Follow Us

Subscribe to the InkHouse Newsletter

Sign Up!

Category Archives: Journalism


How the Washington Post Is Optimizing Content for Readers

In October 2015, the Washington Post broke an online traffic record by surpassing the New York Times for the first time. This can be attributed to a few factors, including the heavy investment into the growth of its social distribution strategy through everything from Facebook Instant Articles to Apple News. The Post is also reaching more people through its mobile platforms, its viral content (think dancing police officers) and its blogs being updated quickly throughout the day.

Now, to further drive clicks and engagement, the Post has announced a new tool called Bandito that automatically optimizes the Post’s website articles for maximum readership. Bandito was developed in-house by engineers and allows editors to load articles into its content management system with different headlines, images and text. Then when readers click on a certain version, the software automatically puts the more popular version on the homepage and other pages of the Post’s site. The tool is unique in that it automatically makes the changes based on clicks, rather than an editor having to manually make the change. Bandito also allows reporters and editorial staff to shape their articles based on what has been working with readers. For instance, images with human faces and headlines beginning with the word “how” do better than other pieces.

Right now, Bandito changes content solely based on clicks, but the Post is working on incorporating other metrics such as time spent on articles, as well as optimizing for international audiences versus domestic readers and for desktop users versus mobile viewers. The publication may even factor in what kind of content a reader has read in the past. The Post will also use the tool to help with sponsored content created in its ad division.

Bandito is part of a larger push from Post owner Jeff Bezos, who has placed a significant emphasis on technology experimentation and data-driven decisions and has built a team of software engineers. Bandito is part of the Arc suite of publishing tools that the Post has created for itself and even now sells as software to other publishing companies and universities. The software is data-driven and offers everything from a video management system and news and advertising personalization system, as well as a tool to deliver bundles of content to mobile apps. It is also worth noting the New York Times has a similar CMS system currently in development. My colleague Brittany talks about it in her latest post on the changing media landscape.

As good content continues to be critical to engagement, Bandito is just one more way to ensure more and more people have the opportunity to see it. It is also critical for PR professionals to consider the things that are working for the Post when developing content and make changes in real time for maximum exposure and engagement. 

Read more from Alison Morra

What PR Pros Need to Know about Twitter’s Algorithmic Timeline

Over the weekend I noticed a hashtag trending on Twitter that I had to investigate. In my opinion, it would have made anyone in marketing click. That hashtag was #RIPTwitter. What?! Yes. The Internet erupted over a breaking news report from BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz reporting that Twitter is considering switching to an algorithmic timeline and it could roll out as early as this week (it was later reported that it will not be this week).

I will not lie that this news almost made me take to my Twitter and join the #RIPTwitter revolution. This meme sums up my initial reaction:

My next thought was, “Can I opt-out?” The Verge has confirmed that you will be allowed to opt out of the new timeline.

However, the talk of an algorithmic Twitter timeline is nothing new. The company has been struggling with user growth and product strategy. The “While You Were Away” feature that was introduced a year ago gives users the opportunity to see popular tweets that were shared while you were logged out of Twitter, breaking up the the classic reverse-chronological timeline. Twitter Moments also rolled out recently as another way to help capture news around large events.

But it’s the hopes of Twitter execs that an algorithmic timeline might help Twitter users escape the firehose of content for something more relevant and digestible. So what does this means for PR and social media?

With algorithmic Twitter, users would see content that is more relevant and popular to them – just like on Facebook. However, it might be harder for brands to break through the stream. Without an algorithmic timeline, brands always have a chance of reaching everyone that follows them. Whether or not they see it when the brand shares it is one thing, but it appeared in the user’s timeline. With an algorithm deciding who sees what, it could be a fraction of people that end up even having a tweet appear in their timeline. 

However, those in support of the algorithmic change reported by Fortune said this will be a good way for new Twitter users to find accounts worth following. Also, almost everyone who follows more than a handful of people miss several tweets already, so an algorithmic timeline wouldn’t be much different.

