parent startup Whereby.Us started its offering even smaller, inviting readers in Miami and Seattle to chip in as little as $500. In all, the company raised $250,000 from its reader-turned-investors.

Every direct public offering is unique, but it’s not uncommon for investors to be promised a certain annual dividend—for example, a 3% annual dividend—so long as the publication continues to flourish.

Why Readers Buy Stock in Local News Sites

In the local news business, a direct public offering only works when a publication has a strong relationship with its readers. Given the current political environment, there’s a desire from citizens to support local journalism. Publishers can capitalize on that interest by deciding to sell stock to readers now, before interest begins to wane.

More broadly speaking, direct public offerings tend to work best for local publishers in wealthy areas, with Berkeley and Sonoma County being two prime examples. The hyperlocal news outlet Berkeleyside ended up raising $1 million from 355 readers after its direct public offering, which is no small sum for a community-focused publication.

In addition to an annual dividend, readers who invest in local news sites also usually get access to certain perks, like the opportunity to meet with publishers or editors, and early access to special content and live events.

Why Local News Sites Sell Stock to Readers

Rather than chasing down funding from outside financiers, local publishers who sell stock to readers are putting control of their publications into the hands of their own communities. Major decisions, which would otherwise be made by an individual publisher or a financier with no ties to the community, are instead made collectively by that community’s residents.

The decision to sell stock to readers also gives publishers room for long-range planning. With fresh capital in hand, publishers can make any website upgrades they’ve been delaying, like mobile-friendly site redesigns or the development of mobile apps. The additional capital can also help publishers strengthen their coverage of certain areas or topics that matter to readers, like crime or education, or raise their employees’ salaries.

community calendar for local publishers

Local Publishing 101: How to Build a Community Calendar

Hyperlocal publishers sit at the center of their communities, offering a central place for people to go for the latest information on news and events around town. As publishers work to give readers more of what they want, they’re discovering that having a community calendar is one of the most requested features.

Community calendars serve multiple purposes on hyperlocal news websites. First and foremost, they let readers know what’s going on around town. When is the high school musical? When is the next city council meeting? These are the types of events that readers enjoy seeing on community calendars. But the usefulness of a community calendar goes beyond that.

A community calendar can also serve as an extra source of substantial revenue for local publishers. In addition to selling advertising against their calendars, publishers can charge local businesses to list their upcoming promotional events. This presents a win-win for the hyperlocal publisher, who is both satisfying reader demand and generating additional revenue at the same time.

Where to begin

The easiest way for most local publishers to add a community calendar to their websites is by using a WordPress plugin.

The Events Calendar by Modern Tribe is one example of a WordPress plugin that independent publishers can use to add community events calendars to their websites. These calendars are fully responsive, so in addition to a professional look, they can also be customized to fit in with any existing website themes. Calendars created with this plugin can also be organized by category, and events can be bulk imported to save time.

CT News Junkie, a local online news site that covers the Connecticut state legislature, uses The Events Calendar by Modern Tribe to power its own community calendar. Readers can search for events by date, keyword, or location, and they can export detailed event information to Google Calendar and iCal.

EventOn is another WordPress event calendar plugin that publishers can use. EventOn’s minimal and sleek looking calendars can be setup to include location maps to events, event images, and expandable details. For publishers who plan to monetize their calendars, a featured events option can make certain events stand out on the page.

Up until this point, we’ve focused on how events calendars serve the needs of local communities. But a community calendar can be an effective revenue generator for local publishers, as well.

Monetizing a community calendar

Community events calendars make money in a few different ways. The most common way is by selling advertising against the calendar itself. Events calendars tend to be popular pages on any publisher’s website. By selling display advertising that runs alongside or on top of the calendar, publishers can generate revenue from the traffic coming to their websites.

Savvy publishers will charge advertisers more to run display advertising alongside their community calendars, since readers who visit are already demonstrating an interest in coming to local events. That provides a type of demographic targeting that’s worth a premium to advertisers.

In addition to selling display advertising alongside their community calendars, local publishers can charge businesses to include their events as featured listings.

The low-tech way to handle this is to set a price for each individual event, and then ask advertisers to email event information to the publisher or the advertising manager directly. The more streamlined approach, which a growing number of local publishers are adopting, is to create a self-serve advertising portal, so advertisers can pay for and place featured event listings on their own.

