Innovation in Digital Media: NPR Fact-Checks Debates in Real-Time, Bloomberg Pushes Back Against Facebook

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With the expansion of digital media and out-sized audience interest in this year’s Presidential election, opportunities for innovation abound. This week, NPR fact-check the debates in real-time, leading to record traffic. Slate, which turns 20 this year, has expanded political coverage to build reader loyalty and wean itself from Facebook; meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal and ESPN, among others, give Facebook’s Instant Articles a pass.

NPR Traffic Hits Record High, Thanks to Real-Time Fact-Checking of Presidential Debates

Despite the commentary about the U.S. being in a “post-fact” election cycle, real-time fact-checking actually drove record traffic to during the first Presidential debate, according to NiemanLab. (Traffic figures for the second debate were not immediately available).

During the debates, a team of 20 reporters at review a real-time transcript, created with help from a closed captioning service, and then fed into a shared Google doc. The reporters add annotations that are individually approved and then published, sometimes within just a few minutes of the candidates’ proclamations.

Ninety public radio stations across the country embedded the live transcript and commentary and 5 million people viewed it during the first debate, creating the highest traffic day ever for (Anyone accessing the content from their local station’s site was actually viewing content streaming form Seventy percent of those visitors were on mobile devices, and mobile users spent an average of four more minutes on the site than others, pointing to the pervasiveness of two-screen use, especially for real-time commentary.

At 20, Slate Figures Out How to Optimize Reader Loyalty

When Slate was founded in 1996, there was no YouTube, no Google, no Twitter, and no Facebook – an era Slate refers to as “Jurassic Web.” Now, like many other digital media properties, Slate is beholden to Facebook but, according to Digiday, finds it unreliable as a source of referral traffic. With monthly unique visitors numbering about 23 million, Slate has no choice but to compete on quality and value.

With “fly by” Facebook traffic fluctuating between 24 and 35 percent every month, Slate recently mounted a push to cultivate loyal readers so that it could count on them for more reliable traffic. Slate hired more political reporters to boost coverage during the Presidential campaign, and revamped and relaunched its newsletter. The happy result: Site traffic is up 31 percent as of August 2016–and Slate knows that growth is much more predictable and sustainable than what it used to have.

Bloomberg, ESPN, Wall Street Journal Resist Facebook’s Instant Articles

One year after its launch, some notable media giants are still holding out against Facebook’s Instant Articles, including Bloomberg, ESPN, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, CBS News and others, reports Digiday. The faster load times, those publications seem to believe, don’t offset the loss of control created by pushing content via Facebook’s “ecosystem.”

“[W]hy not create a really fast mobile template ourselves?” Bloomberg Media’s global digital head Scott Havens asked in a story from Digiday. “Publishers are better off controlling their own destinies,” – and that could mean investing heavily in reader engagement.