Corporate Japan despairs at UK’s lack of clarity over Brexit

Head of powerful business lobby warns a no-deal exit would be ‘disastrous’.

Japanese companies are increasingly frustrated by the double talk from the British government over Brexit and are hamstrung on how to respond, according to the head of Japan’s most powerful business lobby.

“We just can’t do anything. Everyone is seriously concerned,” said Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren, in an interview with the Financial Times. “Various scenarios get discussed, from no Brexit to plunging into Brexit without any kind of deal at all. We’re now in a situation where we have to consider what to do in all of them,” he said.

His comments highlight the sense of despair among Britain’s biggest foreign employers after waiting more than two years for clarity about what Brexit will mean.

Keidanren represents more than a thousand of Japan’s biggest companies including large investors in the UK such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Mr Nakanishi, who took over as chairman in May, also chairs Hitachi and is one of the country’s best-known industrialists.

Mr Nakanishi said a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous and urged Britain to stay in the customs union.



‘We’re losing hope’: Facebook tells publishers big change is coming to News Feed

by Lucian Moses

The end is nigh. Facebook is planning a major change to its news feed, starting as early as next week, that will decisively favor user content and effectively deprioritize publishers’ content, according to three publishers that have been briefed by the platform ahead of the move.

Those who have been briefed say that under the new test, Facebook told them it will favor content that’s shared by users or otherwise actively engaged with. The thinking goes, according to those briefed, that Facebook believes prioritizing content that’s acted on will reduce the occurrence of fake and offensive content in the news feed.

Publishers still have many questions about the impending news feed change. Facebook told them that content from reputable publishers will also be surfaced. It didn’t specify how it would define “reputable publisher” or how their traffic would be impacted, though. The worry for publishers is that such an approach will have the unintended consequence of hurting high-quality content because a lot of legitimate news articles, while they may get read, tend not to get shared or commented on.

A Facebook rep wouldn’t confirm (or deny) these changes on the record but later addressed the plans in a blog post and to The New York Times. Facebook’s head of news partnerships Campbell Brown informed publishers of the changes in an email Friday morning, in which she acknowledged that the changes will “take some time to figure out.”

Facebook has been taking steps in this direction for some time, making tweaks to amplify users’ content while weeding out spam and clickbait. Publishers who have been briefed by Facebook believe this latest move would cause a more dramatic decline in publishers’ ability to reach audiences in the news feed, though. Although Facebook isn’t the referral source it once was for publishers, it remains a major source of referral traffic for them, only recently surpassed by Google.

“They’re breaking the bad news one by one,” said one person who was briefed by Facebook on the changes, adding that along with the user content change, Facebook also was prioritizing its scripted Watch shows, its major video initiative, as it tries to grab TV ad dollars. “My impression is they’re going to move away from what we think of as Facebook videos.”

As Facebook sends them less traffic, publishers have been diversifying away from Facebook and fishing for traffic on other platforms such as Google, Apple News and Twitter. Another downgrade in the news feed is likely to accelerate publishers’ shift in resources away from Facebook. Even some of Facebook’s strongest publisher boosters express mounting frustration. “We’re losing hope,” said one.

Last year, Facebook tested a newsless news feed called the Explore Feed in six countries outside the U.S., causing publishers to freak out and spurring speculation that Facebook would replicate that approach in the U.S., despite Facebook saying it didn’t expect to roll out the test further. Founder Mark Zuckerberg has publicly acknowledged problems wrought by technology, including misuse and abuse of the platform, which has amplified the spread of hate-filled content and misinformation and has been used to attempt to influence voters in the presidential election. Facebook has made a number of moves to stamp out fake news, but their results have been mixed.

Another big downgrade in the news feed won’t necessarily come as a shock to publishers, but it conflicts sharply with Facebook’s public stance about how it’s trying to help publishers. That was the stated aim of the year-old Facebook Journalism Project, which Facebook launched to much fanfare about helping support publishers’ business models.

The metrics that matter

‘Working in media organisations is kind of like playing Where’s Waldo’, said Esra Dogramaci, Senior Editor, Digital at DW, during her session ‘How to build digital strategy’ at the International Journalism Festival. According to Dogramaci, the media landscape is so crowded that organisations find it hard to distinguish themselves. They look at their competitors and copy them, meaning everyone suddenly pivots to video, VR, and Facebook live all at once.

