Derek Key

Topple the Inverted Pyramid

All the students of journalism, media research and communication are taught about the inverted pyramid structure of a news story (wikipedia).

The pyramid structure means that each news story should be constructed in a way that the most important information is served first in the headline and in the ingress and the least important information consisting of background details is positioned in the end of the story.

There are two reasons why this structure is appreciated. First reason is that the reader can stop reading the news piece at any point knowing that nothing more important will be missed. Second reason is that the maker-up or editor in print newspaper can cut the end of the story without having to rewrite the whole piece.

Naturally, the second reason is becoming less and less important with the growing importance of digital content. But I claim the first reason isn't really a reason at all. It's just what we have been told in order to make the editors' job easier.

The narrative structured will vanish from the news slowly but inevitably.

This will finally happen when the paradigm shift from click based headline worship changes to time based monetizing models. This change is going on as we speak. Newspapers haven't in large quantities yet realized that it is much easier to keep a person on one page than to try to keep her surfing inside one specific news site but they are slowly getting it.

Currently, the inverted pyramid is already broken, as the headline tends to serve as a curiosity trap by not revealing any information. But when the stories get their income from time spent instead of clicks and longform becomes much more reasonable to produce even for free (as beer) delivery, the inverted pyramid becomes obsolete. Time based metrics will make the inverted pyramid strictly a bad business decision.

A journalist might feel bad about this, claiming that the inverted pyramid is good for the reader. I don't agree. The Inverted Pyramid is not a natural structure for narration. A well structured narrative with anticipation and a buildup tells the whole story. It links individual events together and puts the whole story in the context. Check for example this brilliant piece: Emergency situation for Sergei Shoigu

We don't need news content to deliver information quickly. Headlines are for that (pretty please...). We need journalism to connect the dots. This is the power of a story.

Journalists: forget the inverted pyramid. Start writing stories. That is what you love, anyway.

Image Credit: Derek Key

pasotraspaso

How pagination on Helsingin Sanomat website reveals that all hope is lost with newspapers

It's 2013 and a major Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (HS) added pagination to their longer stories, demonstrating that they don't have any understanding of the digital market.

Pagination

You probably know those numbers from one to ten below the Google search results. That's pagination. Books have pages, and the pages have numbers, so it kinda makes sense to think that there is a need for page numbers in digital content as well. This is not true. Books were paginated because the space was limited. Digital content is divided based on topic, and the space in each topic is practically infinite. Pagination is a feature that will disappear when UX designers who were born pre-1960s are not in the lead anymore.

There is no use case that I know of where pagination would be the right way to divide purely digital content. Not a single use case. So why did Helsingin Sanomat add this feature to their site? It's 2013. 20 years after the need to paginate content started to disappear, they suddenly reintroduce it.

The answer is clicks. Advertising revenue. Typically people pay for value, but what I'm going to illustrate next should make it clear that that is not the case in advertising world.

Metrics gone rogue

Here's an idea: HS should paginate every word of a story to a different page. That would generate clicks, wouldn't it? I dare you: do it. Pick a good story and make it a thing to click through it word by word.

Sounds bad? But isn't it the same thing that HS is doing when they are gaming the page views with the pagination?

I do realize that it's not their fault. The metrics are wrong, and the body that follows the metrics (called TNS metric) is stuck in the digital stone age. Every modern web page that has changing content loads dynamically. Most of the modern pages work with infinite scroll and dynamic loading of the content. By keeping on the old page views as an advertising metric, TNS metrix is frankly destroying the opportunities of large finnish newspapers to create innovative platforms that might have markets outside the current narrow markets.

So I just want to say this: Shame on you, TNS. Do your work and get back to this century. Measure time users actually are exposed to ads. Call me or Hacklog guys if you don't know how.

In any case, HS should know better. Let's go back to trashing HS for making such a horrible decisions.

Clicks are not a resource to waste

Pagination is evil and bad and it makes no sense to have it whatsoever. Here are some reasons:

First, users don't notice or bother to click the second page. Their reading experience sinks when HS requires them to make the decision to continue reading in the middle of the article.

Second, the article is the piece of content users access. Future readers come to individual articles from reddits, facebooks, twitters and tumblrs. If you divide your article in pieces, you divide the only social object you have in pieces. Imagine that you had to pick half the pieces of your IKEA furniture from Espoo and half from Vantaa because IKEA made a deal with gasoline providers. You might think that the analogy is bad. It's not.

Third, if someone in a story clicks a link, she or he participates. That click might deliver the story to hundreds of new readers - that is the way content is distributed and that is how users participate. And HS wastes that one potential click to make the users to reload the page?

Here is another idea. Write below the story: "If you liked this story, please reload the page." If the system sucks, game the system.

The right metrics

Companies sell products and services. They buy advertisements for three reasons:

Some companies want to sell their products through the banners (1). This is where Finnish startup Kiosked is focusing and they are doing it right, but very few companies actually have this need. I wouldn't buy a can of Coca-Cola or a Mercedes Benz through a banner ad.

Mercedes and Coca Cola want brand recall (2) and brand recognition (3). A PwC study showed already several years ago that both brand recognition and brand recall are directly linked to time spent next the advertisement. Further, the effect is same no matter if the advertisement is a video where the advertisement actually stops the workflow or if the banner is next to the content as is usually the case with web ads.

What follows is that

  1. Even though only time spent really matters, only access (clicks) is measured and monitized.
  2. We are looking at those horrible auto play videos on HS website because it's easier to sell video ads even though "nicer" ads would have the same effect.

