How to Solve the News Business Problem With Mobile-First Newsrooms


Editor’s note: This story is part of a three-part series on reinventing journalism in the mobile age. Part I looked at the “fake news” problem and how we protect freedom of the press in a post-truth world. 

The journalism industry needs to refocus on local news. The way to do this is by building mobile-first, grassroots newsrooms. These newsrooms can democratize news coverage, engage community members and generate new revenue streams.

Community newsrooms exist, but few are mobile first. Even fewer have proven successful. Mobile has transformed news production, distribution and monetization. Our model provides local media with a roadmap.

This is how the process works.

Step 1: Production

Local news publishers go mobile first. That means training editorial staff on how to use mobile reporting tools and doing their primary work outside the office, creating mobile multimedia stories on smartphones. Journalists can cover news and events as individuals and collaborate in teams.

Once journalists are proficient mobile reporters and storytellers, organize community workshops and train community members on how to use mobile reporting and storytelling tools. Teach community members the fundamentals of journalism: effective reporting (who, what, why, when, where, how), media production (photo, video, audio), FOIA requests and ethics.

After community members are trained, give them a mobile journalism test. Once they pass the test, they become trusted community sources. As trusted news sources, they are part of the local mobile newsroom and can cover stories in the community as journalists do.

Citizens already are committing acts of journalism with smartphones and are eager to become more active participants. They just need some guidance and structure to be more effective. Imagine if professional journalists could train 1 percent of the 2.5 billion global smartphone users. That’s 2.5 million new community reporters and storytellers around the world — an army of trusted sources capable of reporting and telling local news stories on any topic.

All of the mobile stories produced will be reviewed and fact-checked by at least one human editor (the Wikipedia model) to ensure stories are accurate and meet the highest standards of journalism.

Step 2: Distribution

Do more than just publish stories on a website and share on Facebook and Twitter. Experiment with push notifications and text messaging. For stories on topics of interest outside a local market, partner with media outlets to publish and broadcast mobile stories. Be open to collaborate with other media and non-media organizations. Share resources. Develop audiences. Inform and connect communities.

Step 3: Monetization

Run experiments until you find a business model that works for your local journalism. Each community is unique. Be patient.

Here are some experiments you might want to consider.

The first is grassroots advertising. Work with local businesses to generate revenue — through sponsored mobile stories, sponsored media, native advertising. Sell ads the old-fashioned way: by direct selling. Get to know local business owners, establish relationships and build trust.

Another option is sponsored costs reporting. A local business or individual suggests an idea for a story or series and pays all of the reporting and production costs. The company/individual pitching the story seeks no editorial input, review or control over the content of the sponsored costs reporting stories.

A third type of experiment is a membership program. Members can pay a monthly or annual fee for access to a special site section called the “Story Pitch Room.” Here, members can pitch story ideas. People can rate story ideas. When a story generates enough interest, editors assign it.

The fourth type of experiment is syndication. When you partner with outside media outlets to distribute a mobile story produced by your mobile newsroom, the “partner” pays a fee to run the story. You become a local wire service. Reverse syndication.

The fifth type of experiment is creating a support system that lets people tip (give money to) story creators. When the consumer sees a story or media they like, they can give money. Tip your storyteller like you would tip your coffee maker. Tips get split with story maker and publisher.

Step 4: Measuring Success

In order to decide whether an experiment is successful, you need to determine what your definition of success is. We believe these metrics can help measure success.

For the production aspect of the project:

Total number of stories created by the mobile newsroom
Total number of attendees at the community workshop
Total number of trusted community sources after the workshop
Total number of stories created by community members
Avg. engagement time per mobile story

For the distribution aspect of the project:

Total number of stories that run outside the local publisher’s site
Total number of distribution partners
Avg. number of shares per mobile story published
Avg. number of unique views and page views per mobile story
Most shares for a mobile story
Most unique views and page views for a mobile story
Best referral source for a mobile story

For the monetization aspect of the project:

Total revenue generated from monetization experiments
Total number of sponsors that sponsor a story
Total revenue generated from sponsored stories
Total number of sponsored bits sold
Total revenue generated from sponsored bits
Total members added to “Story Pitch Room”
Total revenue generated from membership program
Total pitches made in “Story Pitch Room”
Total pitches produced in “Story Pitch Room”
Total number of sponsors for sponsored reporting experiment
Total revenue generated from sponsored reporting
Total revenue generated from syndication partnerships

On Wednesday, we will explore the benefits of a mobile-first newsroom.

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