How can media organisations rid themselves of their red-and-white-striped shirts, bobble hats, and glasses and change into something more, well, noticeable?

A big part of the solution is getting to grips with analytics. This means understanding the numbers to understand the audience, leading to more informed decisions about the kind of content that’s produced, and in turn, driving engagement. We caught up with Dogramaci to get some advice on analytics: she told us why she isn’t too worried about Facebook algorithm changes, that vanity metrics work for marketing but not for news, and about the time DW broke records when they teamed up with Twitter.

Insights into analytics from Esra

(In Dogramaci’s words, adapted from an exchange between Dogramaci and the Global Editors Network — edited for clarity and brevity.)

Esra Dogramaci at the International Journalism Festival

Pay attention to dwell time and retention rates

There are a number of great tools available to listen to your audience. There’s Spike by, and Facebook’s Crowdtangle. In addition, all key social platforms — YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook — have their own analytics platforms available (for free).

What I do with these tools is look for patterns: Do we see one month where traffic spiked? If we dig deeper, what was behind that spike? Was it a breaking news story or something else? What format was it — picture, video, text, or an interactive?

I’ll look at long term patterns to see what audiences like and don’t like. The way to tell is by looking at metrics, such as engagement or retention rates.

Things like views, reach, clicks and impressions may look impressive on aggregate but are very superficial. They aren’t actionable metrics — meaning we can’t really use them to feed into editorial or content strategy. Things to pay attention to are dwell time, retention rate and watch time. Look at how your content is consumed and shared.

I remember at the BBC, when YouTube still had annotations on videos (chapters you could overlay), we had a video of Angelina Jolie divided into sections. One was about her latest movie, one was about her then-relationship with Brad Pitt and her family, another was about her double mastectomy, and so on. We were then able to see where in the video viewers were clicking; what they were most interested in. We discovered it was the double mastectomy. The audience wasn’t coming to the video for her being a celebrity, per se, but they were interested in a celebrity having an issue that they could relate to. Running tests like this over and over again reveals patterns of what works and what doesn’t work for your audience.

What we often find is that it is the human interest stories — less about celebrity and more about celebrities handling the same challenges we all face.

Don’t overproduce

  • Look at what’s working and what’s not working;
  • Look at what times your audience is active and inactive;
  • Look at what times of day and what days of the week work best for you.

I was looking at some of the UN Twitter accounts for instance — they generally produce good content, but are publishing so frequently that the audience disengages. If they can decrease quantitatively what they’re doing, they can use that extra time and resource to increase the quality or they can start to invest in other forward looking digital projects. If you’re working in digital, you should always be spending time looking at the next big things. Innovation, as well as the audience, has to be at the heart of everything you do.

Grow your female audience

I started building in gender metrics for the BBC back in 2013 when working on YouTube. I noticed that the female audience across the board was significantly underrepresented, so we made them an unofficial target. By making small changes, we started to see an increase in the female audience.

We started basically by making sure more females were represented in the thumbnails of videos. BBC Azeri did this and in a matter of weeks started to see a shift towards more female viewers. BBC Vietnamese went one step further: Their most successful news product on YouTube was a weekly hangout which broke many records for them. It lifted BBC Vietnamese to number 4 out of 20 BBC language services on YouTube — a big feat considering they didn’t have 24 hour TV to support them with content like Arabic or Persian did. For BBC Vietnamese it wasn’t enough to simply have a female host, but they made sure they had females on their hangout as well, which naturally translated into a shift towards a female audience.

Every broadcaster is interested in the reach and the size of their audience. At the BBC, we went one step further with responsible reach by tracking quarterly what the gender split looked like for each language service, how each service was performing against each other, and then what our gender split looked like overall.

What works in some countries doesn’t work in others

During my work with YouTube at the BBC we discovered that the number one video the Vietnamese audiences were coming for was a weekly Google Hangout on YouTube. This ran for at least 45 minutes and regularly brought in over a million views.

For Turkish audiences, we discovered they enjoyed a weekly cartoon or satire, coverage of big Turkish news events, and also what we could call ‘interesting’ news stories: A video of a whale about to explode on a beach was one of their top videos for months on end!