We still don’t know how the Twitter algorithm will determine what appears and what doesn’t, but PR and social media professionals need to start strategizing. With Facebook’s algorithm, EdgeRank, photos and links get more weight than just a status update, and are more likely to appear in someone’s News Feed. Facebook has argued that you, the user, determine what appears in your News Feed based on past clicks and engagement. Facebook tailors your News Feed to a reflection of what you want. With Twitter’s algorithm, large events and trending topics will most likely appear in more users’ timelines than a single tweet about something that isn’t breaking in real time. Paid campaigns on Twitter will be needed more than ever to help reach the right audience.

Defenders make the point that newspapers do this kind of filtering and selection all the time. They have a journalistic mission to provide the news. Do Facebook or Twitter have a commitment to journalism, too?

As PR professionals, our goal is to ensure content pops and gets more engagement on Twitter. Soon, we might also have to make sure it even gets into users’ timeline.

Bring it on Twitter. Challenge accepted.

Read more from Danielle Laurion

What’s Ahead: Six Trends Driving PR in 2016

Last year was one of change for the media and for PR. Digital media kept growing like crazy and everything else kept shrinking. Mobile was a big part of that growth, which accounts for a little more than 20 percent of our media consumption, but by 2030 the estimate is that it will be more than 50 percent. It’s noteworthy in the news business that 39 of the top 50 digital news sites receive more traffic from mobile than desktop.

The growth of mobile and digital have also driven subscriptions for new media, primarily video and music streaming. Netflix has about 70 million subscribers, which beats HBO’s 32 million, and Spotify had its eyes on 100 million users by the end of 2015. Print media subscriptions are still floundering, but the venerable New York Times has seen revenue climb above $100 million for its digital subscriptions. What do these subscription trends have in common? Quality content.

The changing media business model is also the thing that keeps driving change in PR. The decline in subscriptions opened up opportunities for contributor networks where experts provide content for free (think Huffington Post). Now let’s talk ads. The proliferation of ad blockers that get rid of those annoying banners and pop-ups is forcing change again. Publishers can’t afford to offer free access if it’s not supported by ads, so now we have native ads. What are those you ask? They are advertisements that look like and blend in with the regular content that surrounds them (most often in the form of articles). Native ads are generating big bucks for publishers and big opportunities for marketers: advertisers spent $10.7 billion in 2015 on natives, up from $7.9 billion in 2014. The FTC just announced new rules to make native ads more transparent – truth in advertising – but they are probably here to stay.

What’s a good PR person to do with all of this change?

1. Place Your Content in the “Stream.” The mobile explosion means that your content’s not going to find too many dates hanging out on your website all alone. It needs to get out there into the stream where people find their news, say Facebook (it reaches more people than free TV) or Twitter. But the stream is wider than that. LinkedIn Publisher’s 1 million contributors are finding big audiences there (read more tips from LinkedIn’s Caroline Fairchild). While you’re at it, put the content up on Medium, too, and get your blog on Apple News (submit here). Let’s not forget the email newsletter. Yes, I said email newsletter. They’re back (even Lena Dunham agrees) and they work.

2. Know When More is Less. I’m talking about quality over quantity. Remember headlines like this, “Someone Left a Dog Outside During a Rain Storm…Then This Happened”? They don’t really work anymore. People got smart, or we’ve reached the saturation point. It doesn’t matter. Consumers are holding content to a higher standard because there’s so much of it we just can’t take it all in. Sure, you might get clicks with a great headline, but if the content stinks after that, no reader is going to stay and they surely won’t come back. First impressions matter.

3. Make Your Graphics Move. It’s time to retire the infographic. Sure, we’ll still create some and they’ll still work for specific scenarios, but we’re seeing visuals take a turn for the interesting. Interactive data visualization and even cinemagraphs (we made these during our holiday party) and gifs are helping content find its audience. In fact, as Nick Bilton pointed out, gifs are becoming the new political sound bite.

4. Measure Something That Matters. There is so much to measure – clicks, engagements, sentiment, share of voice, retweets, likes, shares, comments. It’s hard to know what to think about all of these numbers. What are we really trying to achieve  with PR? Well, we’re usually trying to do drive sales. So first we need leads, and to get leads we need to broaden awareness so we should be measuring reach. Then we need credibility. It’s one thing to say something on your blog. It’s another to have the Wall Street Journal quote you saying the same thing so we need quality media coverage. Finally, we need the products of PR to be useful. If you can’t reuse the content for sales or your newsletter or a webinar or you name it, there’s no point in its existence. Great content and media coverage leads to the other things, namely interest and engagement; that’s what moves leads down the proverbial marketing funnel. The big question we should be asking is this: is PR helping you meet your business goals?