Publishers can charge a premium for businesses to include their listings, while still opening up their calendars to readers for free. The most straightforward way to manage this is to let readers add standard listings to a community calendar for free, but charge a fee for “featured” or “premium” listings, which might be highlighted, bolded, or designed to include one or more images.

That’s the approach being used by the local news parent-startup Whereby.Us. The company’s publications, including The New Tropic, prominently feature upcoming events calendars, with instructions for how readers can submit their own events. Dedicated placements are available to advertisers who pay $210 for an event promotion package.

If you would like more information about how to setup a community calendar on your own website, feel free to reach out to our team of experts at Web Publisher PRO.

Facebook for traffic generation

Local Publishers Reduce Dependency on Facebook For Traffic — Here’s How

As controversies surrounding Facebook’s willingness to help publishers with traffic and referrals continues to swirl, a growing number of independent publishers are looking outside of Facebook for traffic, effectively reducing their dependency on the social media giant.

Just look at Slate. The online magazine has seen an 87% drop in Facebook traffic since 2017. Part of that drop can be attributed to a decrease in news feed reach in early 2018, soon after Facebook’s policy changed to limit pages from accepting content they didn’t create, primarily from social marketing companies. Slate’s drop in Facebook traffic could also be attributed to changes in the platform’s news feed, which now prioritizes content from people’s friends and family over publishers and brands.

But Slate isn’t alone. Publishers who create their own viral content are struggling to use Facebook for traffic generation, as well. Stylist, the female-focused publisher, has found success publishing beauty and fashion videos on the web. It now sees as much as 12% of its referral traffic coming from Facebook. But constant changes in the content discovery algorithm, coupled with questionable monetization concepts, have led Stylist to explore additional channels for distribution. Among those is Apple News, which funnels significant traffic towards Stylist’s videos and offers a number of options for monetization.

Apple News is just one of many options for local publishers deciding to place less reliance on Facebook for traffic generation. Search engine optimization (SEO) is also coming back into style.

Pushed into the background in recent years, SEO is experiencing a comeback right now, particularly within the local publishing community.

Formatting articles in a way that ensures they rank highly on search engines, like Google and Bing, has never gone out of style, but with traffic coming from Facebook and other social channels continuing to decrease, publishers are kicking their SEO strategies into high gear.

Then there’s the strategy being honed by Mic. The youth-oriented digital publisher is using a strategy referred to as “deliberate distribution” to make up for the drop in Facebook traffic.

What does the phrase “deliberate distribution” mean, exactly? For starters, Mic publishes significantly less—roughly half—content on Facebook now than it did in the past, and it has axed its partner swaps with other publishers. Instead of relying on Facebook for traffic generation, Mic is looking more closely at Apple News and Twitter. Like Stylist, Mic sees an opportunity to reach a large audience by posting videos on the Apple News platform.

Probably just as important are the changes Mic has made to its own publishing strategy. For example, the digital publication went from publishing as many as 75 articles each day, down to just 25. It now measures editorial content based on time spent on the website instead of page views.

The goal here, for Mic and many other independent, local publishers around the country, is to build a brand that readers will value enough to visit directly on the web. Once a publication builds a loyal audience, it becomes much less important what changes Facebook is making to its news feed algorithm on a day to day basis.

Here are three strategies for any local publisher looking to reduce their own dependence on Facebook for traffic generation.

  1. Pay attention to SEO. Don’t let SEO fall to the wayside. Search engine traffic is just as important now as it ever was, and small changes to content and website layouts, can have a significant impact on the amount of traffic coming through places like Google and Bing.
  2. Explore new channels. Apple News is a big player here, but a number of other niche distribution options exist for publishers right now. Do the research to find out which channels your own readers are using and start getting your site’s content posted on those channels.
  3. Focus on quality. Publishers who have historically relied on social media platforms like Facebook for traffic have focused more on quantity than quality. But the latest changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithms are changing the game for publishers that traffic in gimmicky content. Ultimately, these changes may end up helping local news publisher that regularly post high-quality, original content.
virtual assistant tools

6 Virtual Assistant Tools for Local Journalists

The days when publishers could afford to hire personal assistants for their editors and reporters are long gone. With newsroom budgets having never been tighter, some local news outlets are turning to virtual assistant tools to make up for staffing shortages.