Spanish audiences enjoyed science and particularly explainers of how things worked, such as what happens to you physiologically when you fall in love. BBC Azeri and BBC Spanish found creative ways to cover events they didn’t have access to: Spanish did a series of how to behave at Copa America (football) when they didn’t have match or footage access. All of this comes about through knowing your audience and that begins with looking at your numbers.

It’s not about copying, but inspiring

I never look at other organisations to copy, but I do look at them for inspiration. I really think print publications are sometimes much further ahead than broadcasters when it comes to digital. I love the digital experience the New York Times gives its audiences on Facebook — particularly its very well produced videos. Look at this video of Simone Biles. The results are phenomenal: it had over 500,000 shares and 57 million views. It broke all the rules of a typical Facebook video — it’s horizontal, works best with sound, and is far longer than the typical bite size 90 second experience.

The Guardian and Financial Times also come to mind — the latter particularly with their interactives, such as the Uber game.

You get a sense that these established papers are working really hard not just to be relevant in the digital space, but coming up with products to bring in a new audience. That’s really smart. The FT also releases its source code on projects upon completion. This means any newsroom could theoretically duplicate it for their local context. It’s not about copying, but inspiring. I’d like to see more of that in the industry.

Don’t fret about algorithm changes

Facebook changes its algorithm every six months or so but the latest one was so specific because it came off the back of News Feed test changes in Cambodia for instance. It was directly affecting News Feed, so there was a lot of concern — even panic. However, I contend there’s really nothing to worry about because the thing for broadcasters and others to do is to focus on their audience. If you are delivering good content and getting good engagement, you won’t be affected by any algorithm change. I’ve written in further detail about that here.

However, I was in Indonesia recently where I met a Cambodian vlogger who had seen a significant drop in traffic because of the Facebook algorithm change. The only explanation she had of this was that Cambodia’s Facebook population was so small that Facebook could afford to ‘test’ there.

This does have consequences. This particular vlogger was outspoken about issues not discussed in mainstream media and had amassed quite a following. In places where you have challenges or restrictions to free speech, independent journalism and voices are particularly important. She also mentioned having yet to obtain an explanation from Facebook either personally or publicly as to why the change happened. Her content fit within Facebook’s rules, yet she’s not been able to take back the success she previously had. Other independents like Nuseir who is behind Nas daily, have seen their numbers go up.

Don’t hate on numbers

‘Less than half of newsrooms consult analytics daily,’ according to an ICFJ Survey, ‘The State of Technology in Global Newsrooms’.

When working in analytics, you can’t have the mindset of a consultant who analyses data, comes up with a prescription, and then leaves. I really think it’s about sitting down with teams, understanding how they work — what are they good at, what efficiencies can be identified, and how can you then slowly bring data into the process. There are a few crucials though:

  • You absolutely must have someone from senior management who believes in this and supports you. Without leadership and projects to change the culture, even just getting into the mindset of paying closer attention to analytics will be a struggle.
  • Second, you’ve got to have buy in. If you’re advocating to teams or people who are absolutely, vehemently resistant, then expect no success. Instead, look for those who are curious and willing to accompany you on the analytics journey. Also seek out people who are still on the fence — they can be convinced by numbers.
  • There are far too many newsrooms who value ‘vanity metrics’ — things like clicks, reach, views, impressions. These numbers are indicative but you can’t do anything with them editorially or for building content strategy. Unfortunately I’ve seen far too many CMS/analytics systems in newsrooms that are either made for marketing or just not useful to news. What then ends up happening is that people are educated incorrectly about the numbers. When someone like me comes along and points this out, there’s a lot of resistance. My numbers are lower, but in the long run more meaningful (interaction, retention rates/dwell times, uniques and so on).

Take for instance the Guardian and other papers — shifting from an advertiser revenue model to subscriber driven model. That is all premised off the back of engagement — of having a relationship with the reader, knowing who they are, what resonates, what doesn’t, and delivering on all of that.


Example of a successful partnership with platform

Twitter’s former News Partner manager, Rob Owers, approached me in 2017, suggesting that we cover the German election night on Twitter. A lot of the credit goes to Rob, because he was an excellent partner manager who made things happen and metaphorically held my hand through the process — especially when it came to technical requirements.

