Tow Center

The Media Today: Why newsrooms are using mobile push alerts for brand, not breaking

November 30, 2017

It seems like every morning these days we wake up to an abundance of push alerts on the lock screen of our phones. Perhaps this is the new normal; on top of the relentless news cycle and Trump’s tweeting habits, publishers have to compete for our attention. But it also represents a shift in how publishers themselves think about alerts—away from breaking, and toward a strong brand definition on mobile.

Big, breaking news was once the sum of most news outlets’ mobile alert strategies. Now, according to new research by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia and the Guardian Mobile Lab, news outlets are using push alerts to define their brands and provide context for readers.

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Researchers at Tow analyzed three weeks of push alerts from 31 iOS apps and 14 Apple News channels this summer, and conducted 23 interviews with product managers, mobile editors, and audience managers from a variety of US news outlets. They found that there has been a balloon over the past year in the number of alerts sent by news organizations on a daily basis, as well as a shift away from simple headlines, breaking news, or clickbait.

Read the full report, “Pushed beyond breaking.”

Alerts have a unique benefit for publishers: Because they reach audiences directly on smartphone lock screens, alerts are able to divert news traffic away from third-party platforms and back toward publishers’ apps. This, in turn, builds brand loyalty and develops news habits. For many publishers, push alerts provide a valuable opportunity to remind their audiences who they are and what they do best.

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Other notable stories

  • Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos from a far-right, British group on Wednesday morning. “Whether it is a real video, the threat is real,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later in the day, defending the president’s incendiary tweets.
  • Garrison Keillor, host of A Prairie Home Companion until last year, has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of misconduct. Keillor told The New York Times that the story in question is “more complicated” than what the radio station had heard.
  • A story in Variety Wednesday afternoon elaborated on the allegations against NBC’s Matt Lauer, which broke in the morning, with accounts from several women. Among other details, the story reveals Lauer had “a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up.” The big question now is: Who else at NBC knew? As Tow Director Emily Bell points out on Twitter, “If a man has an office which locks from the inside without him getting up and locking it…he probably had help with the engineering problem.”
  • After disappointing annual revenue report last week, BuzzFeed is cutting about 100 jobs and reorganizing its business side.
  • CJR columnist Trevor Timm on an effort by the Freedom of the Press Foundation (which he directs) and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia to find out the extent of surveillance the government is conducting on journalists.

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Nausicaa Renner is digital editor of CJR.