Virtual assistants can be freelance secretaries who work remotely and complete tasks using certain web-based platforms. Or, as is more often the case, virtual assistants can be mobile applications that use artificial intelligence (AI) to understand natural language voice commands and complete basic tasks for users.

Although data on the precise number of local journalists using virtual assistant tools is sparse, the trend is clearly there. Nearly half of Americans (46%) use digital voice assistants, according to a survey by Pew Research Center, with some of the most common uses being typing, completing basic tasks hands-free, and connecting remotely to other apps and services.

Of course, local journalists tend to use virtual assistant tools differently than the general public. For example, reporters and editors will often use virtual assistant tools to transcribe recorded interviews, organize staff meetings, respond to emails, and manage shared calendars. Some of the most sophisticated virtual assistant apps can even learn users’ writing styles and then mimic those styles in posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Here are six virtual assistant tools that local journalists can try out.

1. Zirtual
Zirtual offers virtual assistances for entrepreneurs and small teams, making it a great fit for independent publishers. With plans that start at $398 per month, Zirtual provides its users with college-educated, U.S. based assistants available for a set number of hours. Zirtual’s assistants can handle all sorts of publishing-related tasks, including organizing details of contacts, sorting CRM data, writing and scheduling social media posts, assisting with funding campaigns, locating nearby networking events, and gathering qualitative data.

2. Magic
Rather than working with a dedicated virtual assistant, Magic gives its users access to a team of trained professionals. Journalists, editors, and publishers can text Magic with questions or requests for any number of tasks, and the company’s team of assistants will get to work completing those assignments. Magic’s virtual assistants handle more heavy lifting than most. The company’s college-educated assistants can complete tasks retailed to sales, marketing, research, recruiting, and even live support. Pricing for Magic starts at 59¢ per min for individuals, or $40 per user, per month for businesses, including local publishers.

3. Replika
Replika is a virtual assistant application that uses the latest artificial intelligence technology. Users can actually teach their virtual Replika assistant to “become more human” by interacting with the mobile app. Learning about the way you communicate allows Replika to eventually be able to complete basic tasks, like replying to emails, scheduling appointments, or chatting with a customer service rep, in a user’s own voice. Replika is free to use.

4. Fin
Fin has managed to turn personal assistance in an on-demand service. The platform mixes human and machine learning to give users the ability to offload tasks like coordinating meetings, managing calendars, answering calls, and returning emails. Requests can be submitted via email, mobile app, or text. Recurring tasks and important dates are tracking automatically, which is where the machine learning element in Fin comes into play. Pricing for part-time help starts at $270 per month.

5. Please.Do
Designed for individual professionals and small businesses, like local publishers, Please.Do is a virtual assistant service that’s set up to handle all sorts of complex tasks. Please.Do users submit requests via a mobile app and a real assistant—dubbed a “Please.Doer”—completes each task. Users have the option to chat directly with their “doers,” or they can request specialized support for more complex tasks. Please.Do’s assistants handle tasks like conducting market research, putting together expense reports, and adding new contacts to a company’s CRM system. Pricing is setup on a per-minute basis.

6. 24me
Best suited for journalists and small teams, 24me is a “smart” personal assistant that keeps professional lives organized. Using the mobile app, local journalists can manage their tasks, schedules, and notes. 24me takes distances and traffic into account when sending push notifications to let reporters know when they should leave the office to make it to meetings or interviews on time. It also includes a conference calling feature, which small teams will appreciate. 24me is free to download.

Data Journalism Tools

7 Data Journalism Tools for the Local Publisher’s Toolbox

Sophisticated data journalism tools are giving local reporters a way to dig deep into community records and uncover powerful stories that have never been told before.

Some of the most groundbreaking stories in local news were brought to light thanks to big data. Now, with many of the top data journalism tools available for free online, reporters are finding new ways to access information and use raw data to create interactive charts. Pushing the limits of creativity, local reporters are changing the way community news stories are told on the web.

Here are seven of the most interesting data journalism tools being used in local newsrooms today.

The National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting’s online database is a must-visit website for any local reporter. Searching through the databases maintained by NICAR, local journalists can find countless potential story ideas. Reporters can search by city or county name, or scroll through databases like the U.S. Recreational Boat Accident Database, the DOT Fatality Analysis Reporting System, Federal Campaign Contributions, or the National Bridge Inventory on the hunt for potential stories. Most databases accessed through NICAR are available to purchase, with record layouts available, as well as code sheets.