5. Don’t Mistake Your Product for Your Story. Very often, the goal of PR and marketing is to sell more products and services. But if I walked into a party and handed you a marketing brochure on InkHouse’s services you’d think I was nuts, and I would be. In the digital world consumers still behave like human beings who need to become interested before they become engaged. As marketers, we need to lead with how we think or we’ll never get to tell anyone what we do (unless you’re ubiquitous like Apple in which case you can get right to the next iPhone – everyone’s already paying attention).

6. Watch for New Distribution Channels. We’ve got our eyes on messaging apps like WhatsApp (900 million users and owned by Facebook) and Facebook Messenger (800 million users, but probably more by now since recent data isn’t available). Almost 50 percent of 19 to 29 year olds use them. Facebook Messenger is now integrated with Uber, and just launched an SDK (software developer kit) so developers can build things like shopping, travel and other interactive experiences into Messenger. Wow! And by the way, you can also use those visuals (from tip #3 above) that pop within Messenger. It’s part of being in the stream and we’re all going to need to figure out how to be there.

Read more from Beth Monaghan
Lightsaber in space environment, ready for comp of your characte

Twenty Tips for Associated Press Style: Star Wars Edition

Following the galactic opening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Star Wars fans, including writers, can command their lightsabers in the quest for defeating evil in their written content.

In honor of the new movie that took theaters by storm, following are some terms from the Associated Press Stylebook that writers may infuse into their copy about the seventh installment of the George Lucas-spawned franchise:

  • astronaut: Not a formal title, so do not capitalize when used before a name.
  • blastoff vs. blast off: Use blastoff as a noun and adjective and blast off as a verb – The blastoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.; the shuttle will blast off tonight.
  • dust storm: Use as a noun about “the visibility of one-half mile of less due to dust, wind speeds of 30 mph or more.”
  • family names: Capitalize words denoting family relationships only when they precede the name of a person or when they stand unmodified as a substitute for a person’s name.
  • fleet: Use figures and capitalize when forming a proper name; lowercase when standing alone.
  • fuselage: One word for the main body of an aircraft.
  • guard: Usually a job description, not a formal title.
  • hideout: One word, written as is – where is Luke Skywalker’s hideout?
  • Hollywood: District of the city of Los Angeles that houses the entertainment industry; not used in a dateline.
  • Liftoff vs. lift off: Use liftoff as a noun and adjective and lift off as a verb – the liftoff of the A-Wing Fighter is ready; the A-Wing Fighter will now lift off.
  • light-year: Use as a noun about “the distance that light travels in one year at the rate of 186,282 miles per second.”
  • movie studios: Major U.S. movie studios and production companies include Disney, owned by The Walt Disney Co. and Lucasfilm, owned by The Walt Disney Co.
  • movie tiles: For movies, capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters and put quotation marks around the name – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
  • naval station: Capitalize only as part of proper name.
  • pilot: Not a formal title, so do not capitalize when used before a name.
  • reign: The period of when a ruler is on the throne.
  • spaceship vs. space shuttle: Write spaceship as is, but capitalize space shuttle only when a proper name.
  • storyline: One word, written as is – The storyline of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” reprises with our favorite characters, including R2-D2 and C-3PO.
  • takeoff vs. take off: Use takeoff as a noun and adjective and take off as a verb – the takeoff for the Millennium Falcon will commence when Hans Solo is aboard; the Millennium Falcon will take off with Chewbacca.
  • tomorrow: Use only in direct quotations and in phrases that do not refer to a specific day – what will tomorrow bring for the First Order?

For other ways to be a Jedi master in your writing, read new updates to the 2015 stylebook and helpful tips to refine your writing. May the grammatical force be with you!

Read more from Steve Vittorioso

A Q&A with NECN’s Peter Howe

The media landscape changes every day, so we are constantly communicating with our friends in the fourth estate to make sure we are staying current and relevant. One of our motto’s is: Just because something worked yesterday, doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. 

So as 2015 comes to a close, and we reflect on the year in PR and media relations, I turned to media-veteran Peter Howe to get his thoughts and a few tips that will help us to tell stories even better in 2016. Peter’s career includes 22 years at The Boston Globe before joining NECN in 2008, where he is business editor and host of "CEO Corner."

