Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute — Experiencing the WSJ inside a virtual 3-D environment

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Reporting by Reuben Stern, Rachel Wise and Gabe Dubois

The Wall Street Journal recently launched a VR app that allows users to experience the Journal in immersive 3-D in Google’s Daydream platform. The app is one of the first to deliver news and live market data inside a virtual 3-D environment. We speak with Himesh Patel, Dow Jones creative director, and Roger Kenny, design tech lead for VR at the Wall Street Journal, about how the app came together.

Name change reflects morphing industry

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As the media industry struggles in the midst of an existential identity crisis, The Newspaper Association of America changed its name to News Media Alliance. The move, according to the association, is aimed at highlighting the media industry’s evolution to multi-platform, digitally-savvy businesses and premium content providers.

“The industry is made up of so much more now,” David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance, told News & Tech. “We’re the most multi-channel people out there.”

The news comes as media outlets across the country are rebranding and reorganizing in an attempt to stay ahead of the technology curve.

Tribune Publishing notoriously rebranded itself to Tronc, a combination of Tribune Online Content.

“Our industry requires an innovative approach and fundamentally different way of operating,” said Michael Ferro, chairman of Tribune Publishing. “Our rebranding to Tronc represents the manner in which we will pool our technology and content resources to execute our strategy.”

The New York Times last year instituted a major newsroom overhaul to focus more efforts on its digital endeavors.

“The Times seeks to make great strides in focusing on coverage across all platforms at all times, with more attention given to video, multimedia and other forms of storytelling in addition to print,” Dean Banquet wrote in a note to staff.

And while the trend remains throughout newsrooms across the country, the fact remains that the conspicuous loss of words like newspaper and publishing leave some of us wondering what the future of print looks like.

“I think print has a future,” Chavern told N&T. “It’s just not the future. There’s a lot of history and power behind the word newspaper, but its just not a big enough word anymore.”

Most newspaper companies these days have expanded beyond the printed page, explained Chavern.

“I don’t know if anyone has just a print product anymore,” he said.

The changes News Media Alliance is making seek to open the dialogue and push innovation to all of its partners.

“We’re really focused on the future of the new business and innovation,” Chavern said.

In that vein, NMA opened membership to digital-only publications. Independent Journal Review and Spirited Media are the first members that don’t have a print product. Spirited Media is the parent company of Billy Penn, a Philadelphia-based news organization. IJR is a right-leaning digital news aggregator.

“We wanted to start out with two good ones, and we tried to be picky about who we picked,” Chavern told Nieman Lab. “In terms of digital members for us, first of all, the most important thing is that they have a news culture, that they have newsrooms that create original journalism.”

The organization also introduced a number of new tools available to members to help transition into digital organizations.

The ideaXchange is a new online community that will launch sometime this fall. It is designed to make sharing, brainstorming and learning from other organizations easier.

“We’ve developed an online community for publishers to share experiments,” Chavern said. “Digital-only members experiment and innovate very fast and they will have a lot of ideas which will help everyone.”

In addition, metricsXchange is a new dashboard that will show comparisons between markets and publications which NMA will use to provide analyses and highlight newsworthy trends mined from the tool.

“It (metricsXchange) will allow publishers to measure digital performance and also compare that performance to others,” Chavern explained.

The pioneering spirit of many news organizations old and new is palpable in the industry. Leaders the world over are looking for new revenue sources and new ways to monetize content. Chavern sees this as the most important role of the New Media Alliance.

“We want to help the industry get through this difficult period, understanding that people want and need news like never before,” Chavern told N&T. “That’s something to build on and be optimistic about. It’s fun to create and we’re creating something really cool.”

Olympic Innovation

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The 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil offered an opportunity for publishers to show off all the innovation they’ve been working on — especially for digital products. From artificial intelligence to direct contact with journalists, newspapers found ways to connect with readers on every level they could think of.

A huge part of Olympics reporting is statistics. Fun, snackable facts that can be generated and sent to websites and apps easily help build audience knowledge about different athletes and the way they compete. These stats also help build out long form articles and provide context for readers.

The Washington Post knows how important those quick and easy facts are for driving audiences to the publication. The paper created Heliograf, WaPo’s artificial intelligence software, that pushed statistics to WaPo’s website as well as social media accounts.