2. Datawrapper
Datawrapper is an open-source tool that offers a straightforward way for local reporters to create understandable charts. With data serving as the foundation to comprehend complex issues, Datawrapper fills a niche with its ability to generate charts that are interactive, responsive, and embeddable on any website. More importantly, Datawrapper’s charts can be generated without a reporter or editor needing to have any coding or design skills. Reporters just upload their CSV files, or data from Excel or Google Sheets, into Datawrapper, they choose a chart and map type, then they publish the chart. Datawrapper is used by publications like the New York Times, NPR, and Bloomberg.

3. Statista
Statista is a portal of research and studies that local journalists can use for data visualization projects. Reporters working for community news outlets can start by typing in the name of their city and seeing which reports pop up. For example, enter “Provo, Utah” and you’ll quickly find data reports on the major retailers of electricity in Utah, the lowest c-section rates at major hospitals, and domestic airports in the U.S. with the lowest airfare. Any of these reports could serve as a jumping off point for an article. All access accounts on Statista start at $588 per year.

4. Import.io
Import.io turns data from any website into a structured format or API, which can then be used to generate interactive data visualizations. In layman’s terms, that means a journalist could find the data he or she needs from the US Census Bureau website or HealthData.gov and then funnel that information into Import.io. Import.io would then automatically create an API based on the data. That API could be used to create an interactive chart or a map that would go along with the reporter’s story on the web. Import.io offers special pricing for journalists and other non-profit organizations.

5. OpenRefine
Previously known as Google Refine, OpenRefine is one of the data journalism tools that doesn’t require users to have coding skills in order to manipulate large data sets. OpenRefine is similar to Microsoft Excel, but with a few key differences that make it more accessible to the journalism community. OpenRefine “cleans” data to remove duplicate values. It can be used to help editors merge copied sets of data or check for inconsistencies. OpenRefine is open source and free to use.

6. Open States
Local reporters on the political beat will want to check out Open States to keep tabs on what the politicians in their areas are up to. A collection of tools for tracking what’s happening in state capitol’s around the country, Open States aggregates information and offers a way for reporters to quickly bring up recent votes for the legislators representing their communities. Open States also offers up information about upcoming legislation. Bill, legislator, committee, and event data on Open States comes from official websites for state legislatures, clearly linked at the bottom of each page for easy sourcing. The site is free to use.

7. Talend Studio
Talend Studio is software that journalists can use to build extract, transform, and load, or ETL, processes. Editors can use graphical tools to map big data sources, then generate code automatically. Talend Studio speeds up the process of reading data and converting it into the selected format, before rewriting it for a new database, based on whichever rules a user sets. Like many of the other tools on this list, Talend Studio is free and open source.

Launch a Local News Podcast

How to Launch a Local News Podcast

Even as daily newspapers struggle, podcasts are thriving. While the format requires little more than a microphone, a server, and some basic audio software, small publishers still have endless questions over how to launch a local news podcast.

There’s no doubt that the audience is there. According to Pew Research, 64% of Americans ages 12 and older listened to podcasts in the past month, and 57% listened in the past week.

Here are some of the top questions we at Web Publisher PRO are hearing from independent publishers who say they want to launch a local news podcast, along with our best tips and strategies for making any podcast launch a success.

Q. What topics should local publishers cover?
A. A local news podcast is the perfect place to recap a publisher’s own stories. Similar to a daily email newsletter, a straightforward local news podcast should include recaps of important articles from the publisher’s own website, along with in-depth analysis and behind-the-scenes reporting details that might not have made it into print. A publisher’s local news podcast might also include interviews with reporters to give listeners a better understanding of the events taking place in their own communities.

A successful local news podcast opens the door to even more creative storytelling setups, as well. Local publishers can invite reporters and editors to host their own storytelling or investigative podcasts, a la Serial. One example of a publication that’s done this is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which launched a podcast called Breakdown about a Georgia man who was convicted of murder.

Q. How does it benefit a publisher to launch a local news podcast?
A. Aside from having another product to sell advertising against, podcasts also serve as promotional vehicles for a publisher’s outside endeavors. For example, publishers can use their podcasts to encourage listeners to visit their websites, sign up for their email newsletters, or subscribe to their publications.