Q: As NECN’s business editor and ”CEO Corner” host, what does your typical (is there such a thing?) day look like? Is it as exciting as we might imagine? Lights, camera, action…..

A: No two days are ever really the same, except when you’re covering the 37th and 38th days of the Market Basket employee walkout, but for me the common denominator is huddling with my producers and editors at 10:30 a.m. and answering the question: What is the story Peter most needs to do for the 6:30 business show? Or, occasionally, what does the station need from Peter today for all its news shows, which may mean I don’t necessarily do a business story?

From there, I’m likely to head into Boston most days to collect interviews with experts and “real people,” and I may wind up my day in a live truck or in the studio or feeding back a story through a live-shot backpack device called a TVU. While it’s fast-paced and occasionally stressful, the great blessing of my work is: The day really ends once my stories are on air and online. I don’t take a briefcase home.

Q: Would you breakdown for us how print and broadcast stories differ?

A: For me, as a print reporter, all I ever really worried about was the first 80 to 100 words of a story. Once I got those nailed down, the rest of the piece would fall into place. TV is indeed all about maximizing the use of the 75 to 90 seconds you’ve got for the piece, and recognizing the perfect sound bites and images and sound that capture the story and make it come alive. I honestly think I work harder as a writer in television than I did in print, because so often it’s a question of finding the exactly right five or seven words to distill something that could be two or three sentences in print, or figuring out the tone-perfect inflection when I am speaking a single word that can connote a critical nuance. (“OsTENsibly ….” is a great example.) In both media, using “real people” as the characters who bring a controversy or proposal or news development to life are critical; we always prefer real people to corporate spokespeople or officialdom in telling a story. 

I’m also under even more pressure in TV to really answer three great questions an editor whom I loved at the Globe kept on a sticky note on the side of her computer terminal: What happened? So what? Who cares? Finally, we talk in television about being “slaves to the video,” which is a reality. Newspapers and print are infinitely better media for telling a story about something that does not yet exist, or describing a policy change a governor or mayor is considering. Television, however, conveys dramatically more nuance and gut impact. I’ve realized that knowing the sound of someone’s voice conveys all kinds of information you never get from print.

Q: How much of an impact does social media have on how you cover the news? Are you driven by stories that have lots of social shares? Do you make decisions based on how many clicks/views a type of story receives from your viewers?

A: On the margins, yes. We definitely are aware of click rates and stories that we think will get lots of social media attention. I’d estimate that maybe 10 percent of our decision is driven by that. Our web team is consulted for their input on what they think will light up once they “socialize” it. But 90 percent of the news is always the news because of its own inherent importance.

Q: Any advice for PR folks who are pitching you on a story? 

A: Understand what NECN does and does not cover and why. Look up the last 10 stories I did and ask yourself: Does Peter do anything like what I am being asked to pitch him? More than ever, the standard for me in pitching is: We need to put this on TV RIGHT NOW. It’s harder than ever to get the “nice little feature” done, both on TV and in print, I think, unless there is some unique or perishable element to the nice little feature that makes us have to get it on air and online right now. Over the course of a day I will also be looking for 20- or 25-second “anchor readers” to tee up for Mike Nikitas to read in the business show, such as: 

  • Developer announces $100 million building with pictures / video.
  • Company A does a deal with company B with 8- or 9-figure revenue implications.
  • Company gets a $25-million-plus round of venture capital funding.

Good b-roll or animated video will always make a pitch better. Having the governor or mayor at your event can be very helpful, as we are often looking to get them in “the scrum” and are happy to use a PR event for the b-roll or even actually cover it as a separate, very short story if it’s visually appealing, meaningful, and relevant to our viewing audience.

Q: What are the ingredients for a good broadcast story?

A: Real people, great pictures, great sound, and content that is of immediate interest to a broad range of people. Great characters that bring a project, proposal, or controversy to life are key. I love interviewing people in the places where they work. Nothing is better than watching someone make beer, or roll down asphalt or dispatch airplanes. Keep it interesting for us – those interviews are 100 times better than someone standing in front of a corporate logo or in a conference room.

