One of the biggest challenges for news operations is stopping young consumers’ thumbs from moving from a new story to other distractions on mobile devices. Techniques that news organizations are testing to attract and retain millennials include fresh presentations, voice interfaces, automation, augmented reality and creating chat-like apps.
Use of voice interfaces, automation and augmented reality are some of the tools that news organizations are using to capture the hearts and minds of millennials. That became clear during NewsTECHForum’s session on the young consumer group Monday afternoon.
The panelists described some of the characteristics of millennials to help explain why they’ve chosen the paths they’ve taken. Eric Carvin, social media editor at the Associated Press, described the group as “grazers of news and information. They’re less committed and loyal to particular brands.”
John Keefe, a product manager at Quartz noted that millennials are much more connected to the global economy than you might expect.” Penny Riordan, director of digital audience engagement at Gatehouse Media, said that some people in the age group expect that news will come to them, rather than seeking it out, necessarily. “The other thing is, they’re looking for fresh types of presentation.”
What’s more, “Millennials are much more comfortable interfacing with technology through voice,” said Rob McCracken, director of the digital solutions group for E.W. Scripps.
One of the biggest challenges for news operations is stopping young consumers’ thumbs from moving from a new story to other distractions on mobile devices, noted Carvin. That involves “Making sure you get to something interesting in the first few seconds of the video, because if you don’t, nobody’s going to want to view it.”
Another issue involves privacy. Carvin believes that millennials are, on the whole, more interested in privacy than older generations. “There’s a lot of reasons why people flocked to Snapchat, where things disappear. They weren’t necessarily thinking, ‘Will this affect my job prospects,’ but they may be living life in a more fleeting way and not be thinking about burning things into the, sort of, tablet of life.” However, Carvin stressed that these characteristics are somewhat generalized, and in many ways millennials aren’t that different from everyone else.
To engage millennials in Sarasota, Fla., Gatehouse developed a brand called Unravel, Riordan said. “Sarasota’s a really exclusive retiree community. That may seem like the worst place to launch a millennial brand, but we had some folks there that really wanted to reach millennials,” she said.
The digital brand’s tagline is “We unravel the news so you don’t have to.” It engaged the young group with nontraditional news beats, with topics like trying to find a home in the very expensive market.
Some of the folks that launched the brand have left, and its website’s content appears dated at this point. But the big lesson, Riordan explains, is that Unravel needed to “go off the grid” to connect with more of a fringe group of millennials, rather than relying on young professional groups in the community.
Quartz has taken a different approach by creating a chat-like app. When someone opens it up, a bot starts talking in chat bubbles. “It gives you the day’s news in a conversational format. You have the choice of diving deeper into the story or going on to something else. We have animated GIFFS, emojis, we even have 3D objects in this app,” Keefe said.
“We are experimenting with how we can create conversations with our audiences using backends that act as these little robots,” Keefe added. “It’s very experimental, but we’re also playing with voice interfaces, like Alexa does. In the new year, we’re looking to develop new ways to interact with folks.”
E.W. Scripps is also keenly interested in connecting with audiences via voice interfaces. McCracken says Scripps contacted Amazon and began testing text to speech with the Alexa system. “Today, all of our markets deliver local news in the flash briefing format on Alexa. Half those markets are actually human narrated. The other half are text to speech.”
Scripps launched before Christmas last year. In some markets there are 60,000-80,000 listens for the flash briefings per month.
Quartz’s Keefe says his brand has also used augmented reality to rivet the attention of younger viewers. For example, on the anniversary of the Lunar Rover, a user could click a button and see the rover on their carpet.
Quartz is also among those using automation to relieve journalists of some of the more rote tasks — for instance using computers to check out police websites on a daily basis. And at the AP, bots are helping the news service rewrite earnings reports. “We went from writing something like 300 earnings reports a quarter written by people to having robots put out something like 3,000 to 4,000 per quarter.”
The robot-generated information allows reporters to have more time for enterprise journalism, breaking more news and building up their beats, Keefe said.
Some of the developments and tools have influenced the way the companies represented on the panel approach news in other ways as well. For example, AP’s news teams have a different process for gathering footage. “When we’re thinking about social and mobile outputs for video, we want to be talking about what kind of outputs we picture before anyone goes out to shoot anything,” Carvin said. In that way, the teams are more cognizant of how they can captivate audiences on smaller screens.
Riordan says that Gatehouse is much more interested in relaying hard news in engaging ways. “People share content based on the emotional connection that they have to a story. There’s always an emotional connection in the best stories that we tell,” she says.
For complete NewsTECHForum coverage, click here.