Podcasts tend to attract young, affluent audiences — just the type of audience local publishers need if they want to survive and thrive over the long term. With the proper promotional channels in place, publishers can convert listeners to readers and grow their audiences incrementally over time.

Q. What sort of investment is required to launch a local news podcast?
A. The good news about podcasting is that it can be done on a shoestring budget. The only real tools that are necessary are a microphone, a computer, and some type of audio editing software. Licenses for professional-quality software can run between $300 and $900.

Then there’s the human investment. Most local publishers will want to hire a staffer to manage their podcasts. For example, the nonprofit local news organization VTDigger has nine full-time reporters, but just one person responsible for its weekly podcast, The Deeper Dig. That editor taps subject matter experts from the newsroom as interviewees and knowledgeable resources.

Like many other local news podcasts, VTDigger’s podcast started with the help of multiple grants from nonprofit foundations. Local publishers should seek out these resources to help curb some of the cost of launching their shows.

Q. How can publishers monetize their local podcasts?
A. Publishers are in a great position to monetize their local news podcasts right from the start, thanks to their familiarity with online advertising strategies and their relationships with businesses in their local communities. Asking those businesses to sponsor a local podcast—either an individual episode or an entire series—can result in a big payoff. Although businesses are usually hesitant to sponsor brand new podcasts, local publishers have the advantage of already having built-in audiences and an established track record of professionalism.

Other ways to monetize a local news podcast are by promoting products and including affiliate links in the show notes (with complete transparency, of course), asking listeners to donate through a platform like Patreon, or by signing up for a podcasting-focused advertising network like Midroll, AdvertiseCast, PodGrid, or ArcherAvenue.

Q. Do the traditional metrics of success apply to local news podcasts?
A. The short answer here is no. When you’re reaching out to a limited audience, your podcast isn’t going to be downloaded as many times as when you’re reaching out to the whole world. How many people are interested in small town news? The number might not be large, but the demographics are tightly focused.

Local publishers shouldn’t feel like they have to justify a small audience size when they pitch their podcasts to potential advertisers in their communities. Rather than focus on size, publishers should focus on the quality of their audiences. Local businesses don’t care about reaching customers two states away. They want a way to connect with people in their own communities, and local news podcasts can deliver those audiences.

We may still be in the early days of local news podcasting, but the medium is growing in popularity. Local publishers have an innate advantage in the space, making podcasting a viable form of ancillary revenue for publishers looking at new monetization strategies.

GDPR and Web Design

The GDPR and Web Design: What Local Publishers Should Know

When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect earlier this year, local publishers took notice. The new European Union privacy laws hold small, local publishers to many of the same standards as technology giants like Google and Facebook. But coming into compliance with these new regulations often requires publishers to make changes to their website designs, and in that way, the GDPR and web design are intrinsically connected.

If you’re still wondering what the GDPR is, and how it’s impacting local publishers, we put together a helpful primer back in May.

The GDPR was created to harmonize data privacy laws in Europe and empower ordinary citizens by limiting the types of personal data that publishers can collect without consent. For local publishers in the U.S., the GDPR is having the greatest impact on digital advertising practices. Because of these new regulations, publishers that use tools and host ads that collect data about their readers are required to change their practices.

Pop-ups and splash pages are frequently being used to collect consent from consumers, but questions remain about how these new features should be designed to improve the user experience while at the same time satisfying both the GDPR and web design standards.

Modifying Data Collection Forms

The GDPR defines valid consent as, “Any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her.”

Based on this definition, publishers must be able to document whether their website visitors have given permission to have their personal data collected.

Looking closely at the GDPR and web design best practices, we’re now recommending that publishers go through this process themselves to better understand how current consent practices are working on their websites from a user experience perspective.

Some questions publishers should ask themselves as they design their new data collection forms are:

  1. Is there adequate context and details about how data will be used?
  2. Are any consent boxes pre-checked?
  3. Has the pop-up been designed in a way that gets the attention of users?
  4. Does the pop-up or splash page include a clear link to an updated privacy policy?

In light of the GDPR and web design best practices, publishers should also consider adding separate pages on their websites where readers can easily find information about data privacy. These pages should be both designed and written in a way that’s clear and easy for visitors to understand.

