There have been a flurry of new apps and services released recently that are aimed at giving users short hits on breaking news, from Jason Calacanis’s Inside app to Yahoo’s new Tech News app, which is based on its acquisition of algorithm-driven startup Summly. Circa, a mobile-news startup we’ve written about a number of times, often gets lumped in with this growing group of services because the updates it sends on news stories tend to be short — but co-founder and CEO Matt Galligan says what Circa is up to is actually quite different.
While most of the services mentioned give users brief news items that they can consume quickly while standing in line at the bank or in the back of a cab, Galligan says Circa’s approach differs in one major way: since it allows users to “follow” a specific story, and get updates only about new developments on that story, it essentially is building a long-form news story over time — just in bite-size chunks.
Some degree of perfectionism turns out to be good for business, and absolute perfectionism can prevent great journalism from ever happening at all. Journalists haven’t found a magic answer—the Knight Foundation just issued a $320,000 grant to support development of software that determines if viral videos are real. And the audience remains uncertain about what standards to apply: Twitter addicts are far more forgiving of mistakes than, say, subscribers to print newspapers, or readers of The New Yorker.
In every newsroom I visited, The New Yorker’s iconic fact-checking system was mentioned, not so much as an ideal, but more like an impossible standard that no mere mortals could reach. Despite the difficult advertising climate, The New Yorker still employs full-time staff checkers to verify every assertion in each piece. For an article I wrote last year, the magazine assigned two checkers who devoted much of their time to the story for more than five months. Each set of checks opened new avenues for reporting, immensely strengthening the story. From the perspective of a newspaper guy, the experience seemed to take place on a different planet from where I ordinarily live.
“You exist…you matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid of being you.”—Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis
In one of the sessions at DJ@DJ, a Wall Street Journal training course which I dropped into when I was at head office in New York last week, Neal Mann talked through developments in mobile at the Journal and beyond.
A former Sky News field producer, Neal may have trained in creating TV packages – which he said haven’t changed in format in 50 years – but is now rethinking video with mobile in mind.
The digital news industry has long been accustomed to creating web-native video, framing and cutting for desktop, but Neal is now pushing for fast-speaking explainers, quick cuts, holding attention with questions, and (not too small) graphics, all designed for the mobile screen and the intimate relationship you have with your phone.
Here’s an example:
Neal also talked though how Circa organises news by ‘atomic units’, allowing users of the mobile app to follow stories.
He explained how the pyramid news triangle has been pushed aside in favour of a concertina or accordion containing story elements. (Incidentally, I saw Daniel Bentley from Circa later that day who told me how the Circa-designed CMS for mobile stories works. I’m hoping Daniel will blog about the story workflow and why building stories with reusable blocks of facts and quotes is an ingenious and efficient way to work, with output growing at an exponential rate.)
Neal also flagged up Yahoo News Digest, an app which was born out of Yahoo’s purchase of Summly and launched at CES earlier this month. It’s not yet out in the UK but Neal convinced me that it will be worth downloading once available outside the US. Digest provides 8 stories in the morning and 8 at evening commuter time and sends push alerts which entice you back in when the next digest is published.
Thinking mobile first
In a separate session David Ho, editor for mobile, tablets and emerging technology at WSJ, made some great points about thinking for mobile and touch screens. His terms to avoid (for obvious reasons) are:
'See video below'
Check everything on a phone and avoid Flash, he said.
David also flagged News Corp now defunct iPad-only title The Daily. David made a great point about 3D and tactile storytelling and creating ‘something physical’ on mobile touch devices.
An article about the ocean asked readers to swipe down. And through that action, the swiper got a sense of depth, he said.
And as well as thinking mobile, the Journal is also going Glass. Erin Sparling was in London in the Autumn and told Hacks/Hackers London about the WSJ app for Google Glass that was at that stage in development.
“AllThingsD gives us an idea of Circa’s success: according to Flurry, users stay 50 percent longer in Circa than in other news apps. Of users who open the app more than once a day, more than half return twice daily for their breaking news. Galligan even mentioned in an interview with Jason Calicanis that there are users who, between Monday and Friday of a given week, had opened the app more than 100 times. That’s a whopping 20 times per day.”—Herbert Lui
“When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.”—The New York Times Editorial Board
“This kid was dealt a bad hand, I don’t quite know why, but it’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not. It’s not going to be easy for her to turn around her life but that’s why we’re investing so much in training around failing schools. We believe in every child. When we came into office…the system said there’s no hope and we shouldn’t even try. I said we’re not going to stand for that; we have to make sure we try to help every single child.”—Michael Bloomberg
President Barack Obama’s nominee to be general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency indicated at her confirmation hearing Tuesday that she opposes giving members of Congress access to Justice Department legal memoranda that govern CIA activities such as interrogation and drone strikes.
On Friday May 4, 2012, I turned myself in at Manhattan Criminal Court. Two Intelligence Unit detectives arrived and testily walked me outside to a waiting unmarked police car. Court papers show that they’d staked out my apartment to arrest me, and that I unwittingly kept eluding them. In one dramatic instance, two officers had tailed me as I walked down Eastern Parkway. I’d entered the subway station at the Brooklyn Museum, unaware that I was being followed. One of the officers had followed me through the turnstiles while another guarded the exit. The report states that the officers then inexplicably lost contact with me.