Be part of the change you want to see or get out

What about the "but the New York Times also uses pagination" argument? Grow up. As I said, Google is doing it as well. But that does not mean they are doing it right. They already removed the feature from the image search. If HS wants to create quality content in Finnish, they seriously have to take the change in their own hands. New York Times has absolutely different market size. If HS would just copycat their strategy, they'll end up having five journalists updating a wordpress blog, generate the operating margin the shareholders require, but with a minuscule revenue…

To sum this up, there is no need for pagination in any digital content. If you need to move inside digital content, you usually want to use timestamps, as in Facebook profiles. Pagination reveals the false metrics in advertising. If HS is not thinking about the reader nor the advertiser but instead they are optimizing their both business model loops to wrong metrics made up by a party which is not a stakeholder group at all, they probably deserve to die out.

Oh, by the way. How would a Scoopinion extension auto pagination feature sound like? It wouldn't hurt HS because they wouldn't even notice - they would still get the clicks.

HS had the best intentions. But they really should be fighting for the right metrics instead of gaming the system. Or at least they should get better at gaming the system, without putting the burden of extra decision-making on their users.

Image Credit: pasotraspaso

Jussi Hellsten

Focus

Today at Slush13 Helsingin Sanomat Foundation nominates the next Uutisraivaaja innovation competition winner. Scoopinion won the previous competition, so it's a proper time to talk a little bit what is happening with Scoopinion these days.

It's been a long ride. Scoopinion started as an idea breakfast community, pitched the first idea to Uutisraivaaja as a social cache, evolved to become a platform where news are social objects and then won the Uutisraivaaja competition as a crowd curated feature story aggregator.

During the early startup phase with seed funding from the competition, we clearly had two distinct user groups: the readers and the journalists. In startups, focus is the most important value. Mark Zuckerberg actually had "focus" written on top of the urinals at Facebook. So we were very lucky to get the journalist data market funded separately; Ville and Mikko are currently using the Scoopinion technology to create an awesome product for journalists with Scoopinion spinoff Hacklog in Matter incubator in San Francisco. Even though we are focusing on two aspects of the problem, we continue working together to realize a bigger goal: to change the focus of the online news industry from access (clicks) to content.

I, Juha and Mikael continue working with the mission of bringing readers the stories worth reading. People read our digests at a stunning rate, and the rating for our Chrome extension is today superb 4.87 stars out of 5 with more than 100 reviews. I thank you for your feedback and enthusiasm.

Focusing increases possibilities. This is a lesson I believe many entrepreneurs learn too late. Dropping the journalist data market from Scoopinion makes many things easier for us. We have now a wide range of future plans you'll hear about soon.

As always, I'm eager to hear your feedback and ideas. You can drop me an email at johannes@scoopinion.com.

Best Regards,

/Johannes

Image Credit: Jussi Hellsten

Early mock-up of financials page of Scoopinion journalist profile

Journalists should get paid. Could transparency help?

There's been discussion on freelance journalist pay recently after Nate Thayler published a blogpost titled A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013. The whole business is in trouble, or as Alexis C Madrigal pointed out Man, I feel everyone on how scary it is to be in journalism

The same questions on compensation were in the air when I participated a National Union of Journalists meeting in London last month. A paper was circulated among the crowd and freelancers would anonymously write how much they made per story, how many characters the story contained, which publisher the piece was written for and how happy they were with the experience. Someone mentioned that he had doubled the pay for a story by just sticking with his standard rate.

In a job that involves passion, freelancers often end up getting paid poorly. I myself have done some work as stand-up comedian and I have heard enough excuses for not getting paid. There's definitely need showing the value of the work and one way of doing that is anonymous transparency.

Being able to see how much other writers are making is one of the features we have in mind with Writer Profile that we are working on and so far the reception has been good. Let me know what you think of that or what else you would like to see included. Tweet me @kobrako or send email kobra (at) scoopinion.com for further discussion

Image Credit: Early mock-up of financials page of Scoopinion journalist profile

Nick J Webb

Great Recommendations Are Half Placebo

In the past year, I've become disillusioned with computational recommendations. I now believe that they can work, but the computation will only get you halfway there.

I've noticed that given enough data, it's possible for a computer to predict what I like. At the same time, it's hard for me to trust algorithmic recommendations. I don't trust them because I know they're from a computer, and I find it difficult to believe that a computer program can "know" who I am. This is a hundred times worse if I'm the one guilty of writing the program.

Any recommender is trying to predict the future. The recommender is guessing what the receiver will find interesting, or relevant, or compelling enough to consume. This prediction is important, but can only get you so far. As with baseball scores, guessing that the home team will win will make you correct more than half of the time. All additional information will make your prediction better, but prediction is hugely affected by the law of diminishing returns.

That's the reason the most effective recommenders – while making great predictions – work to sway the future in their favor. This is possible because everyone's judgment of what's good is imprecise. People I trust can sway my judgment. This is a good thing. If a friend tells me a wine is of high quality, my brain will make it taste better.

Good recommendations work because you trust the recommender. Without this trust, a recommendation algorithm cannot work.

According to our data, the article recommendations given by Scoopinion work pretty well. On average, people spend four minutes on a story recommended by us – three times as long they spend on an average story found via Facebook. (The articles we recommend are also three times longer.)

Even though our readers realize that an algorithm can't know their heart and soul, they know that the stories unearthed by Scoopinion are of high quality in general. They are selected from the pool of stories that the reading community has spent the most time with. Being a part of the reading community builds additional trust.

I call this trust the placebo half of recommendation. And as we've learned from medicine, trusting the pill is sometimes just as important as the pill itself.

Image Credit: Nick J Webb