Why we’re focused on ‘time saved’ not ‘time spent’
First it was pageviews, now “time spent” has become the prevailing metric of success at many news organizations. “The fundamental challenge facing newspapers is to increase the time people spend on their content,” proclaimed Google Chief Economist Hal Varian this week. “More time reading the newspaper online translates into more online ad revenue.”
Poynter has even come up with a number. “Of the people who did not finish reading a story [on a tablet], they read for an average of 78.3 seconds before leaving the story entirely,” explains Poynter’s Sara Dickenson Quinn. “We’ve been calling this the ‘bailer’s point.’”
We had a bit of an epiphany at Breaking News after re-reading Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma.” Christensen explains that the true fundamental challenge of a company is to understand the job the customer wants to get done, and design products and brands that fill that need.
Just getting people to spend more time consuming your product doesn’t necessarily accomplish a job for a user; in fact, it may be creating a problem. People check their smartphones 150 times a day on average, and trying to force them to spend more time with your site and app may run exactly counter to their goal of quickly getting the information they need.
"Time spent" is a measure of consumption, not necessarily satisfaction. Similar to cranking up pageviews with slideshows, it’s susceptible to gimmicks that ignore what consumers are trying to accomplish, especially on a mobile device. For example, Poynter recommended leaving "gold coins" — a pullout quote or visual element that keeps the reader engaged — at those tablet "bailer’s points" to try to entice people to continue reading. Why not write those stories tighter in the first place? Or at varying lengths controlled by the reader? How about personalization to target the most meaningful stories to users? Or just certain facts? What about quick-and-easy ways to connect with friends and participate?
At Breaking News, we discovered that most users visit our apps in quick hits at high frequency. Given the short, instant nature of Breaking News and the massive shift to mobile — as well as listening to our users — we came to the conclusion that focusing on the consumer goal of “time saved” trumps the newsroom goal of “time spent.” People are busier than ever, and the volume of real-time information is growing exponentially. If we’re hyper-efficient at giving people just the news that matters to them, we save them time. And that helps solve a very modern problem.
We can’t open Google Analytics and find neat and tidy metrics for accomplishing consumers’ jobs. But there are a variety of satisfaction tools like the Net Promoter Score that can be combined with mobile metrics like DAUs (daily active users), retention/churn, organic virality and app store reviews to get a good sense of how well we’re meeting consumers needs.
Clearly “time saved” isn’t for most news organizations, but focusing on a job-to-be-done shifts our thinking to creating utility for people. If we’re successful, users will recommend our products to their friends, and they’ll keep coming back. That satisfaction will drive advertising dollars as well open up other potential sources of revenue.
As for Breaking News, our focus on “time saved” has led to a six-month project to meet our mobile consumers’ needs more than ever. Stay tuned for a big new release that takes these ideas to heart.
(Post by @corybe)
Edwards, Matsumoto join Breaking News
We’re very excited to announce two talented additions to the Breaking News team:
Aaron Edwards - Aaron joins our New York editorial team as an associate editor. Aaron most recently worked as a producer for Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome, where he edited and curated national news and helped drive on-the-ground coverage of the Newtown school shootings as a reporter and writer. He was a 2012 James Reston Reporting Fellow at The New York Times and has interned at The Associated Press’ London bureau, CBS News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Aaron graduated from Ithaca College in 2012. Follow him at @aaronmedwards.
Chris Matsumoto - Chris joins our West Coast creative team as a mobile developer focusing on our iOS app. For the last two years, Chris has been developing marketing and sales tools for various medical companies and defense contractors. Prior to that, he spent five years in the gaming industry working on several casual titles and a “Jak and Daxter” game.
Welcome, Aaron and Chris!
(Post by @lfmccullough)
Factoring risk and uncertainty into real-time coverage
It seems with every tragedy, misinformation plays an increasingly prominent role. The Navy Yard shooting story was punctuated by a steady stream of incorrect reports. Among them, a wrongly-identified suspect and a mistaken report that an AR-15 was used in the shooting spree.
Both of these fallacies originated from federal and other law enforcement sources, which sounds painfully similar to the bogus report of an arrest after the Boston bombing. In the early stages of a big investigation, misinformation flows freely among law enforcement sources. During a press conference after the Navy Yard shooting, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier admitted that it’s a bit like the game of telephone: as information gets shared — or unofficially overheard — between departments, agencies and co-workers, inaccuracies tend to multiply.
While this isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s amplified by the real-time social media world we live in. At Breaking News, we’re baking risk and uncertainty into our verification equation. We’ve learned that early, anonymously-sourced reports carry a higher risk of being wrong, and news organizations tend to gravitate toward the same anonymous sources in the first few hours after a story breaks. When a detail carries a higher risk of doing damage if it’s wrong, we’re more cautious in how we approach it.