Q: How has Comcast’s purchase in 2013 of NECN changed the station’s approach to storytelling?

A: I don’t think I can really speak for Comcast and its policies without getting my [omitted] fired, but from my perspective, we are definitely far more ratings-conscious and ratings-driven now than we were in 2008 when NECN was more of a niche product. We used to be heavily driven by documentaries and long-form journalism, now we are trying to go head-to-head with 4, 5, 7, and 25, and own breaking news and weather. Our goal is to continue to be a well-respected political and business franchise as well.

Q: Last question: Who does your hair?

A: What’s left of it? Mike at Mike’s Classic Barber Shop in Newton Upper Falls. The John Quincy Adams sideburns, my wife, Holly, encouraged me to grow and she claims to love them.

Read more from Susan Elsbree

A Conversation with NPR’s Here & Now

Here & Now is a live production of NPR and WBUR Boston and reaches an estimated 3.7 million weekly listeners on over 424 stations across the country. The show, which is co-hosted by award winning journalists Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson, began in 1997, expanded to two hours in 2013, and features innovators, artists and newsmakers from around the globe. I recently reconnected with Dean Russell, associate producer of the show and someone with whom I have had the pleasure of working on a few stories over the past two years. He was kind enough to talk to me about the show, what makes it so unique and poignant, as well as his thoughts on the future of radio.

EY: How did you get started in radio-what led you to Here and Now?

DR: I studied music technology and composition at Northeastern and after a series of disappointing jobs doing sound design, I took an internship with The Jim & Margery Show before it moved to WGBH. That got me more interested in radio, and so I took another internship with On Point at WBUR. I started out doing mostly technical sound production, but shifted into the journalism side. On Point was a fit so they hired me. After three years with them, I moved over to Here & Now for a change of pace and production style. I have been here for a little over a year.

EY: What is your favorite story you have worked on at Here & Now?

DR: Two moments come to mind. The host Jeremy Hobson and I just wrapped on a weeklong obesity series. We explored obesity rates, demographic shifts, healthcare costs, the latest research, and the food industry. One of the best conversations was with three people living with obesity and the challenges they face. The second conversation was part of Here & Now’s American Music series that I am fortunate enough to produce. We spoke with hip hop artist Le1f about what the term “American music” means to him. As a young rapper, a trained ballet dancer and an African-American gay man, Le1f’s perspective on music is unparalleled and it came through in the segment. Listen to that story here.

EY: What in your opinion was the story that had the most impact this year?

DR: There is no definite answer to this one. An example might be one small story about Qirat Chappra, a terminally ill 18-year-old who spent most of her childhood at a children’s hospital in Houston. Chappra had not seen her parents, who live in Pakistan, for 13 years; they were having trouble getting a visa to see their child one last time before she died. Friends and family started a petition on the White House website to try and get her parents an emergency visa with little luck. We ran this back in November. The story made it to the right people and the parents were granted visas. They arrived in Houston just days before she died. Listen to that story here.

EY: What makes a good radio story?

DR:  A good story is unbiased and makes clear why it matters to the listener, no matter who that listener may be. It may elicit curiosity or outrage or a sense of quiet reflection. It is accurate and fair and for a national show, the story must have national resonance.

EY: What do you need from a PR pitch for it to work for radio?

DR: This is a difficult thing to do, no doubt. A PR representative is, by definition, working to shape the public image of his or her client, representing that client’s interest. When making the pitch, it is important to understand why anyone other than the client will and should care. An interview with a home builder may not be interesting to the average person and only acts as a promotion for the home builder. If you want an ad, buy ad space. But an interview with that same home builder done just after a new report shows home sales are skyrocketing? That’s interesting because he or she represents a primary source in a larger story. Remember that from our perspective, a producer is finding the story, not creating one.

The other thing to remember is that Here & Now is a national show. We are often pitched stories that start with Boston or the Boston-area. They could be great stories, but think about someone in Casper, Wyoming or Galena, Alaska. There should be national resonance. That often gets confused because we do air local stories, but again they are an example of something that happens nationally.

Also, keep it simple and short. If you have a good story, you can probably communicate it in two or three sentences.

EY: Do you think radio has more staying power vs. TV? People are watching less and less TV but radio seems immune. Why is this?

