Author Archives: Irene Jay Liu

A call for the next big ideas in news

This time last year, we launched the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, part of our $300 million commitment to help journalism thrive in the digital age.  

With our first challenge, we funded23 projects focused on diversifying reader revenue in the Asia Pacific region. Since then, we’ve launched challenges in North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, receiving more than 1,300 project submissions from 77 countries--and recently selected 64 more projects for funding. 

Today, we’re opening our second challenge in Asia Pacific. This time, we’re calling for projects which aim to increase reader engagement. The more deeply people engage with the stories they read, the more likely they are to return to a news website, visit more pages during a session, sign up for an email newsletter and become subscribers.  

We’re interested in hearing about creative ideas around reader engagement, including but not limited to personalization, analytics, audio and loyalty programs. And the Innovation Challenge is open to organizations of every size--startups, NGOs, broadcasters, traditional news publishers and freelancers--so long as they can clearly show the impact of the project from a reader’s perspective, and deliver it within a year. 

The application window for project submissions is open until January 7, 2020, and you can read more about the eligibility, rules and criteria and funding at the Google News Initiative website or at a town hall on November 13. 

To find out more about the results of the first round of funding, we spoke to Disha Mullick of Khabar Lahariya, who has created a new subscription model around a video series about young people in rural India.

How did you develop this subscription model?

We initially talked about aiming the subscription model at our primary, rural audience. The dream is for this audience to become our strongest, most loyal subscribers. But discussions internally with the Google News Initiative and with our peers in digital media pushed us to test the idea with our urban, English-speaking audience first. 

Our vision is to take hyper-local content and voices to a broader audience through immersive video storytelling. Embedded reporters would help link these local stories to global shifts in gender and power, technology, environmental change and financial instability. If this platform works, we’ll adapt it to other audiences who may take longer to come around to the idea of paying for content. 

What is the long-term plan for growing your subscriber base?      

We plan to create a model that combines the features of a membership model and a digital subscription or paywall--one that’s inclusive of both rural and urban audiences willing to pay for good quality, hyper-local content. We also hope to be able to provide other features, like workshops and fellowships, travel opportunities—perhaps even access to small grants for media or other entrepreneurial projects. 

What advice would you offer the next group of reporters looking to increase reader engagement?  

I can't over-emphasize the impact of investing in local content. Even if that's not what gets monetized easily, it’s what builds trust and credibility, which have been shaken by the amount of misinformation floating about. I also think the way we engage readers needs to be responsible, to counter the state's imperative to control social media or the flow of information on the internet--which may be knee-jerk reactions to the violence and abuse we see. 

Chat apps: opportunities and challenges for journalism

Over the past year, the Google News Lab expanded into Asia with a focus on fueling innovation in newsrooms. In that time, we’ve seen how chat apps are quickly becoming the preferred medium for digital communication across the region. According to the 2017 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, 23 percent of survey respondents now find, share or discuss news using a chat app—and Asia is at the forefront of this trend.


The flow of information within chat apps is similar to a massive, virtual version of the children’s game of telephone where the quality of information can get worse the more it’s shared. And the proliferation of mis- and disinformation in these private chat room conversations pose difficulties for fact-checkers due to the closed nature of the platform. So, in collaboration with Institute for the Future, we conducted a study to better understand the role chat apps play in the creation and propagation of news and provide newsrooms around the world with learnings from a more advanced chat ecosystem.


Our study was conducted in South Korea because it has the highest smartphone ownership rate, the fastest internet speed, and one of the highest adoption rates of chat apps in the world—making the country a useful indicator of where news media may be headed. We focused primarily on KakaoTalk, the most popular chat app in South Korea, used by 85 percent of people with mobile phones.