Jeremy Gilbert, head of new digital projects for WaPo talked to Recode about the newest technology.

“We’re not trying to replace reporters,” he told Recode. “We’re trying to free them up.”

The content is simple, straight forward knowledge that provides the reader scores, wins, losses and statistics about any one event.

The New York Times, meantime, utilized everyone’s favorite communication tool — basic SMS text messaging — to bring its readers closer to the action. Deputy Sports Editor, Sam Manchester had a phone equipped to send personal dispatches, photos and GIFs from Rio. He also invited readers to ask questions and share their reactions with him during the events. A limited number of people were eligible to sign up for personal communication with Manchester.

Just before the opening ceremony in Rio, NYT took the opportunity to release its newest virtual reality film entitled, "The Modern Games." The film took viewers through time to some of the most iconic Olympic moments. The film featured narration by David Goldblatt, author of "The Games: A Global History of the Olympics," and offered aerial views of Rio’s beaches and mountains. Viewers were also treated to on-the-ground glimpses into Rio’s Olympic Stadium.

On its website, NYT created a section dubbed The Fine Line — Olympics: Rio de Janeiro 2016. The series featured video, text and motion capture graphics to gain a deeper understanding of the athletic feats of gymnast Simone Biles and high jumper Derek Drouin, among others.

The Wall Street Journal created a mini-game dubbed Armchair Olympian, that tests a users ability at different Olympic skills. The games include sprinting, rowing, long jump, archery and synchronized swimming. In my house, we boften discussed how difficult it sometimes was to gauge how fast an Olympian was running or swimming, just by watching. With limited knowledge of certain sports, it was sometimes challenging to engage and appreciate the technical skill that goes into winning a medal. WSJ’s game — written by Max Cohen, created by Stuart A. Thompson with illustrations by Jessica Kuronen, sought to point out the level of difficulty and precision these athletes attain and offer a small virtual glimpse of understanding for WSJ readers.

Social media once again proved an integral element in covering the live games. While Facebook was the main social platform used to share official content before the event, Instagram became the go-to favorite during the 2016 Rio Games, according to ComScore.

The findings showed that during July, 40 percent of total actions on the Rio 2016 Facebook page were generated by posts containing videos but, once the games started, posts with photos took precedence, ComScore said. Further, 63 percent of official Rio 2016 social content was posted on Facebook during July. However, according to ComScore, Instagram was responsible for 72 percent of the total actions on Rio 2016 social networks during the same month.

The Olympics presented an excellent opportunity for newspapers to show off their graphic skills, innovation and technology. As Joseph Lichterman for Nieman Lab points out, “(The Olympics) is a massive story, but the stakes are typically relatively low, and, perhaps most importantly, the date of the event is known years ahead of time.”

He went on to say that the result is newspapers have plenty of time to plan coverage and build products.

We are looking forward to the innovation that comes out during the fall election season as well.

If I didn’t see the amazing thing that your paper did to cover The Games and athletes, please let me know. I would love to hear about it.

Oliver dissects newsroom woes for the public

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On a recent Sunday night on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” comedian John Oliver spent 19 minutes discussing newspaper industry woes. He pointed out that the majority of our news comes directly from newspapers. While 57 percent of news consumers turn to television for their news, those television reporters often turn to newspapers as their sources. The same is true with most digital reporting. No matter where a publication is in the media food chain, the story often starts with the paper.

But reporters are strapped these days and finding it more and more difficult to produce the kind of content that the American people depend on.

Journalists have to be involved in traditional reporting, social media, wire services 24 hours a day, and be responsible for video. It’s a lot to ask, said Marty Baron, editor of The Washington Post.

These digital demands come as more and more of the newsroom is laid off. At the Oregonian, Oliver points out, almost a quarter of the newsroom staffers were laid off while job requirements were increased for everyone who was left.

What’s being sacrificed, according to Oliver, is hard-hitting, deeply investigated journalism that holds city, state, nation and business leaders accountable for their actions. Also being sacrificed is our ability to make sure articles, tweets and posts are spelled correctly and properly punctuated.

