News Gist is a software tool that gathers content from a news site for a targeted audience. The tool categorizes news content and information based on the needs, interests and lifestyle of a specific audience. The prototype pitched here is for young adults. It is just one example of a targeted news experience, or a spin-off digital mobile publication for a segment of the population.
News Gist, or Gist for short, divides stories into parts to produce quick reads for a mobile audience, but more importantly, to make news stories more digestible and edit-able for an audience. The audience edits and contributes content to those story parts — deepening and widening a story with information from the community.
The end product is a rich, collaborative news experience. For young adults (ages 18 to 29), that means shorter stories, news they can use, a tool that helps them in their daily life, and a site they can interact with and contribute to.
These news wants are somewhat ageless. And (gulp) not new. But no mobile site has truly answered their call nor done so in a way that allows users to contribute information and edit stories as contributing named editors. Some print newspapers have satisfied those wants with separate print tabloids aimed at this age group, several of which are profitable (i.e. RedEye and *tbt, to name a few).
So how is this different?
News Gist shakes up the way journalists think about writing for mobile platforms. The majority of news content that appears on mobile phones and tablets is shovelware, a copy of what appears on news sites, in print and on air. Mobile journalism should be different, and collaborative.
Ask yourself: How much do you really learn from scrolling through a list of headlines or even the first sentences of stories on your phone or tablet? News Gist displays 100-word summaries of stories, written by journalists. Like the Page 2 briefs of The New York Times or the briefs in most newspapers, for that matter. Or an abstract on a complex science article. Or the “64-calorie” version of a story that’s packed with facts. Think Twitter, but 100 words. It’s a summary, not the first few paragraphs, for those who are not likely to read the full story on the go.
BUT users can still click on stories of interest to go deeper. The depthness of a story is presented in story parts, which both the reporter and community can write and edit.
Gist is the brain behind a mobile site that targets a specific audience. The open source software tool selects the stories and breaks them into parts. In essence, the software aims to take much of the production process away from the news organization — with the exception of that initial story summary and any added story parts.
In the young adult audience mobile site (at left), Gist determines “must-know” news stories by scraping a news organization’s website, looking at story play, length of play, and page views of stories. For “you” stories, Gist scrapes a site looking at story tags and keywords that are based on the reported news interests of a user. For those “talk” story, Gist scrapes for the top most shared and most commented stories.
How do journalists use News Gist?
The backend of News Gist consists of a plug-in that is built into the Content Management System of a newsroom’s site. So as a reporter, editor or producer is filling in the text areas for his or her story, the text areas for story parts also appear.
Story summaries are often already part of the news gathering/story pitching process. A description of stories is requested of reporters and editors to pitch at news meetings — but those pitches and write-ups often stay in the newsroom. The Associated Press also sends story summaries, called news digests. During the news gathering and writing stage, reporters are thinking about the story essentials — what’s next, the backstory, who’s affected, how to help, and other resources. But those parts can get buried because of the flow of the writing. News Gist highlights those essentials for on-the-go mobile readers. A tagging system also can be used in the CMS to tag those parts in the writing.
Once the story summary and any essential parts are published, journalists can interact with the mobile community by answering questions, posing questions, and, most importantly, taking part in the growth of a story.
Like Wikipedia, Gist relies on contributing editors. Interested contributing editors are vetted by email or phone. They are also asked about their news interests and any areas of expertise. Their full names are displayed at the end of story parts they’ve edited. And their names are linked to short bios. This mobile news storytelling initiative rides on the diversity of contributing editors and their dedication. Like the journalists, they are the most important stakeholders to the success of Gist.
The young adult mobile news prototype pitched for the Knight-Mozilla News Challenge is based on numerous hours-long conversations with young adults (more than 80) in various U.S. cities over a span of three years. The conversations focused on what frustrates them about the news and what they want more of.
The idea for a spin-off-targeted mobile experience stemmed from truly understanding an audience’s lifestyle and needs. For young adults, it’s: tell me news I need to know, but quickly; give me news to talk about; be a resource for when I’m looking for things to do; provide stories that I‘m interested in; and save me money, too. Most importantly, I want to be a part of the news conversation, not talked over or about.
Gist is a software tool that connects journalists and a target mobile audience in a way that gives ownership to the community and empowers them. The software is designed to take a large part of the production process — selection of stories and wiki-like collaboration — out of the newsroom. But journalists’ skills for reporting and writing are still very much at the heart.