Mobile-First Newsrooms Can Save Journalism

Mobile phone users document Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., in September 2015. (Elizabeth Chavolla/Facebook)

Editor’s note: Evrybit is an all-in-one app for journalism. We streamline mobile reporting and storytelling. Our mission is to inform and connect the world. You can download the iPhone app here.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered an address to the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City. The speech, titled “The President and the Press,” was a response to the Bay of Pigs failure for the United States and examined the responsibility of journalism in fighting communism during the Cold War:

Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants” — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.
 
 This means greater coverage and analysis of international news — for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission. And it means, finally, that government at all levels, must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security — and we intend to do it.

Despite his apparent respect for press freedoms, Kennedy was, in fact, calling for journalists to censor themselves in the name of national security. The message was considered a misstep. He did not push it again.

If American history is cyclical, as historians Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. believed, another revolution is coming in the United States. This revolution has nothing to do with Donald Trump. This revolution has to do with how the world of Trump gets covered.

Journalism is essential to freedom and democracy. But in today’s post-truth, facts-optional world, freedom of the press is under attack. Six corporations control 90 percent of all media. This consolidation limits the stories that get reported and information that gets disseminated. Mainstream media is corporate media. It is not neutral. There’s a spin. News is slanted, with hidden agendas. As a result, we don’t get the whole story. We get public relations.

Even Pope Francis is alarmed. “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into — no offense intended — the sickness of coprophilia [arousal from excrement], that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” he said.

“And since people have a tendency toward the sickness of coprophagia [eating excrement], a lot of damage can be done.”

The pontiff, who calls spreading fake news “a sin,” believes dispersing disinformation is the worst thing media can do, “because it directs opinion in only one direction and omits the other part of the truth.”

The trouble started more than a decade ago. Newspapers were forced to slash budgets and staff. Networks merged. Newsrooms contracted. The journalism industry has never recovered — nor has the quality of news coverage.

In 1990, daily U.S. newsrooms had over 56,000 journalists. In 2017, that number will be around 28,000. The American Society of News Editors stopped counting. The numbers are too depressing.

As newsrooms continue to shrink, diversity advances at a snail’s pace, often failing to reflect the communities they cover. This reality has created a big problem for journalism: Public trust in U.S. media has sunk to a new low.

The news business underestimated the Internet and lost its market advantage. Now, technology companies control the distribution of news.

The journalism industry has struggled to find a sustainable business model for mobile. Many media companies have a mission of bottom line over journalism. And technology companies are not big on sharing the wealth.

That’s how we got here — a state of crisis in journalism. Many news organizations don’t have the resources to do local reporting. They are not making money. The journalism industry is on track to make it worse. As mobile continues eating the world, the news business is in danger of going out of business.

Without journalism, we all lose.

So How Do We Solve the News Business Problem?

Joseph Pulitzer commemorative stamp, issued in 1947. (U.S. Postal Service)

We focus on local news and build mobile-first, grassroots newsrooms. These newsrooms can democratize local 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.

Mobile journalism presents new opportunities to make money.

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

What Are the Benefits of a Mobile-First Newsroom?

John S. Knight in a Miami Herald newsroom in the mid-20th century. Knight bought the Herald in 1937 and began a nationwide expansion with his Knight Newspapers chain. (Knight Foundation/Flickr)

Too much local news coverage today is quick, one-hit reporting — parachute journalism. The stories lack true substance about what neighborhoods and communities represent. We want to showcase the value of journalism, create a local pipeline for seldom-heard voices to be heard and overlooked stories to be told in an authentic, comprehensive way.

Creating a mobile-first newsroom expands the reporting capabilities of journalists. Engaging the community expands the size of the local publisher’s newsroom at a fraction of the costs. Combining traditional journalism with emerging mobile technologies gives community members the tools they need to do good journalism and contribute to the narrative of their community. The result is more balanced news coverage, better-informed citizens, and new ways to engage community members.

With journalists and community members collaborating, we can redefine local news reporting and reinvent the journalism business.

The current media model is not optimized for the mobile age. Our mobile-first newsroom approach can be replicated, enabling more coverage by more voices.

Local news publishers have a great opportunity to fill the gap in coverage left by mainstream corporate media.

“Corporate America is owned by large, multinational corporations, whose job is not to propagate truth or to educate, but to make as much money as they can,” Bernie Sanders said in a recent speech to college students at the University of California, Berkeley. “We have got to demand that corporate media start talking about the real issues impacting the lives of the American people. Now, I’m not overly optimistic that that will happen, because there are such inbred conflicts of interest. Figure out a way that you can demand corporate media talk about the real issues. Allow progressive voices to be heard.”

Local news publishers can lead the way with innovative journalism approaches, covering issues that are important to their communities and leveraging the power of the community in the reporting process. We want to be part of helping make that possible.

We have the technology to power mobile-first newsrooms with our all-in-one app for journalism called Evrybit. We streamline mobile reporting and storytelling with audio, video, photos and text in real time. Content can be distributed through the app or on websites. We are working to simplify media monetization, collaboration and notifications. Through community workshops, we have designed a core mobile-first newsroom training program curriculum.

We have run several projects with local news publishers and college journalism programs.

In 2015, Evrybit teamed up with 100 New York University journalism students to report live from New York’s streets during the visit of Pope Francis, showing the power of collaborative reporting in one story.

San Angelo Live, a local news site in central Texas, has covered Texas high school football games and community events. We are exploring ways to monetize the content.

We partnered with college journalism schools and students again to cover Election Day 2016.

Truthdig has been covering the #NoDAPL demonstrations at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

All of these projects scratch the surface of possibilities with mobile production, distribution and monetization.

What’s Next?

Newsroom clocks. (Kevin Jarrett/Flickr)

We have more projects in the works with local publishers and college journalism programs. Our goal is to create a fast, profitable model for mobile-first newsrooms that can be replicated by any local news publisher. We will be sharing our progress and results with the public on a frequent basis, so anyone can benefit from what we learn.

What If I’m a Journalist, and I Despise the Audience?

It’s simple: Adapt or die. The days of being a media gatekeeper are over. Approach journalism with an egalitarian mindset or get comfortable doing PR.

I’m Not a Journalist. Why Should I Care?

The fate of the world is at stake. That’s all. Everyone with a conscience has a responsibility to ensure life on earth continues and gets better for future generations. Journalism can help. You can help. Together, journalists and community members can make a difference.

Let’s Collaborate.

A scene from“His Girl Friday,” a 1940 film about the newspaper business starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. (Wikimedia)

We need the Fourth Estate to hold power accountable and keep people informed. Professional journalists alone cannot do the job. We need the people — you and your community — to help revive journalism and restore its credibility. As American political theorist Sheldon Wolin argues in “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism,” democracy’s best hope is citizens exercising power at the local level.

When people join together and mobilize for a worthy cause, powerful things can happen. Look at the water and land protectors at Standing Rock, whose fight against construction of the Dakota Access pipeline continues. Look at the Injustice Boycott, which is standing up against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States.

Now is the time to be journalism protectors and defenders of the First Amendment.

The stand (to reinvent democracy) begins with mobile-first newsrooms. We can create a global network of community news channels and spark a journalism revolution.

This revolution will not be televised.

It will be Evrybit.

Are you a local news publisher? Are you a smartphone user? Would you like to build a mobile-first newsroom in your community? We want to hear from you. Contact us at info@getevrybit.com.

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