From a design perspective, check boxes are one of the clearest elements a publisher can include on a data collection pop-up or splash page. Visitors should be able to check a box to let the publisher know what type of communication they’re interested in receiving. In addition to bringing the publisher into compliance with the GDPR, this type of opt-in strategy has also been shown to lead to improved email marketing performance.

The GDPR is clear that consent should never be gained through a lack of action. That means checkboxes are used to give consent, rather than to reject consent.

While user consent is important under the GDPR, publishers should be careful not to go overboard. Adding unnecessary consent requests can clutter the page and make it harder for visitors to access the policy information they need.

Updated Email Opt-In Forms

Nearly every local publisher sends email newsletters at this point. The GDPR requires that readers give “specific and unambiguous” consent to be added to email lists. Entering an email address in exchange for free swag or access to exclusive content does not imply consent. To stay compliant, publishers should update their email opt-in forms with more transparent wording, and they should consider a double opt-in strategy.

Individual Preference Pages

As part of the GDPR, readers can change their website preferences and delete their accounts at any time. It’s up to publishers to add new Account Settings or Subscriber Preferences pages to their websites to remain in compliance.

From the perspective of both the GDPR and web design practices, we’re recommending that publishers keep these pages clean and straightforward. Local publishers probably don’t need to offer subscribers the option of downloading their bulk data before deleting their accounts, however it’s always smart to consult with a legal representative on these types of matters.

The GDPR is about consumer privacy, but local publishers need to keep the user experience in mind as they implement new privacy features that add transparency to their websites. Thanks to these regulations, consumers can now expect to see website interfaces that are easier to navigate and privacy policies that are written in plain English.

If you’d like an evaluation of your own website, feel free to reach out to our team for help.

video content

The Latest Video Trends in Hyperlocal Publishing

The shift toward video is accelerating, as reader demand for video content on hyperlocal websites continues to grow. In order to keep pace, publishers need to get creative about how they adjust their content strategies to account for the latest video trends.

Internet video traffic already makes up more than 69% of all global consumer internet traffic. By next year, that figure is expected to grow another 11%.

In her 2018 Internet Trends Report, digital evangelist Mary Meeker took it one step further, predicting a sharp rise in mobile video usage and the emergence of new types of video content.

For hyperlocal publishers, that means the time to start researching the latest video trends and investing in online video production is now.

What are the latest video trends for hyperlocal publishers?

1. Sounds-free videos
Publishers love to put their top reporters on screen, or have them talking off camera as they narrate videos and discuss the day’s latest events. But video analytics show that relying too heavily on audio is a mistake.

Videos played on Facebook, Instagram, and a number of other social video platforms, have the sound switched off by default, and incredibly, 85% of video views on the Facebook platform are played with the sound off.

Creativity goes a long way in overcoming this obstacle for hyperlocal publishers. For example, publishers can use overlaid text or captions to let viewers know what their videos are about without having to turn on the sound. An even better idea is for publishers to start creating videos that rely more on images than audio to tell their stories in a dramatic way.

2. Viewers prefer digestible content
When the social media monitoring service NewsWhip looked at the top 50 video creators on Facebook, the company found that just five were news publishers. Looking more closely at those five news publishers, and the types of videos they post, provides insight into which types of news videos are most likely to spur viewer engagement.

In its analysis, NewsWhip found that the most successful news videos were short videos that were either feel-good or funny. Videos that were “quick” and “digestible” saw higher-than-average levels of engagement, as well.

3. Including video with social media posts
Video is still the most engaging format on Facebook.

In 2018, 92% of the most engaging posts on Facebook included videos. That’s a major change from 2016, when just 35% of the most engaging posts included videos.

Publishers should take heed of this shifting trend as they plan their social media strategies. Facebook posts that include a short blurb and image—often the de facto style for most news organizations—generate much less engagement than posts that include original video content.

4. Facebook Live drives engagement
Reporters working for hyperlocal news websites should be very familiar with Facebook Live. The live streaming video tool, which is built into the Facebook platform, offers a way to marry edited videos with real-time, live-streamed content.

Thankfully for news publishers, breaking news stories are among the most-watched content on Facebook Live. Sporting events, fires and natural disasters, and community rallies are just a few of the many types of events that reporters can live-stream as a way to bring readers into the action.

With Facebook Live, expensive cameras, and other recording equipment, are totally unnecessary. Reporters can start up their own live streams using nothing more than a smartphone.

