Tailoring News for the Mobile Crowd  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   August/September 2012

Tailoring News for the Mobile Crowd   

NowThis News is targeting a young audience that is tethered to smartphones and tablets. Mon., October 8, 2012

By Hannah Porter
AJR editorial assistant Hannah Porter (hporter@ajr.umd.edu) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.      


As more and more people get their news on mobile devices, at a time when much of the younger audience is turned off by traditional media, Ken Lerer and Eric Hippeau decided it was time for a video news outlet designed specifically for smartphones and tablets.

Enter NowThis News, the mobile and social video news platform set to debut this month.

The startup was conceived early this year by entrepreneurs Lerer and Hippeau of Lerer Ventures, cofounders of The Huffington Post, and launched by the two with Brian Bedol of Bedrocket, a content creation company.

"Currently you can follow news on devices, but this is the first news organization that is completely designed for mobile use," Hippeau says. "The way people consume news on mobile devices is different--with geolocation tools, smaller screens and other attributes that are not available on the Web. We view NowThis News as a completely different platform than what already exists."

A recent study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 50 percent of adults in the United States now own either a smartphone or tablet, and a third of U.S. adults consume news on a mobile device once a week. NowThis News is hoping to capture this market.

NowThis News is designed to be viewed on smartphones and tablets via its app. While it won't have a Web site, content is meant to be shared on the Web via social networks. Although the leadership will not spell out details of their content selection and distribution strategy until the official launch, their partnership with viral Internet meme venue BuzzFeed has allowed the news organization to begin rolling out videos for testing. All NowThis News content will continue to be available on BuzzFeed post-launch.

Test-video topics have included "The Whole Presidential Debate in 121 Seconds," "9 Worst Presidential Debate Fails Ever," "3 Foods That Tried to Kill You This Week," "If Jesus Had a Wife, Some People Aren't Happy," "5 Worst Rockstar Meltdowns," "Best 'Call Me Maybe' Meta Mash-Up" and "Emoticons Turn 30."

NowThis News General Manager Eason Jordan says the videos released so far are "on random subjects-- not a representative sampling of our post-launch content." The actual launch date hasn't been announced; a Web site has been set up for users to submit e-mail addresses so they can find out when the project is ready for takeoff.

Make no mistake, the content isn't meant for the aging population that is still figuring out how their touchscreens work. NowThis News is targeting a younger demographic that is disillusioned by and is apt to ignore news the way it is currently delivered. It's a digital generation that uses mobile devices as primary news sources and is accustomed to sharing content.

According to Hippeau, the young audience NowThis News craves is interested in hard news, from politics to disasters, but the content will also include topics such as entertainment and sports – "which is also news," he says.

NowThis News aims to present news in a way that is enticing to digital viewers. Video journalists will present news topics without detracting from the stories by standing in front of them. "There are enough talking heads out there," Jordan says. "We want to provide concise, enlightening, newsy and fun content – but that is news first."

To build the innovative news outlet, the founders assembled a senior team of accomplished journalists with deep roots in hard news who are eager to try new things.

The roster includes Editor in Chief Ed O'Keefe, who was previously ABC News' digital executive producer; Managing Editor Katherine Zaleski, who served as the Washington Post's executive director of digital news and senior editor at The Huffington Post; and Jordan, former chief news executive and president of newsgathering and international networks at CNN.

"Being able to come in at the start and help build something was too good of an opportunity to turn down," Jordan says. "I love working with trailblazers. This is a team of trailblazers."

The NowThis News team's combined résumé includes a long list of prominent media organizations, including HBO, MTV, NPR, Slate, Fox News, Al Jazeera and the New York Times. The staff is "two dozen and growing," Jordan says.

He says the atmosphere at NowThis News' midtown Manhattan offices, wedged between porn shops and the Girl Scouts of America headquarters, is serious, "with a lot of upstart energy and enthusiasm among the staff."

Partnering with BuzzFeed was important for an organization creating content that is meant to be widely shared. "BuzzFeed is the largest site that identifies, creates and generates content that is purely viral and social. It is the perfect partner for NowThis News," Hippeau says. "One of the main forms of distribution in the world is people passing something on, and BuzzFeed does this the best."

He adds that NowThis News is not currently contemplating a YouTube channel.

Jordan is bullish about the early returns. The first 54 pre-launch videos have been viewed in 201 countries and territories, "including warzones," he says. "We didn't envision having audiences in those areas, but there is clearly a viral effect, and the word is out."

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