Our research (also available in Korean) suggests three key insights for journalists and newsrooms to consider:

  • Millions of ordinary people are driving the flow of news through chat apps: Not only do chat users directly distribute news to their friends and family members through chat, they often paraphrase, contextualize and editorialize news and information, shifting authority from professional journalists to citizens.
  • Chat apps are changing how news is produced: Chat apps and smartphones are used by journalists to record interviews, edit stories and publish news. They’re also used to build networks of journalists that fact-check stories in real time. Chat apps are helping journalists and newsrooms coordinate news across a more decentralized workforce.
  • These apps are redefining the relationship between journalists and readers, creating new monetization opportunities: Journalists can build closer relationships with readers and insert themselves directly into their conversations. With strengthened relationships, new monetization streams, such as crowdfunding, have emerged. 
chat apps

Chat apps are changing the way readers, journalists, and newsrooms interact with each other. Though this changing landscape has created challenges for the news industry, this study confirms that there are also opportunities for both newsrooms and journalists to thrive in this environment.

Experimenting with VR at the South China Morning Post

Having spent my pre-Google career as a reporter and editor at legacy media organizations, I can tell you that digital transformation in the news industry is challenging. Even when news organizations have the will, resources and technical expertise, the obstacles to transformation can be daunting.

In Asia, few news organization have plunged headlong into digital transformation like South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s top English-language daily newspaper. With a daily weekday circulation of roughly 105K, SCMP is a midsize paper, but its language and geography give it outsized influence.

For more than a century, SCMP has been documenting Greater China for the English-speaking diaspora across Asia-Pacific. Before the internet, expatriates and visitors would pick up the paper, sometimes days old, on airplanes and in hotels across the region. For those living in mainland China (like I did in the 1990s), the paper offered a window into the place where they lived, from a familiar yet discrete vantage point.

Now, SCMP uses the web to reach the growing global community of readers interested in news about China, and experiment with new methods of storytelling along the way. After its purchase by Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma in 2016, the newspaper suddenly had a mandate to evolve, and was given the runway and resources to experiment.

“Culture and identity are massively important when you are trying to turn around a 114-year-old company … until you have a company that is ready to experiment, willing to fail, and able to move with agility … you can talk all day long about transformation and where you’re heading but you’ll never get there,” said SCMP CEO Gary Liu in an interview with Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Policy.

That entrepreneurial spirit led SCMP to take on an immersive virtual reality project that would trace the history of Hong Kong from British rule to the present day, mining a century’s worth of archival photos and illustrations and presenting them alongside modern-day 360-degree video and drone footage. The project was Google News Lab's first immersive storytelling partnership in the Asia-Pacific region, part of the team’s broader effort to accelerate immersive storytelling across the news industry.

Title-screen.gif

“It had to be big, bold, and beautiful—and leverage new formats, technologies and platforms to tell the story,” according to SCMP online editor Brett McKeehan, who helmed the project and talked about the process at a recent Google News Lab event.

In order to make the project accessible to as many readers as possible, especially in the smartphone-dominant Asian market, the SCMP team built a responsive website that was optimized for mobile, tablet and desktop. Animations of 3D Google Earth imagery helped to tell the story and orient the reader across time and space throughout the piece.

rain_new_2.JPG
One of Hong Kong’s wettest Junes in history.

They set a deadline to complete the project within two months—an eternity for a newspaper used to daily deadlines. “What can’t you do in two months? What could possibly go wrong? Two months—I thought, we could do anything in two months,” McKeehan said. Shooting and production schedules were set, everyone was ready to go…

And then it rained. And rained and rained—for six straight weeks—one of Hong Kong’s wettest Junes in history.

While it rained, the Hong Kong government changed its drone restrictions, rendering certain planned shots illegal. Meanwhile, SCMP’s developer team of three learned how to build, for the first time, a responsive HTML webframe that would work for both iOS and Android.

SCMP_Back 2017-07-10 at 3.19.46 pm.png
A drone is being readied to capture footage across Hong Kong.

In the end, Brett and his team had to change their project scope and push back their release date to overcome the many unforeseen logistical and development challenges that sprang up throughout the process.

“It’s not a tale of of pixies and rainbows...It is a tale of toil and frustration, and the headaches that come with doing something new.”

Despite the pain, Brett said the experience was worthwhile, because it brought new skills that were now embedded in the newsroom. But for anyone embarking on the journey, he offered the following tips:

  • Embrace the medium: 360, VR, AR offer incredible storytelling possibilities. The sooner you take the plunge, the better. 
  • Experiment with new technologies, but start small before taking on more ambitious projects.
  • Don’t outsource: Bite the bullet, buy your own equipment (get cheap stuff and play). Own your ideas and develop your own talent.