DR: This is a question for much smarter people than myself. What I can say is that the way we consume is changing on all platforms. People view less TV on TV, true. But web and streaming are soaring. For radio, people still drive their cars, and still tune in. But there is a future ahead of which no one can be sure. Think podcasts and phone streaming and something yet to be invented.

I think the more important question regarding the issue of TV and radio is what makes them different, especially in the news world. The answer is the reason I work for public radio. There is more freedom to do the stories that would not usually make the cut on TV network news. The strange, quirky segments. Public radio lives in a world between documentaries and network news. It covers what’s breaking, but it does not ignore the slower paced and personal stories. On top of that, the lack of visuals requires imagination on the part of the listener. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you are. For me, it’s a good thing.

EY: What can potential spokespeople do to be more comfortable when they conduct a radio interview? (See my blog post on interview prep for more tips as well.)

DR: As Allen Iverson said, “Practice.” Practice for the hard questions. Practice for the easy questions. And after all the practice, remember that it’s a conversation, not a Q&A. A guest can be prepared for anything, but being prepared is not the same as preparing a statement. Good radio comes from real conversation. It is organic and the best parts are never predetermined. The more open the potential guest is to real conversation,  the better they will be.

H&N believes in respecting its guests and its listeners. We do not believe in “gotcha” questions, but we will not ignore criticism.  I press this because a lot of times, people are hoping for the softball interview – or worse, they are expecting it. What is often ignored is that softball interviews are condemned by news consumers. Anything in that interview is automatically rejected as false, even if it’s true.  So getting the hard question may actually be a good thing. It just depends on how it’s handled.

EY: Who is the best interview you have had on Here & Now and why?

DR: I’m going to have to disappoint and offer no answer here. We are talking thousands of people, stretching back years before I came aboard. The best interviews are the truest. The ones that make you say, ‘Yes! That person gets it!’

EY: Anything I should ask that I haven’t?

DR: There’s a particular skill to making a pitch. Typically we are all bogged down with deadlines that we can be blunt. I urge anyone making a pitch not to take offense. If you have a good story, keep trying. But you have to believe it is a good story. And be clear about what you are offering. Is the person a good talker? Are they clear? Are they interesting? Do they speak like they are speaking to regular people? Or do they sound like they’re reading corporate bullet points? In the end it comes down to knowing what sounds good, what feels human and what is accurate and fair.

Read more from Elizabeth Yekhtikian

Why NPR is Focused on Measuring Caring over Clicks

There have been rumblings in the world of journalism and PR regarding the need for evolving standards for measuring the success of a published piece. After all, in the age of relentless clickbait, does it still make sense to only count clicks and pageviews?

It looks like these concerns are being heard over at NPR where they are building a tool that will aggregate data from a variety of sources, including Chartbeat, Google Analytics and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Called Carebot, it will follow a formula created by NPR’s team to evaluate how much readers truly care about any given story. Yes, you read that right: care. The formula will be based on the number of engagements per pageview. For example: a story with 1,000,000 pageviews and 1000 shares would have a lower Carebot score than a story with 1,000 pageviews and 100 shares.

This approach has the potential to influence how news organizations might evolve their measurement criteria and celebrate the things that actually matter, like: Was the entire story read? What proportion of the audience shared it? How many commented?

So what does this mean for PR professionals?

While we are always focused on pitching content to reporters that we think will interest their audience, the advent of Carebot reinforces the need to be mindful and offer reporters stories that will likely evoke engagement from the reader. At the heart of this is the art of storytelling. We’ve already seen storytelling becoming an essential element in social media, with the launch of Twitter’s ‘Moments,’ and we believe it may be the key to successfully engaging readers and making them “care.” And if they care about the story, chances are they will become interested in the person or company behind that story.

Time alone will tell if the launch of NPR’s Carebot will spark other organizations to follow suit and how effectively it will influence not only their audience’s interest but also the content they produce. We will surely be monitoring.

Read more from Alexa Manocchio

What Does VR Mean For PR?

How will virtual reality journalism impact brand storytelling?

This past weekend, New York Times subscribers received a surprise in their Sunday newspapers: a Google Cardboard viewer – a device that allows “readers” – or now “viewers” – to enter the Times’ new virtual reality (VR) platform and visually see stories come to life. The Times launched its new VR platform Nov. 5, with the release of its new mobile app NYT VR. The app is currently stocked with two immersive videos from New York Times Magazine: “The Displaced” – the story of three refugee children living in refugee camps, and “Walking New York” – a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the recent New York Times Magazine cover with artist JR.