For DW it was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. I was lucky to have DW’s head of distribution and technical Guido Baumhauer’s immediate support. He saw the possibility of putting DW on the map in a big way.

Partnering with Twitter meant that whoever visited Twitter on German election night, whether logged in or out of Twitter, would see the DW News livestream. Seeing as the feed was with Periscope — a product that was still being developed at the time — I had limited feedback on specific demographics. But we had over 609,000 viewers — not views, but viewers — watching for an average of 10 minutes or more. If you’re familiar with Twitter, you’ll know that never happens.Twitter is a scrolling experience and videos are much shorter — typically no more than two or three minutes. Holding on to an audience for that long on a platform that really isn’t thought about as a video platform, literally broke records. Last year Facebook live was all the rage and YouTube already has its place in livestream and as the leader in video. But the experience with Twitter really challenged that and got me thinking that this was an opportunity that publishers maybe overlook and Twitter is keen to invest more into.

What are the best strategies to engage your audience?

Engagement is one of the buzzwords of the moment. What are the best strategies to engage audiences with your media brand? That’s what this Ask me Anything session at the GEN Summit 2018 tried to figure out.

By José Moreno

To explain what strategies are being pursued to achieve that goal, GEN invited four experts and one experienced moderator: Esra Dogramaci, senior editor for digital at DW; Martin Jönsson, head of editorial development at Dagens Nyheter; Ritu Kapur, co-founder and CEO of The Quint, in India; and Sarah Marshall, head of audience growth for Vogue International, with Condé Nast media group. The moderator was Jim Roberts, editor-in-chief of Cheddar.

Does Facebook still matter for digital media?

Of course, when you talk about engagement nowadays, you have to talk Facebook. Roberts kicked off the ‘Ask me Anything’ debate wondering if Facebook still matters for digital newsrooms today.

Esra Dogramaci: ‘Still a small proportion of the media use analytics in the newsroom. And that’s a mistake.’

‘Of course it matters’, Esra Dogramaci replied. ‘It’s true the algorithm changes every six months, but that is exactly why you should focus on what you’re good at and go with that. Figure out what matters to you: Is it impressions? Is it engagement? Is it quality?’ That’s the most important thing, according to Dogramaci. She presented a three-fold scenario to explain what she meant, ‘What if Mark Zuckerberg decides to shut down Facebook? What if the EU or the US decide to regulate it? What if Alibaba buys it and closes it? If something like that happened, would you still be able to sustain a loyal relationship with your audience? That’s the important question you have to ask yourself.’

Jönsson continued along the same vein, ‘Of course Facebook still matters. That’s where people form their view of the world. Or course we have to be there. We have to relate to people. It’s a real platform to direct people to your content, but that effort has to be integrated in the newsroom.’

Ritu Kapur said her experience in India is no different, ‘Facebook is important for us. WhatsApp is also important, but Facebook is the base. It represents a huge audience for our video content. For us, engagement with our audiences on video content has been very good on Facebook.’

Engage… with analytics

Of course, to engage with your audiences it is important to know precisely who your audiences are. And that’s where analytics come along. Jim Roberts alluded to an article by GEN, where Dogramaci identified dwell time and retention rates, along with growing a female audience, as the most important metrics newsrooms should look at.

Sometimes, Roberts said, ‘people in the newsroom seem to be afraid of analytics.’

‘They shouldn’t be’, Esra responded. ‘They should see these things as an opportunity. It is nothing to be afraid of.’

What is the most important metric for a newsroom?

Sarah Marshall says that, for Vogue, it could be likes and comments, but overall it would have to be loyals. ‘Loyals represent more for our brand. It’s true that loyalty rates differently around the world, but Facebook is always a good driver for loyalty, because people come again and again to our websites. Messaging apps also do that very well. In general, social media is a good driver for loyalty.’

Martin Jönsson: ‘For us, the key is achieving digital loyalty through digital quality’

Jönsson has the same experience in Sweden, but says the best metric depends on the strategy. ‘For us, the key is achieving digital loyalty through digital quality. The trick is how to manage loyalty and quality, because there is no metric to show that directly. It has to do with frequency, completion rates and things like that. It’s not easy. But, yes, loyalty is important.’

