All posts in “Journalism”

Facebook is now testing paywalls and subscriptions for Instant Articles


A few months ago we reported that Facebook may begin testing paywalls and subscriptions for Instant Articles beginning in October. Well now it’s October, and surprise – Facebook has started testing subscription support for instant articles!

Here’s how it will work: Facebook will start with two paywalled options for publishers to choose from:

The first option is a metered model where everyone gets to read 10 free stories per month before needing to subscribe. The second is a freemium model where the publishers choose which articles to lock.

When someone who isn’t a subscriber hits one of these paywalls, they will be promoted to subscribe for full access to the publishers’ content.

One really interesting aspect – if you want to purchase a subscription Facebook will direct you to the publisher’s website to complete the transaction, meaning they process the payment directly and can keep 100% of the revenue and transaction data. The subscriptions will then also include access to the publisher’s full site, and existing subscribers can also authenticate within Instant Articles so they can get full access without paying twice.

Redirecting users away from Facebook to complete a transaction is a huge win for publishers. But not everyone is happy with the arrangement. Notably, Recode reports that Apple is balking at the subscription signup flow, saying it violates the company’s rules about subscriptions sold inside apps. Right now Apple gets up to 30% of all subscriptions sold inside 3rd-party iOS apps, so Facebook’s current signup method would strip them of this revenue.

For this reason the feature isn’t launching yet on Apple – only Android, which doesn’t have any restrictions on how subscriptions can be sold. There’s no timeline for when a deal could be made with Apple, with Facebook only saying that “this initial test will roll out on Android devices first , and we hope to expand it soon.”

Facebook says many of their partner publishers identified subscriptions as a top priority, and especially requested the ability to maintain control over pricing, offers, and all the revenue generated from each subscription.

The ten participating publishers at launch are Bild, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Hearst (The Houston Chronicle and The San Francisco Chronicle), La Repubblica, Le Parisien, Spiegel, The Telegraph, tronc (The Baltimore Sun, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Diego Union-Tribune), and The Washington Post.

The tool will roll out over the next few weeks, and one a publisher is on board paywalls and subscriptions will immediately be available to all users seeing those stories.

Even more US adults now getting news from social media, says Pew


New research by Pew suggests there has been another increase in the proportion of U.S. adults getting news via social media platforms.

In May last year the researcher reported that 62 per cent of American adults were obtaining news from tech platforms, saying 18 per cent were doing so often. Now, in it’s latest survey, it says two-thirds (67%) of U.S. adults are reporting getting at least some of their news on social media. While a fifth (20%) report doing so “often”.

And while it’s not a huge increase, it is nonetheless a rise (Pew terms it a “modest” increase).

And a concerning one, given that the main social media purveyor of news — Facebook — has a demonstrable disinterest in and/or incapacity to distinguish fact from nonsensical fiction on its platform.

Indeed, as many have already pointed out Facebook’s business benefits from increased user engagement, and made-up stories that play to people’s prejudices and/or contain wild, socially divisive claims have been shown to be able to clock up far more Facebook views than factual reports of actual news.

So any rise in news consumption on social media should give pause for thought — especially as Facebook (and Google, principally) continues to suck ad revenue away from traditional media outlets, threatening the sustainability of businesses that have traditionally played a key role in a functioning democracy.

Pew’s survey is based on responses from 4,971 U.S. adults who are members of the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. The research was carried out between August 8-21, 2017.

It said it found that growth in news consumption across social media platforms is being driven by increases among Americans who are “older, less educated and non-white” — noting that for the first time in Pew Research Center surveys more than half (55%) of Americans aged 50 or older report getting news on social media sites — up 10 percentage points from 2016.

Pew found that three of the social media platforms it asked about in 2017 — Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat — had an increase in the share of their audience that gets news on each site.

About three-quarters (74%) of Twitter users reported getting news on the site, up 15 percentage points from early 2016.

While about a third of YouTube’s users (32%) now get news from the site, up from 21% in early 2016 — so a rise of 11 percentage points.

And consuming news also rose among Snapchat’s user base — with 29% currently saying they are doing this, up from 17% in early 2016, so an increase of 12 percentage points.

Still, Facebook remains the primary social media platform for sourcing news for the U.S. population as a whole — with just under half (45%) of all U.S. adults reporting they get news on the site (aka a large majority — 68% — of Facebook’s user base).

How times change. Just a year ago Facebook was pooh-poohing the notion that the social mega-platform is playing the role of a media company. ‘We are mere tech platform’ was the refrain in September 2016, despite how its algorithms select and order news-related content for billions of users.

By December, and following the fake news backlash after the US election result, that line was approaching the breaking point of credibility, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg conceded Facebook might indeed be a media company — though he suggested it’s not a ‘traditional’ one.

And that is surely true. No other media entity on Earth has enjoyed such vast reach and power.

Little wonder Russian agents spied potential to sew social division across the U.S. population as the country was headed into the salient point of an election cycle by purchasing, targeting and distributing politically charged ads via the platform — as Facebook this week revealed had been the case.

It reported that an in-house investigation found pro-Kremlin entities appear to have purchased around $100,000 in political marketing on the platform between 2015 and 2016.

The company has so far resisted pressure to publicly reveal the ads purchased by Russian entities.

Returning to Pew’s report, its survey also found news consumption growing among YouTube’s (also growing) user-base — saying the Google/Alphabet-owned user generated video platform is now the second most common social media site for news, with roughly two-in-ten (18%) of all U.S. adults getting news there.