On our coverage of the Navy Yard shooting, risk and uncertainty influenced our decision to avoid the incorrect suspect name and the report of the AR-15. Historically, information about a suspect varies wildly in the first few hours after a mass shooting. As one of our editors put it, “I’d say hold back just with the pattern of it often being wrong.” Both the suspect’s name and the politically-charged AR-15 stood out as two important details that would carry more weight if they were incorrect.
So we waited.
Our unusual role as an standalone curation team — without the direct competitive pressures that many news organizations face — provides us with more freedom to wait in the face of risk and uncertainty. We don’t always get it right, but with each breaking story, we get better at separating truth from fiction. In the end, our audacious goal is to get it right at the speed of light. For now, we’re content on waiting a beat when accuracy matters most.
(Post by @corybe. Photo by Joshua Roberts / Reuters)
See also: How we balance speed with rumor control and a tough call on a big story
We’re hiring an associate editor
We’re looking for a new addition to our Breaking News editorial team in New York. This is an associate editor position with an early morning start. If you’re a Twitter-addicted journalist with a knack for discovering stories before anyone else — and you’re the master of real-time, short-form updates — we want to hear from you.
This is a great time to join Breaking News. We’re about to unleash an exciting new product that reinvents breaking news for mobile devices. If you think breaking news is broken, help us fix it.
We’re a standalone startup team that works under the umbrella of the NBC News Digital Group — the first of its kind for a major news organization. To apply, head over to this page on NBC’s careers site. (Sorry that site isn’t mobile friendly. It drives us nuts!)
Introducing Breaking Ads
Companies can now break their own news on Breaking News, thanks to a new sponsored story product called “Breaking Ads.” GE is the launch sponsor, highlighting its stories about technology and innovation directly in our real-time streams spanning our mobile apps and BreakingNews.com.
As companies create their own stories, Breaking Ads is powerful way to reach an influential, on-the-go audience in a timely fashion. While a growing number of sites offer native advertising for entertaining stories and funny photo galleries, Breaking News is a trusted place for companies to quickly post important, mission-critical updates.
Each ad is a news update in itself, optimized for a mobile audience — and in this case, it links back to GE’s stories on GEReports.com. The updates are targeted to appear only when stories of a similar nature appear nearby, and they’re disclosed as advertising to avoid any confusion with Breaking News’ coverage.
We’ve experienced incredible mobile growth over the last year, and the addition of Breaking Ads is part of our mobile-first commitment to offer sponsored experiences that work naturally on devices.
For more about the new product, see Digiday’s story on the launch, and follow @breakingads on Twitter. If you have any questions about Breaking Ads, please drop us a note.
Meanwhile, we’re working on an exciting new release of Breaking News, our biggest product update since we launched over two years ago. Stay tuned!
(Post by Cory Bergman, @corybe on Twitter)
The Verge wrote up a story about how Breaking News works behind the scenes to balance speed and accuracy.
Breaking News looking for a mobile developer
We’re growing our team, and we’re looking for an experienced iOS application developer, preferably based in Seattle or New York. If you think breaking news is broken, come help us fix it. Millions of people already depend on our unique approach to blending verification with social media, and we’re hard at work taking Breaking News to the next level.
We’re an agile team that works under the umbrella of the NBC News Digital Group, but in a separate startup environment. In many ways, it’s the best of both worlds: the freedom to create disruptive new products with the backing of a large media company.
To learn more about the job, reach out to @magnetbox, drop us a note or search for job number 9843BR on NBCUniCareers.com.
A tough call on a big story
A day ago, we explained how we balance speed with rumor control at Breaking News. Then we were faced with a tough decision, challenging our convictions on a very big story.
Despite three major news organizations reporting an arrest in the Boston bombings, we waited. As a curation team that’s literally branded “Breaking News,” waiting is agonizing. We watched the tweets stream across the screen, but something just didn’t feel right.
"Lots of noise in the system right now," explained Tom Brew, who heads Breaking News’ editorial team. Added senior editor Stephanie Clary in our team’s backchannel chat, “CNN reporting arrests made, but still feel best to hold for a bit.”
CNN was alone on the story, and NBC said its sources maintained there’s no arrest. A short time later, Fox News reported an arrest, and the Boston Globe sent a short tweet, “Arrest in Boston Marathon bombing.”
As we occasionally see in situations like these, news organizations break a story sourced to the same person — or even sourced to each other. So I sent the Globe a tweet asking for clarification:
Moments later, the Globe updated to say they had sourced the news to CNN. “I think we’re good to keep holding,” Stephanie explained in the chat.
Then the story crossed on AP. That’s three major sources: CNN, Fox News and AP, which is typically the tipping point for Breaking News on a high-risk story. At this point, Tom and Stephanie were poised to report an arrest, but CBS joined NBC in citing sources denying an arrest had been made.