The Times is not the first news outlet to try out this new form of storytelling. The launch follows the likes of ABC, The Wall Street Journal and Vice News, each of which has tried (and failed) to use the new medium to enhance the way they tell stories.

So what makes the Times’ rollout different? A little partnership with technology giant Google.

Over the weekend, they delivered more than a million cardboard VR viewers to subscribers, and all subscribers had to do was press “download” on the free app. Then, they had a virtual experience at their fingertips.

Since the launch, several news outlets have reported negative user feedback but, mostly, users are happy with their virtual experience. NYT VR currently has a four-out-of-five-star rating in both app stores.

So how does this impact PR?

The truth – I’m not quite sure, and I don’t think anyone is just yet. The Times understands that virtual reality journalism is still in its infancy and that there are kinks to work out, not the least of which is convincing people to place a piece of cardboard on their faces to get news, no matter how cool the experience is. However, they do believe it’s the future of storytelling. And, if it’s the future of storytelling, then PR will inevitably have a role in it.

In the coming weeks, I expect there to be a “re-launch” of sorts from the other outlets that have VR platforms available, including The Wall Street Journal. Its launch didn’t take off mostly because not enough readers had access to a VR viewer, but the Times and Google just solved that problem.

For now, I recommend downloading the handful of VR news apps, folding up your cardboard and enjoying the free immersive experience. Maybe, it will spark the next great idea for how we as PR professionals can insert ourselves into the world of virtual reality storytelling.

Who knows, someday, we might even pitch reporters in VR.

Read more from Kaylin Trychon
Halloween cat costume

Avoid Being Haunted by AP Stylebook Mistakes this Halloween

Somehow, summer has officially transitioned into fall and now Halloween is fast approaching this Saturday. Whether you’re still debating if you should dress up as Donald Trump or the classic ghost route, as PR people it is important to always have our writing skills buttoned up. As such, here are some quick AP style guidelines to keep in mind for any Halloween-oriented content this week:

  • Halloweenthe festive eve of All Saints’ Day (both Oct. 31)
  • Day of the Dead (Nov. 1)
  • jack-o’-lantern
  • Popular candy: M&M’s, Reese’s peanut butter cups, York peppermint patties
  • Popular costume accessories: chain saw, eye patch, handgun, shotgun, UFOs
  • Satan (devil is not capitalized)
  • spider web
  • trick-or-treating and trick-or-treater require hyphens; the phrase trick or treat does not
  • It’s fall! Seasons are never capitalized.
  • Daylight saving time ends on Sunday at 2 a.m. It’s saving, not savings.

And, avoid spooking off journalists by adhering to these three key and commonly abused AP rules:

  • Numbers under 10 should be spelled out, unless it is a percentage.
  • Titles should only be capitalized if it precedes an individual’s name. The title should be lower case if it falls after the name.
    • Account Director Christine Lewis
    • Christine Lewis, account director
  • Its/it’s. “It’s” is a contraction for it is. “Its” is possessive.
    • The company announced its quarterly earnings yesterday…
    • The company announced it’s relocating to Boston…

For more tips, check out our blog post on AP style tips for fall and follow @APStylebook on twitter.


Read more from Christine Comey Lewis
Man with remote control

CNN’s Unveils New Video Platform Aimed at Millennials

Man with remote control

This week, CNN announced the launch of Great Big Story (GBS), or what Fast Company is calling CNN’s answer to sites like Vice and Buzzfeed. The new video network is backed by
CNN and Turner Broadcasting but is independently owned and not strictly a news organization. The mission, according to the network, is to produce content that goes deeper than cat videos and lists of other sites and to, instead, feature content about new frontiers, the human condition, planet earth and tastes and flavors.

The main distinction between CNN and GBS is how the site will work native advertising into the platform (in fact native advertising will be the only source of advertising for now – there are no display ads or pre-roll commercials on the site). On BGS, native advertising will be positioned the same way that editorial content is, although each video will be labeled somehow
as sponsored. The site will premier three to five new videos per day and will have a homepage, but the primary distribution channels will be via social networks, an app, and soon, streaming sites.