For Twitter, Pew said that while a very large share of its users (74 per cent) obtain news via the site, given that its user base is also significantly smaller than Facebook’s or YouTube’s this results in a smaller overall reach for news: With just 11% of U.S. adults get news via Twitter.

The researcher concluded that Americans are now more likely than ever to report getting news from multiple social media sites — with around a quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) getting news from two or more sites, up from 18% in 2016.

In additional research it also said its data shows the Internet is closing in on television as a source of news. As of August 2017, 43% of Americans report often getting news online, compared with 50% who often get news on television — so just a seven-percentage-point gap. While in early 2016 the gap between the two news platforms was 19 points.

So, in short, the Internet’s social platform giants are busily consuming broadcast/TV news media, not just print.

Journalists, look out: Google is funding the rise of the AI news machine in Europe

Did a computer write this story? Am I a replicant? I don't even know anymore.
Did a computer write this story? Am I a replicant? I don’t even know anymore.

Image: Shutterstock / Mopic

Human journalists, start the countdown to your obsolescence (if you haven’t already, that is). Your inevitable robot replacements are picking up steam — and more importantly, sponsorship — with another show of support from the world’s biggest tech company. 

Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI), a fund that promotes innovation in digital journalism in Europe, just announced its latest round of sponsored projects. Among them is RADAR, a collaboration between the UK and Ireland’s Press Association (PA) and Urbs Media, a startup that creates localized news stories using AI.     

DNI awarded the RADAR project (which stands for Reporters And Data And Robots, natch) a €706,000 (roughly $804,000) grant. That influx of cash will be used to create a service that will ramp up automated news efforts, with natural language generation (NLG) AI programs pumping out up to 30,000 stories per month across localized distribution networks starting in 2018. All the components of the AI-created stories will be automated, from the words on the screen to the graphics and images that accompany them.

To start, the AI will be tasked with producing low-level stories from templates created by human writers. These types of stories are important, but not incredibly labor intensive — think sports recaps and earnings reports — and even a human writer would be filling in the blanks with the necessary data to create them, not using actual brain power for analysis, like what I’m doing right now. Journalists, like just about every type of professional, have some thankless, easily repeatable responsibilities. That’s where the AI comes in, at least to start. 

Due to the humdrum nature of the AI-produced stories, human writers and editors have no cause for concern about being replaced by robots, at least according to PA’s Editor-in-Chief Peter Clifton, who called RADAR a “fantastic step forward for PA,” in a release announcing the DNI sponsorship. “Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but RADAR allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually,” he said. 

The project will require a team of five people to “identify, template, and edit data-driven stories,” about topics like crime, health, and employment, so humans aren’t eliminated from the equation completely — but under more traditional circumstances a five-person squad could never wrangle the full load of 30,000 stories per month. There’s also something to be said about how young writers might cut their teeth on the lowest levels of the copy desk, learning how to produce clean, accurate copy and absorbing the massive amounts of information they transcribe, which could provide context for bigger stories in the future. AI reporting could eliminate that essential experience.  

The DNI funding will also be used to create databases to for the AI to pull from, harnessing repositories of data from wider public databases in the UK like the National Health Service (NHS).  

While this is just the latest example of AI journalism sweeping the digital media industry, it’s not a new trend, by any means. Wordsmith, an NLG AI program, has been producing automated stories for the U.S.’s Associated Press (AP) since 2014, and other traditional outlets like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have used automation for low-level reporting.

You might have even used AI to create your own content. Google’s Smart Reply feature was found to have been responsible for up to 10 percent of email responses sent from mobile devices earlier this year. It’s not as sophisticated as what RADAR will provide the PA — but it’s just another example of AI becoming more applicable and creeping into our daily lives.   

Journalists like me aren’t exactly mollified by all of the reassurances that the AI will simply be a tool to make our reporting more efficient. That might be the case right now — but what about the future, when the software becomes more sophisticated? 

Automation is a major future concern for just about every industry — and, ya know, capitalism as a whole — so when the machines finally rise in the not-so-distant-future, at least us lowly journalists might not be the only ones out of work. 

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Google just launched a GIF maker to make your data look better

Google wants to help make your research look better.

To help journalists share their research and tell stories in a more visual and appealing way, Google just launched Data GIF Maker, a data visualization creator.

“Data visualizations are an essential storytelling tool in journalism, and though they are often intricate, they don’t have to be complex,” Google wrote in their announcement. ” In fact, with the growth of mobile devices as a primary method of consuming news, data visualizations can be simple images formatted for the device they appear on.”

The project came out of Google’s News Lab, an initiative to support journalists and storytelling. The lab also created the popular Google Trends project.

To make a data gif with Google’s new tool, simply add two terms, their titles, and an additional description (for our test, we used data from a 2014 study about how people pronounce internet terms): 

Image: google

The tool will then generate a handy gif like this:

Image: google

Right now the tool is very basic and currently supports comparisons between only two data points, meaning it’s not the best fit for complex data and comparisons. But for simple visualizations, Data Gif Maker is extremely easy to use. By adding some color and animation, journalists can make the research they’re trying to share a lot easier and more pleasant to consume, rather than listing the same information in text.

The tool is free to use and you can try it here.

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Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is waging a war on fake news

More than 16 years after founding Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, Jimmy Wales is determined to reform another critical source of information: the news.

Conceptually similar to Wikipedia, the Wikitribune will be a collaborative effort between professional journalists and community contributors. The end goal? Creating a free, trusted source for news, based in facts and evidence.