“We’re an aspirational publisher. We’re doing something for the first time. So we made it; we’re happy with that,” McKeehan said.

And that is success, Gary Liu, SCMP’s CEO,  told me after it was published. “The point was to do it and learn in the process.”

Experimenting with VR at the South China Morning Post

Having spent my pre-Google career as a reporter and editor at legacy media organizations, I can tell you that digital transformation in the news industry is challenging. Even when news organizations have the will, resources and technical expertise, the obstacles to transformation can be daunting.

In Asia, few news organization have plunged headlong into digital transformation like South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s top English-language daily newspaper. With a daily weekday circulation of roughly 105K, SCMP is a midsize paper, but its language and geography give it outsized influence.

For more than a century, SCMP has been documenting Greater China for the English-speaking diaspora across Asia-Pacific. Before the internet, expatriates and visitors would pick up the paper, sometimes days old, on airplanes and in hotels across the region. For those living in mainland China (like I did in the 1990s), the paper offered a window into the place where they lived, from a familiar yet discrete vantage point.

Now, SCMP uses the web to reach the growing global community of readers interested in news about China, and experiment with new methods of storytelling along the way. After its purchase by Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma in 2016, the newspaper suddenly had a mandate to evolve, and was given the runway and resources to experiment.

“Culture and identity are massively important when you are trying to turn around a 114-year-old company … until you have a company that is ready to experiment, willing to fail, and able to move with agility … you can talk all day long about transformation and where you’re heading but you’ll never get there,” said SCMP CEO Gary Liu in an interview with Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Policy.

That entrepreneurial spirit led SCMP to take on an immersive virtual reality project that would trace the history of Hong Kong from British rule to the present day, mining a century’s worth of archival photos and illustrations and presenting them alongside modern-day 360-degree video and drone footage. The project was Google News Lab's first immersive storytelling partnership in the Asia-Pacific region, part of the team’s broader effort to accelerate immersive storytelling across the news industry.

Title-screen.gif

“It had to be big, bold, and beautiful—and leverage new formats, technologies and platforms to tell the story,” according to SCMP online editor Brett McKeehan, who helmed the project and talked about the process at a recent Google News Lab event.

In order to make the project accessible to as many readers as possible, especially in the smartphone-dominant Asian market, the SCMP team built a responsive website that was optimized for mobile, tablet and desktop. Animations of 3D Google Earth imagery helped to tell the story and orient the reader across time and space throughout the piece.

rain_new_2.JPG
One of Hong Kong’s wettest Junes in history.

They set a deadline to complete the project within two months—an eternity for a newspaper used to daily deadlines. “What can’t you do in two months? What could possibly go wrong? Two months—I thought, we could do anything in two months,” McKeehan said. Shooting and production schedules were set, everyone was ready to go…

And then it rained. And rained and rained—for six straight weeks—one of Hong Kong’s wettest Junes in history.

While it rained, the Hong Kong government changed its drone restrictions, rendering certain planned shots illegal. Meanwhile, SCMP’s developer team of three learned how to build, for the first time, a responsive HTML webframe that would work for both iOS and Android.

SCMP_Back 2017-07-10 at 3.19.46 pm.png
A drone is being readied to capture footage across Hong Kong.

In the end, Brett and his team had to change their project scope and push back their release date to overcome the many unforeseen logistical and development challenges that sprang up throughout the process.

“It’s not a tale of of pixies and rainbows...It is a tale of toil and frustration, and the headaches that come with doing something new.”

Despite the pain, Brett said the experience was worthwhile, because it brought new skills that were now embedded in the newsroom. But for anyone embarking on the journey, he offered the following tips:

  • Embrace the medium: 360, VR, AR offer incredible storytelling possibilities. The sooner you take the plunge, the better. 
  • Experiment with new technologies, but start small before taking on more ambitious projects.
  • Don’t outsource: Bite the bullet, buy your own equipment (get cheap stuff and play). Own your ideas and develop your own talent.

“We’re an aspirational publisher. We’re doing something for the first time. So we made it; we’re happy with that,” McKeehan said.

And that is success, Gary Liu, SCMP’s CEO,  told me after it was published. “The point was to do it and learn in the process.”