5. Strong emotions equal strong performance
In an analysis of the top performing videos from news publishers, NewsWhip found that videos with strong emotions generated the most views and engagement. In these videos, the dominant emotion was either sympathy or joy (feel-good videos).

Local publications are ripe with stories about sympathetic figures—families in distress, school children raising funds, small businesses struggling to survive—many of which could make for excellent video content.

Publishers should be asking reporters to bring along video cameras when they meet with interview subjects, and recording their interviews or b-roll footage to include with future social media posts. Each of these videos should include a strong caption that shares the most poignant aspect of the story. (For example, “Watch this toddler hear for the first time with hearing aids.”)

Engagement data tells us that digital video, and mobile video in particular, is growing at an incredible rate. The sooner news organizations can get in on the latest video trends, by producing and distributing their own original content, the stronger foothold they will have in the fast-paced publishing community.

Launch a Local News Podcast

Should Local Publishers Create Podcasts?

First came the articles and the photographs. Then came the videos. Now, more local publishers are being expected to develop their own podcasts as a way to stay relevant in the evolving digital news industry.

Is it really necessary for local publishers to create podcasts, or are they just a passing fad?

To answer that question, we have to start with looking at who listens to podcasts created by local publishers.

According to a survey by the business research firm Bredin, 39% of small business owners listen to podcasts, and 65% of those listeners say they tune in “at least weekly.”

Small business owners are the lifeblood of the local publishing community. They are a publisher’s most likely readers and advertisers, and if those small business owners are leaning towards podcasting as a channel for news distribution, then it’s going to be smart for local publishers to meet them there.

But podcasts aren’t just about strengthening existing relationships between local publishers and their audiences. For local publishers who run advertising, podcasting is also a new source of new revenue.

According to a study released by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC, advertising revenue from podcasts grew at a “substantial” rate last year, to reach $314 million. That figure is up 86% from the year before. The most popular advertising format on podcasts is ads read by hosts, with direct-response ads accounting for the majority of podcast ads.

There’s evidence that audiences enjoy news podcasts, and that advertisers will pay handsomely to be featured on them. News and politics podcasts are one of the top four genres for generating advertising revenue, according to that same IAC report. Podcasts in the news and politics category accounted for 13% of all podcast advertising revenue in 2017, confirming that podcasting has become a viable option for revenue generation.

Local publishers who run digital advertising on their websites using Google’s DoubleClick product can use the same advertising suite to monetize their podcasts. Earlier this month, news leaked that Google would soon be letting marketers access programmatic ad inventory from Google Play Music, SoundCloud, and TuneIn, an announcement that will be more relevant to the podcasting industry as Google “refines its work” in the area.

Even those publishers who don’t run ads on their podcasts are finding ways to take advantage of the medium. Some are using exclusive podcasts as a way to encourage readers to join their membership programs. For example, earlier this year, The New York Times experimented with giving its subscribers early access to a documentary podcast series.

Giving subscribers early access is one way for publishers to maximize the benefits and the income potential. Another option is to give subscribers access to commercial-free versions.

One of the primary concerns that local publishers have about podcasting is the cost. Recording technology and editing tools can be expensive, but podcasts can also be done on shoestring budgets.

Need an example? Look at Septic. The narrative podcast, from reporters at The Roanoke Times in Southwest Virginia, was created on a “nearly non-existent budget.” The publication spent $20 on a microphone pop filter and a cassette player, and they used Audacity, which is a free service, to edit together the show. Despite a complete lack of professional equipment or editing expertise, Septic made it to Apple’s list of the top 20 podcasts in its News & Politics category.

The Virginian-Pilot also released a podcast, this one focused on true crime. The publication spent $700 to buy a microphone and recorders for the project, and used Final Cut Pro to edit the audio. So far, The Virginia Pilot’s podcast bas been listened to more than 70,000 times.

Audacity and Final Cut Pro aren’t the only two options for editing podcasts. A number of budget software options make recording and editing podcasts much easier. At a bare minimum, local publishers looking to create podcasts will need a microphone and editing software, or they will need to sign up with a service like Anchor.fm, which handles all the nitty gritty details that come along with putting together a podcast.

For local publishers who are interested in trying out podcasting as a new way to tell stories, and perhaps an additional revenue stream, Poynter Institute has put together a helpful resource list with low-cost tools that can be used to create professional-quality podcasts.