Virginia's paper of record struggles to attract a younger audience, who are moving online. Still, editors are cautious of depending on traffic from social media. We created a personalized and interactive mobile app, suited to the preferences of an increasingly diverse readership.
WHAT WE DID:
Surveyed young Richmonders about their media diets.
Researched trends in the media and news landscapes.
Downloaded news apps to learn what we could do better.
Newspapers, fearing extinction nationwide, are searching for new business models.
According to the Pew Research Center, US newspaper circulation fell in 2018 to its lowest level since 1940, the first year with available data. From 2008 to '18, newsroom employment fell by nearly half, 47%, and reported a 62% decline in ad revenue. Digital media companies like BuzzFeed and Vice, conceived as the future of the news media, have also been beset by layoffs and losses in profitability in recent years.
In this bleak climate, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia's paper of record, is reaching for a lifesaver. Its most loyal readers are over 55, and it struggles to attract a younger audience. Its editors asked us to develop new means of reaching them and securing its future. We could deliver anything we wanted, but there was one major caveat: they did not want to depend on digital traffic from social media. They feared making the same mistakes other media entities had and jeopardizing 170 years of quality reporting.
Young people care about the news, but consuming it can feel like a chore.
Young people have become their own curators. For example, streaming services like Spotify allow them active personalization. They can create playlists and fill them with their favorite music. Services like Netflix offer passive personalization. Artificial intelligence studies users' preferences over time and delivers tailored recommendations, freeing users from any legwork. As a result of both modes of customization, no one homepage looks the same.
This means of consuming content has become second nature. It has also begun to permeate news habits. Today, most young people rely on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram for their news. They can pick and choose their favorite sources to follow, creating customized feeds. Over time, the algorithms of these platforms deliver recommended content based on users' interests.
Consequently, the news has taken on more than just a civic role (i.e., delivering news that people should know). It has become more individualistic (i.e., delivering news that is personally useful, interesting, and fun to know). However, news outlets still offer a standardized media diet. For example, the homepage of The New York Times website remains identical to all readers. It has changed little since 1996 (see below, via the Verison Museum).
Young Richmonders, whose media diets are as diverse as they are.
Richmond is a fast-growing and increasingly diverse city. Since 2013, 60,000 people have moved to the city. During this time, 30% and 33% of its net population gain came from international and domestic migration, respectively.
Its residents are young and engaged. The median age of all Richmonders is just 33.5 years old. In a survey we conducted of 22 residents under the age of 35, respondents rated the "importance of knowing local politics" as 7/10. They rated their "desire to participate in local events" as 6.6/10.
Young Richmonders want to discover their city, but their relationships to it are unique. Meet some of them, here:
Meet Becky, 20.
A proactive transplant.
Moved from the DC area to attend VCU over a year ago.
Wants easy-to-read and accessible updates on her phone—without the clickbait headlines.
Lifestyle-oriented: Discovers events and local businesses on social media but is frustrated by the last of trustworthy info.
Young people depend on social media because it's the only way to customize the news. But there is a demand for an alternative.
A report from Reuters and Oxford states, "In light of attention around well-being, privacy and so on, young people are reflecting on their use of social media." Another report from Origin found that 1/3 of millennials and Gen Zers have quit some form of social media. According to a separate report from Reuters, 86% of Americans don't trust news found on social media.
Young people would likely spend money on an alternative. The American Press Institute reports that 40% of millennials personally pay for news products and services.
Richmond Times-Dispatch is your personal portal to the city.
THE IDEA: RTD News App
A smartphone app that honors Richmond Times-Dispatch's great reporting, while still tailoring it to your unique needs. It's your portal to Richmond—and the world.
Through a personalized onboarding process, the app learns which topics you care about most to prioritize them in your feed.
It's a simple three-step process.
Select your neighborhood.
2. Your Feed
Your newsfeed will be unlike any other. Based on your selected preferences and behaviors over time, the RTD app curates your feed. You'll have a healthy blend of what you'd like to know and what you need to know.
The experience is fully interactive. There are fewer words and larger images, so you can easily thumb through your feed as you would on social media.
3. Interactive Stories:
We have envisioned the news cycle as a continuous flow of interactive stories. They are concise, highly visual, and easily digestible. It'll be easier to stay on top of what's going on than scrolling through Twitter. If the brief recaps intrigue you, swipe up to read the full story.
Interactive stories create a new opportunity for increased ad revenue streams through sponsored content.
5. Full-Length Articles:
How the news is presented and packaged has changed. The time-honored and meticulous reporting for which the Richmond Times-Dispatch is known has not. If a story interests you, swipe up to dive into the full article. See what other readers have to say about them too.
Deck Narrative, Design, and Presentation
Secondary Behavioral Research