‘We’ve tried to develop a total engagement score’, Martin continued. ‘Instead of searching for a metric, we did a conversion index, comprising active time spent, shares, search traffic, etc. For a newsroom it is easy to focus on the stories that are buzzing. The difficult part is to discover the ones that are not buzzing but are generating a lot of engagement.’

For Ritu Kapur, at The Quint, loyal visitors are also crucial. ‘We want visitors to spend more time on our video content, even on platforms like YouTube. We focus on video consumption, so for us, unique and loyal unique video viewers are important’

Manage engagement with younger audiences

Kapur’s experience with video also translates into how media brands should interact with younger audiences. ‘Let’s not forget we come from broadcasting,’ she said. ‘Since then, we’ve focused much on crafting videos for digital users and grabbing the attention of the audience. Every person in our newsroom goes to the field with the capacity to film, edit, produce, and publish their work directly on mobile phones. Users identify with that and this generates much higher audience engagement. We also ask users to send us videos to increase participation though video. Video for mobile is in fact a big opportunity, but it’s still pretty hard to monetise’

Ritu Kapur: ‘If you believe all you read on the internet, you’re an idiot!’

Another technical element that permitted The Quint to increase engagement with its users was its commenting system, called MeType. Ritu explains, ‘When we started, three and a half years ago, we felt the need to create our own content management systems. We felt the existing commenting plugins were all very static. We developed MeType so that we could see all the conversations on all the stories and the corresponding interactions. We noticed traffic went up 20 per cent after we launched MeType. Getting people to engage with your stories really works.’

Debunking is engaging

‘If you believe all you read on the internet, you’re an idiot!’ This is how Kapur responded to Roberts about the problem of fake news in India.

Misinformation is exploding in India and people have been killed in relation to rumours spread by fake news in social media. To fight that issue, The Quint developed a vertical to debunk misinformation online, which was named WebQoof (in internet slang a ‘webqoof; is a person who believes every word on the Internet and social media).

Kapur said they tried to use the same platforms on which misinformation lives in order to debunk it.

‘WhatsApp is usually where fake news in India goes viral. And that’s why we try do debunk it using that same platform. The debate on platforms around fake news becomes fascinating and the debunking stories themselves gain incredible engagement.’ Confirming this, Roberts reminded the audience that BuzzFeed has a team exclusively dedicated to debunking fake news and that those debunking stories tend to be very popular and engaging.

Audiences differ around the globe

Talking about audience development now is of course very different than it was a couple of years ago. Now you hear much more about quality and engagement. At Vogue, Sarah Marshall says the leadership was critical in changing the culture of the company: ‘The fact that we have a digital person as president showed us the way. Everybody in the company, from top down, focused on the metrics necessary to achieve our goals.’

Sarah Marshall: ‘ Loyalty rates differently around the world, but Facebook is always a good driver for loyalty’

‘Our audiences are very different depending on the country’, the head of audience growth at Vogue International continued. ‘In Japan, for instance, audience is max at 10 pm. And in China you have to have a presence on WeChat, same as VK and Yandex in Russia. In any of theses countries there is an opportunity in aggregators.’

‘Our London office now has a team of six people exclusively dedicated to Instagram. And we are also strongly present in Snapchat. We try to teach our journalists about he value of those platforms for our brand. For us this is very important’, she concluded.

What should be considered engagement and how it should be measured is something that varies by country, brand, and demographic. But what stands out from the experts in this debate is a common quest for whatever engagement is, by whatever metric one chooses to grasp it. In a way, it’s the new ‘Holy Grail’ of digital media.


Zetland’s members asked for an audio version — and now it’s more popular than their written stories

“We’re definitely not a short-form news outlet. When we launched, we thought it would be late evening media, something where you would crash on the sofa and read our stories.”

 — A feather boa, an inflatable cactus, and a pair of zebra masks appeared on a stage (no, really) as a drummer began tapping away at cymbals. A medley of viral videos played behind a man standing downstage, whose monologue on the “attention war” in technology had just been interrupted by this impromptu parade.