Oliver cited a Pew Research Center study that said the number of full-time state house reporters declined by 35 percent between 2013 and 2014.

This lack of presence is frightening for a country whose journalism is responsible for ensuring there is a glass window between the voters and consumers and decision makers.

David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and former Baltimore Sun staffer said, “The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning board hearing is the day I will be confident that we’ve reached some sort of equilibrium.”

But that day is far, far away. There aren’t enough clicks available for a story about whether or not the next monolithic building in a city has been approved to the delight of the mayor and the developers and the chagrin of every citizen in town. It’s far better for the local paper to run another story about current Olympic statistics received from the wire service and generated by artificial intelligence.

“Not having reporters at government meetings is like a teacher leaving a group of seventh graders to supervise themselves,” said Oliver. “Best case scenario, Britney gets gum in her hair. Worst case scenario, you no longer have a school.”

But newspapers, as David Chavern, president of the Newspaper Association of America points out in his rebuttal to Oliver’s monologue, are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The fact remains, reporters have to be paid. The paper and ink has to be purchased and the printer and distribution paid for. Newspapers are costly to support and without advertising and traditional classified ads to keep them running, leaders are left scrambling to find new revenue streams to keep print afloat.

“The fact is we are in a transitional phase within the entire industry,” said Chavern. “In the meantime, there is going to be a lot of experimentation and evaluation of new business models.”

Here at News & Tech we are excited about all the experimentation. We want to know, write about and encourage any risks the industry is taking to find revenues and keep the amazing content flowing. As Chavern says, some will work and some won’t, but at least we’re trying.

We also commiserate with everyone working through the growing pains and laugh with Oliver and Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at The Washington Post who said, “The whole Oliver piece was a pitch-perfect ode to how important newspapers are to their communities, and how troubling it is that they are fading.”

Report: HubCiti releases first Publisher Confidence & Technology report

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Amidst talk that confidence in the future of the newspaper industry is dropping, new data has emerged that indicates the opposite is true.

Hubciti, a mobile solution for newspapers, recently conducted a survey to find out exactly how optimistic publishers are about the future of their industry. The Pubslishers’ Confidence & Technology Report, released Monday, shows that while overall confidence in the sustainability of the local and regional newspaper industry has remained virtually unchanged from last year, 33 percent of publishers believe it is getting better.

The survey was conducted online in the United States from May 10-15, May 25-27 and June 6-8, 2016 among adults ages 18 and older. Most of those surveyed, some 160, were employed in newspaper publishing at the time.

Revenue streams

HubCiti’s report showed that traditional print ads and classifies remain of utmost importance to publishers across the country with 87 percent of publisher respondents stating that they are very important to revenue generation. Respondents ranked subscriptions and website as second and third in importance to revenue generation.

However as publishers are becoming more and more comfortable with new technologies they are taking advantage of alternative revenue opportunities presented by digital and mobile devices. Some 63 percent of publishers stated that implementing new digital services will help generate additional revenue. Many of the publishers were optimistic about new digital revenue stating they plan to see a 50 percent increase in revenue from both website and mobile app activity in the next 12 months.

Implementing digital initiatives

Many newspaper publishers, almost 57 percent, said they use a mix of in-house and third party services when implementing new website and mobile app strategies. These are the two places respondents said they are focusing digital services. Only 15 percent of respondents said they are focusing on implementing video into their digital offerings. Investing in digital growth is high on many publishers priority lists with 39 percent of publishers planning to hire new employees for digital services and 54 percent saying they are also planning to hire a third party firm.

What are consumers looking for?

As publishers look to diversify their digital and mobile app offerings, it is important to look at consumer habits and decide what newspapers do best when it comes to information.

When asked what kind of content besides news consumers would like delivered to them, 46 percent of respondents chose traffic and weather updates as the top option. Restaurant specials also ranked, with 15 percent of those surveyed saying they would be interested.

“The main benefit that newspaper content provides is its high level of journalistic integrity, credibility and quality,” said Gregory J. Osberg, CEO and founder of Revlyst. “News consumers are tired of clickbait stories and they’re seeking more locally-focused stories that they can act on in their communities — only the papers have the resources and editorial knowledge to provide that level of local content.”