Designing news distribution for smart cities

An analysis of the probabilities and opportunities for local journalism with smart city devices

This is an extension of my article “Diversifying news distribution with meaningful collaborations”.

I sought out to learn more about the opportunities between local news and smart cities after identifying relationships in the value local news provides to communities and the goals of smart city technology. I have also been interested in learning more about the difference in serving local news on public devices compared to personal devices.

This article is a report on data and insights found during that research. It was originally gathered and shared amongst Bloom and smart city technology firms based in the U.S. in September 2018.

I’m publishing it here to share my insights in hopes it will help inspire how journalism can be strategically designed into our evolving cities.


LinkNYC kiosk

Report Introduction

The purpose of this report was to identify the breadth of local news coverage taking place near LinkNYC smart city kiosks located in Brooklyn in New York City. My goal was to determine whether there was sufficient news coverage within close proximity of each kiosk and what type of services would be valuable to the devices based on the coverage available nearby.

Kiosks

240 LinkNYC kiosk locations in Brooklyn were considered for this report. This includes all locations shown in the Brooklyn list on the LinkNYC website with the exception of 8 kiosks. These exceptions were made due to the kiosks being on the far outskirts of east Brooklyn, away from the more concentrated areas downtown — includes 7 from the Cypress Hills neighborhood and 1 from the Woodhaven neighborhood (“2 Eldert Lane”).

Publishers

The content was provided by hyperlocal publishers residing in the NYC region and does not include content from large publishers that primarily serve content nationally or internationally. For example, New York Times, ABC, NBC, and CBS were not included.

Links and location data from the content were gathered by myself from the publisher websites.

Content

This report analyzes coverage of local news that was published between August 1–31, 2018.

The report includes news articles whose primary location was in Brooklyn and within a small distance (0–1 mile) from a kiosk location. The proximity between news and kiosks was determined by geotagging each news article with Bloom by street address, taking the street address locations of each kiosk, and measuring the distance between both of their geographic coordinates. The distance was not measured in terms of driving or walking but rather the linear distance between the two points on a map.

The content was gathered from a wide range of categories such as Arts, Entertainment, Education, Business, Environment, Health, Culture, and Fashion. This report excluded content associated with Real Estate Listings (i.e. advertising) and Adult (i.e. inappropriate for children) since that information would likely be excluded in a service that aims to inform all residents of news from a public sidewalk.

Summary and Insight

Publisher Insight

  • A total of 41 publishers reported local news within 1 mile of any kiosk
  • 28 publishers reported within 1 mile of at least 15% of the kiosks
  • 9 publishers reported within 1 mile of at least 80% of the kiosks

During the publisher analysis, we wanted to learn how the number of participating publishers affected the proximity of news near the kiosks.

At a minimum, we found that at least 5 publishers were necessary to deliver reported news within 1 mile of all kiosks. Any fewer publishers would mean that kiosks locations would not have a sufficient amount of stories reported to serve a “news nearby” experience.

As the number of participating publishers were reduced, we found the quantity, frequency, and category of news became less diverse. On the other hand, as we increased participating publishers, there was an increased likeliness of redundant news stories. This was assumed based on observations — analysis was not performed to determine the risk of topic redundancy nor category diversity.

Content Insight

  • A total of 475 news stories reported about a place within 1 mile of a kiosk
  • The average closest distance of a news story from a kiosk was 600–900 feet
  • 13% of stories occurred within 300 feet of a kiosk
  • Each kiosk had an average of 15 news stories published each week that were within 1 mile of its location, 30% of those stories were less than 0.5 miles away
  • At least 1 news story was reported per day within 1 mile of each kiosk

This data helped me identify the fluctuation in the availability of news near kiosks measured by distance and frequency. I learned how certain regions had news published on a less frequent basis than others. A service to be designed to bring a “news nearby” experience to all neighborhoods must be flexible for kiosks that are in high- and low-frequency areas respectively. A service must also be able to accommodate multiple news stories per day as well as few news stories per week.

Additionally, the news story’s distance varies for each kiosk — anywhere from a few feet to a few blocks — which points out that a service must be designed to comfortably accommodate stories by various proximities.

Overall, a service would need to be designed with respect to the news coverage available. Perhaps as the number of participating publishers fluctuate, the service will take on different levels of purpose. A service with many publishers and high-frequency coverage would be capable of delivering different experiences than a service with few publishers and light coverage.

News Coverage Comparisons

As mentioned above, it’s helpful to understand the minimum number of participating publishers that would be required to fulfill the service’s purpose — to serve nearby local news to all kiosks throughout Brooklyn. The tables below point out the queries I ran to find answers to this.

The first column of data in the table includes stats from all publishers applicable within the geofence range. The second column of data includes stats from a minimum number of those applicable publishers whose coverage seemed to be sufficient to fulfill the service’s purpose.

Report Conclusion

Overall, I see the conclusions were positive and insightful for future local news services in smart cities — at least for NYC.

We learned how there is a sufficient amount of news coverage to be included in a real-time, nearby distribution service with smart city devices, such as kiosks. There are limitations that such a service would need to be flexible for, such as the frequency and proximity of news coverage. None of these, however, seemed to be complete roadblocks for this type of service.

Unfortunately, the current costs of distributing content to smart city kiosks are extremely high compared to the budgets of hyperlocal publishers. The costs use a model that was originally intended for more valuable for-profit purposes like advertising. Despite our vision of a service intended to inform rather than sell, we would have had to abide by this pricing model. With the improvement in the cost of the technology over time and the flexibility of pricing for different purposes, I expect to see this opportunity becoming more affordable for informative purposes.

The data also helped to point out the frequency of news distribution at street level in general. If we imagine the kiosks representing personal or smart home devices, the data gives us a good sense of what people would be experiencing. We could do further research for designing potential services by putting together scenarios and asking how people would feel getting those types of experiences with fluctuation in frequency, proximity, and category.

However, personally, I’m more keen to explore news distribution on public devices rather than personal devices. Considering not everyone may have a device compatible for web browsing or “nearby news” experiences (i.e. with GPS), public devices like LinkNYC kiosks allow for everyone to be informed equally.

Aside from distributing news in real-time, public smart city devices could also benefit journalism and the community by acting as listening posts, or spaces for journalists or city officials to reach passersby in time of need. I think we can all imagine the many positive examples that this type of service could leverage. LinkNYC has participated in similar forms of community engagement before, like voter registration last fall.


Interested in crunching this data too? Send me an email with details on how you want to use it. I’ll see what I can do: steve@bloom.li


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Follow on Twitter: @bloomfornews and me personally at @stephen_json