Both the branded content and the editorial content will be created by the same editorial team, so the look and feel of the stories will remain consistent. Some of the first videos on the new site include a look at the life of the world’s strongest man, the history of Chef Boyardee and the voice behind the Kool-Aid man. While the last two don’t appear to be sponsored, they show potentially how brands can create content that is relatable while telling their story. As the boundaries between paid and earned media continue to blur, the way GBS presents its content for advertisers and editorial alike will be one to watch. It will also be interesting to see how this content is delivered to the target audience and where they find it.

Read more from Alison Morra
3D white people. Latest news concept. Paperboy

Distributed Content: The Evolution of the Paper Route

As a PR person, it’s really important to keep up with the news of the day. In fact, being in the know is equally as important as all other facets of the role, almost on an as-it-happens basis. The truth is, with the frenetic pace of the day, keeping current with speed of breaking news while also being productive is a constant juggling act. As a news junkie, I was thrilled when news outlets took to Facebook and Twitter and began posting links to stories in the places I visit a few times a day anyhow.

This is the new era of news consumption. Gone are the days of the paper boy delivering the news to our door in the wee hours of the morning; instead, mobile has changed the way we consume news, a cycle that is 24/7 – no breaks. There is no such thing as the morning news or the evening news – news follows us via different mediums all day and all night. Twitter and Facebook have led the charge in recent years – according to recent Pew Research, news hounds are getting their fix on either Twitter or Facebook (63 percent respectively) up significantly from 2013 (52 percent/Twitter; 47 percent/Facebook).

Recently news consumption has evolved so it’s delivered to where readers already are, versus having readers come to get the news. It’s a huge shift known as “distributed content” that PR people need to understand.

How are social platforms adapting?

Everyone is getting in on the game, figuring out how best to entice publishers and content producers to get their news “into the stream” and in front of the huge mobile audiences. It all started with Facebook Instant Articles. Then came Apple News, an aggregation of the day’s top stories designed to bring news stories to you; eliminating the need to have to go to a blog or the New York Times or BuzzFeed to get your news. Twitter has taken it to a new level with its launch of Moments, a new feature that allows users to flip through trending news, all nicely edited and aggregated by humans who provide users with a simple way to engage with current events. It’s quick and dirty, not in-depth, and is great for steering readers toward the news they’d like to explore further. Similarly, Facebook’s “Trending” feature gives users a look at what’s happening now – serving up full-length news stories from major sources (think WSJ, NYT, etc.). The best part about Trending is that it’s smart – showing news relative to popularity, geography, and interest. Then came Google AMP, designed to dramatically improve the performance of the mobile Web to deliver rich content instantly regardless of device.

For Millennials who think Facebook and Twitter are for their parents (I beg to differ…), super popular Snapchat has been in on this action for some time now, too. Snapchat’s Discover offers Stories, just like our personal Snaps – but sponsored by major news outlets and delivered in brief editorial packages. Short and sweet. Just like our attention spans.

As the “on-demand” generation, this is about as on-demand as it gets.

Publishers get on board

The major shift taking place is that many major media outlets are no longer publishing exclusively to their own properties (which is crazy if you think about it). The Washington Post, Business Insider and The Huffington Post all publish to Facebook Instant Articles. CNN, Vox Media, TIME and Wired were among the first wave of publishers on Apple News, while U.S. News, New York Times and Buzzfeed got on board with Google AMP.

The proverbial paperboy is still delivering to your doorstep – only the doorstep is your computer or mobile device or tablet. And even then, the news is following you, not the other way around. Clearly this means media outlets have had to adapt the way they publish (and monetize) news if they want to remain competitive and relevant.

So what does this mean for PR? Smart PR people understand that securing media coverage with publications who are distributing their content into this new stream is the way to get vast amounts of more eyeballs on their stories. In parallel, there are also clever ways to feed our owned content into the stream via Apple News and LinkedIn Pulse.

Is this the end of conventional media output as we know it? Not quite. Publishers still have to maintain their sites both for readers and advertisers, but the pressure to dive into the evolved media stream is on, and publishers who stay on dry land will definitely be left behind.

And yes, you’ll be able to see this blog post in your LinkedIn feed.

Read more from Jill Rosenthal