Meanwhile, media entrepreneurs are devising new news products specifically for the smartphone. Circa, an iPhone app, launched in October; by February, it had seen hundreds of thousands of downloads. Instead of excerpting reported articles, Circa’s journalists compile new pieces that simply cite the originals as sources. The app is essentially a series of bullet points on the 20 or so biggest news stories of the day.
“We’re just trying to inform,” says Matt Galligan, Circa’s cofounder and CEO. “We’re looking for long-term user trust. I think even young people do still care about brands.” Circa’s largest demographic, accounting for about one-third of its users, is the group aged 25 to 34. Thirteen-to-24-year-olds are about one-quarter of the Circa audience.
Circa’s user interface has its advantages: Sliding from one point to the next, often with relevant art, makes the most of the iPhone in a way that text emails do not. The problem with Circa is its business-side implications. Unlike other aggregators, Circa is simply condensing information on a major story from several sources, not just grabbing one story in particular—so those who are paying for the original reporting are not making money from it. Summarizing for smartphones has suddenly become big business: In March, Yahoo raised eyebrows with its purchase of Summly (for a reported $30 million), acquiring both a text-condensing algorithm and the services of its 17-year-old founder.
One might assume that a phone, with its small screen, would lend itself only to reading short items. But young readers are willing to consume longer features on their phones as well, often in several chunks throughout the day. “We’ve seen really surprising numbers—almost a quarter of all our traffic is on the iPhone,” says Max Linsky, 32, co-founder of Longform.org, an aggregator of in-depth magazine pieces.
While nearly half of American adults own a smartphone, nearly a third own a tablet computer. A majority of all these people say they use the devices to get news. In September 2012, Pew found that 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had a smartphone, versus 46 percent of all American adults. Young people spend more time on mobile phones or tablet devices than their elders, and are more likely to browse the Web and get their news via social-media platforms. A June 2012 Pew study found that 19 percent of American adults of all ages saw news or news headlines on a social network the day before being interviewed, up from just 9 percent in 2010. In the same survey, Pew reported that 34 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they had seen news on a social-networking site the previous day, compared with 12 percent in 2010.
Browsing the Web by typing URLs into a browser is a less-than-enjoyable experience when using a handheld device without a keyboard. So mobile-device users gravitate toward products that let them simply scroll with their thumbs and click on links. The September 2012 Pew study revealed that 47 percent of smartphone users and 39 percent of tablet users said they got news through a social network “sometimes” or “regularly.” In fact, that Pew study states, “Major news websites in the US now get, on average, 9 percent of their traffic from Facebook, more than double the 4 percent seen just 15 months ago.”
They’re crazy about video
Some folks might think of YouTube, which is owned by Google, as a repository for silly homemade videos and illegally posted songs, but it is increasingly a source of news. One-third of YouTube searches are for news-related terms, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (2011), and 51 percent of the most-watched videos bore a news organization’s logo. According to YouTube itself, 7,000 hours of news-related video are uploaded to the site every day. And the site’s overall usage numbers are extraordinary: More than 1 billion unique visitors per month watch 4 billion hours of video (the site does not release audience statistics segmented by age). What’s more, the eight-year-old site is still growing: Pageviews are up 25 percent since the beginning of 2012.
As with photos, a “wow” factor is the single biggest driver of video popularity. In 2011, for example, the most-watched YouTube clip featured dramatic footage of the Japanese earthquake and resulting tsunami. Sometimes, of course, what goes viral is too good to be true: As The New York Times recently reported, a September 19 YouTube clip about a pig helping a baby goat out of a pond was actually staged as a promotion for a new Comedy Central show. (Before the fakery was exposed, the clip had been promoted by Time magazine’s Twitter feed and several network news shows.)