"I say we still hold," Stephanie said. "CBS local backing off, too."
I chimed into the chat, “Is there a way to attribute an arrest to some, and no arrest to others in a single update?”
"I think this is where we can provide clarity versus confusion, and just hold a bit," Stephanie wrote. "Because I think it’ll be more clear soon. No local orgs reporting it independently is odd to me."
Stephanie nailed it: moments later, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said there was no one in custody. ABC reported “no arrest yet.” CNN began backing off on the air, which soon turned into a retraction.
In the heat of the story, Stephanie illustrated what makes Breaking News different. Twitter was a mess, rumors were flying on Facebook and Reddit was coming up with its own bombing suspects. As the only breaking news source that’s independent and agnostic in our curation — we don’t favor any brands, even those of our parent company NBC — we’re in a unique position to help bring a little clarity and order.
But just like any other news organization in this white-knuckled business, we don’t always get it right. We’re not better journalists, we just approach breaking news from a different angle. It’s an imperfect science, and it’s our policy to be massively transparent when we get it wrong.
Over the last couple years, we’ve talked to many people who were surprised to learn we have editors behind the scenes at Breaking News. “Oh, you’re not just another aggregator?” they’d ask, looking at our mobile app. Every update around the clock is published by our editors, I explain. We’re a real-time news service with an editorial filter, occupying a new space between free-wheeling social networks and the rich storytelling and context provided by new organizations.
In a world of intensifying information overload, sometimes less is more, and prudence pays off.
(Post by @corybe. Download our mobile apps here.)
How we balance speed with rumor control: With any big story these days, social networks are both an asset and liability. Matt Roller summed it up this way, tweeting this soon after the Boston explosions:
“Twitter does its best work in the first five minutes after a disaster, and its worst in the twelve hours after that.” - @rolldiggity
At Breaking News, our goal is to balance speed with an editorial filter, keeping rumors at bay while incorporating hundreds of sources. With the Boston story, we’re not quite as fast as Twitter (the crowd is always faster), but we provided a lightning-fast stream of coverage that avoided or downplayed nearly all incorrect reports, including a third explosion, a bombing at the JFK Library and a Saudi suspect in custody.
Here’s our technique: moments after the explosions, our editors tracked dozens of Boston news sources — news organizations, officials and eyewitnesses — looking for a new report on the story. Just as on-the-ground news organizations compare sources before reporting new information, our editors compared these new reports with coverage from other news and official sources.
For example, when one news organization reported that five unexploded devices have been discovered, we noticed that no other news organization or law enforcement source was reporting anything similar. In that scenario, we table the story and wait for a second news organization to confirm with its own sources or an official source makes an announcement. There was no confirmation, and the story turned out to be false.
We use this multiple sourcing approach for reports with a higher risk or a history of being wrong, and that’s where our editorial experience comes into play. Early reports from mass casualty stories are often in flux, and here are a few examples we’ve learned:
- Leaked reports of suspect descriptions are nearly always wrong and overly vague — in this case, it was a “dark skinned” or black man with a black backpack — so we avoid reporting any description until officially released by law enforcement.
- Initial reports of a second suspect are nearly always wrong. Most mass shootings in the U.S. are initially reported as a “possible second suspect” but nearly universally are the work of a single person.
- Casualty counts are often inflated in the first hour or two, sometimes dramatically. So we tend to report these numbers carefully. Interestingly in Boston, the opposite was true: early estimates were remarkably low.
These are just a few of the red flags that we’ve learned along the way, and they also apply to eyewitness reports, which we run through a more stringent verification process. We have two rules of thumb: 1) If it’s too good to be true, it probably is 2) As much as we want to be fast, it never hurts to wait a beat.
This is an imperfect science, and we’re not always right. But when we’re wrong, we want to be the first to admit it, applying the same urgency of telling a breaking story with the occasional necessity of correcting it.
We’re working on a new version of Breaking News — coming early this summer — that takes our unique blend of reliable, real-time coverage a step further. Stay tuned…
(Post by @corybe. Photo by Elise Amendola / AP)
It’s that time of year, and Breaking News is headed to SXSW in Austin. We’re sponsoring the very popular “Awesomest Journalism Party" on Saturday evening, featuring awesome Texas food and beer. This party is always PACKED — just a couple blocks from the convention center — but you can gain an edge with a VIP ticket.
If your news organization is a #breaking tipping partner (you can check at the bottom of this page), send a tweet to Breaking News’ Stephanie Clary to ask for a VIP ticket. She’ll give them out on a first-come-first-serve basis. When we run out of our allocation, you can always RSVP for a regular ticket.
Being on the VIP list allows you expedited entry in a separate line. However, please come early to be safe, as in past years the party has generally filled up and there has been a wait even for the VIP list. But people who got there early usually had minimal problems.
See you there!