Granted, this all happened in Danish — but the language of technology overload is universal. But how often do you see journalists broach the topic of content overconsumption with their audiences? This was the 13th Zetland Live, the in-person performance showcase of Copenhagen-based, membership-driven news outlet Zetland, and the monologue-giver was Zetland’s cofounder and audio editor Hakon Mosbech. I couldn’t tell you what he said, but the audience seemed to respond enthusiastically.

It’s at events like these that Mosbech and other Zetland journalists have gotten to know their members face-to-face. And it’s where editor-in-chief Lea Korsgaard and other staffers started hearing suggestions from their audiences that they wanted to listen to their regular journalism instead of read it. Zetland publishes in-depth reporting daily on topics like culture, the climate, education, and economics, with the mission of “not to make news — it is to make sense.”

“Our members asked for it, literally,” Korsgaard told me in an interview a few weeks after the show. “When we met them at our live events and saw our emails and comments sections, they really asked for it when we asked how we can improve Zetland. A bunch of them asked us to either go into podcasting or reading the stories and letting them listen instead of reading them.”

They didn’t have much hard data to evaluate the idea, but they decided to test it out anyway. The response has been so overwhelming that since the fall, 60 percent of Zetland members have been listening to their journalism compared to 40 percent reading. Zetland has 10,000 members — up from 8,500 last year — with a price tag of 99 kroner (US $12.30) per month or 999 kroner (US $124.08) per year. They haven’t broken even yet, but they’re on track to do so next year and just brought on new investors, Korsgaard said.

“Instead of demanding that ‘we like written word so you have to read our stories,’ we try to get a sense of how can we adapt to your world and your way of living,” Korsgaard said. Zetland spent six months developing the audio component, testing the audio stories in the beginning of 2017 and launching an app for them in June.

Despite their members’ enthusiasm for spoken journalism, the journalists still start out by writing their stories, recording their own out-loud renditions later. Korsgaard said they haven’t changed much of their style or reporting process, and the written content they publish is the same as the audio. Some of the team members have a background in audio — like cofounder Mosbech, who used to host a weekly radio program on the media — but they enlisted the help of a voice coach for training. The Zetland style already gravitates toward a down-to-earth vibe, such as starting a story with “Okay, let’s find out what’s going on with….” Each audio story now begins with a short personal note from the journalist about what the story meant to them before they begin telling it. “It’s some details that tell the listener it’s a person behind the story, not a machine that wrote it,” Korsgaard said.

The experiment appears to be working so far: Members tend to be more loyal and thorough in their Zetland audio consumption than their text consumption, and they seem to be adopting listening to Zetland as part of their daily routine. “We’re definitely not a short-form news outlet,” Korsgaard said. “When we launched, we thought it would be late evening media, something where you would crash on the sofa and read our stories. But we’re definitely more commuter media that we thought.”

Being pleasantly surprised by their members’ desires is a recurring theme for Zetland. In our previous coverage of Zetland, we noted how frequently the organization tries to solicit input from members, like when they asked for suggestions for their newsletter name. (“I totally hated [the name readers chose, Helikopter] to begin with,” CEO and cofounder Jakob Moll said then. “But Mads Olrik, who was running our community at the time, said we can’t ask the questions if we don’t want the answer. It’s been called that since, and of course, it’s perfect.”)

The addition of 1,500 members over the past year helps toss some more voices into the mix. To build their member count (and income), Zetland runs some social media ads, but Korsgaard also said “old school” TV commercials and flyers in Copenhagen’s newspapers have actually helped bring in more members than expected. “It turns out that TV commercials played a much huger role than we would have ever thought,” she said. They’ve run commercials in one of Copenhagen’s evening TV news hours and during the Tour de France. (More than 60 percent of Danes use the country’s two public service TV broadcasters at least weekly, according to the 2017 Reuters Institute Digital News Report.)

On the heels of the audio success, Zetland now also publishes an audio version of that daily newsletter, which aggregates other media organizations’ stories too. And they’re in the early stages of experimenting with video to connect with younger audiences. The company also recently redesigned its website for better navigability — and won the digital Best of Show award from the Best of Nordic News Design competition for its old design the same day it launched the new version.

“If there’s a lesson to learn, it’s really nice to win awards and celebrate when you do, but don’t let that decide how you should develop the site or your content,” Korsgaard said. “It’s your readers and your members who should have the last say in how your product is [done].”