July 30, 2023
The effects of climate change threaten civilizations worldwide. Citizens need reliable information about the risks to their rapidly evolving environment and how they can contribute to solutions. As experts on regional climate reporting, local media organizations serve on the front lines of this vital public service.
Distributed Media Lab’s founding principle is to accelerate audience development and economic growth for local media entities.
Partnering with the Local Media Association’s Covering Climate Collaborative offers DML the opportunity to serve its primary mission while contributing to humanity’s most existential modern battle.
Launched in April 2021, LMA’s collaborative comprises of 25 US news organizations featuring climate reporting leaders across newspapers, T.V., public radio stations and digital-native sites.
These news outlets cover the U.S. regions most affected by climate change. The areas and topical scope include sea-level rise and hurricanes in the Southeast, hurricanes and extreme weather in the Gulf Coast, drought in the Southwest, wildfires and drought in the West and flooding and climate migration in the Midwest/Great Lakes. Participating members include the Miami Herald, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Graham TV properties, WBEZ radio in Chicago, and InvestigateWest.
As the LMA collaborative continued to produce essential climate reporting, the group needed a way to showcase and share the content from all contributors across their network. However, the collaborative needed a panacea to overcome many challenges and barriers with 23 unique sites, many relevant sections, various CMS formats, paywalls and advertising considerations.
Enter DML in late 2021. DML’s technology powers a story-sharing platform utilizing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), enabling content distribution across the LMA’s partnership network. This distribution comes via content “collections” (aka modules or widgets) that can be embedded on any site across the open web. Collections display three elements:
Once a user clicks on a headline, a lightbox displays the article’s AMP page in the story viewer. The article viewer lightbox contains 20 stories, and users can seamlessly scroll through them utilizing the lightbox’s right rail.
Strategic sessions between the LMA and DML admin teams began the story-sharing solution development. Newsroom outreach gathered essentials:
The curation strategy relies on RSS feeds to surface content and manual curation to set the most timely, relevant, and engaging order. Pillars include source diversity and a blend of trending, evergreen and investigative reporting. Headline adjustments allow for space limits and styling.
DML’s team then presented an overview of the platform and test collections during multiple all-hands Zoom syncs with the broader collaborative’s newsrooms.
Next, the DML team connected with publishers that don't utilize AMP to explain the format's benefits and reiterate the platform's requirements. During a development sprint, DML’s product team also built an internal CMS with AMP capabilities. The DML team agreed with three publishers (WBEZ, Arizona State Cronkite News and Investigate West) to republish content on their behalf as AMP pages for exclusive use within the collaborative’s collections. DML began republishing several monthly stories for these three partners in June 2022.
Following an all-hands sync on embedding and customization options, collaborative news partners created a DML Marketplace account. The Marketplace provides partners with unique embed codes with formatting to seamlessly integrate collections into their sites. Partners could also customize the collection display with options such as a single row of three- or four-story tiles, two-by-two-square formats, and full-page layouts.
Some partners, like the non-profit Great Lakes Echo, opted for a widespread implementation by featuring a collection on the homepage, section fronts, and within articles to maximize impressions. Graham Media sites initially embedded on their “Forecasting Change” section but eventually moved collections into the weather pages of five sites starting in July.
Upon completion of their embeds, DML tracked the performance of collections based on the following:
The platform provides daily and segmented data for the performance of each collection collectively across the entire network as well as performance on individual domains. Further, it tracks the top-performing articles within each collection.
DML provides the LMA team with periodic data updates, analysis, and recommendations to share with the newsrooms.
In Sept. 2020, DML secured funds from Grant for the Web to develop and launch an innovative reader revenue platform by harnessing Web Monetization and AMP to power distributed reader revenue across a network of participating publishers. DML’s strategy is to design a multi-party payment system to incentivize content sharing across distributed networks. Further, the objective is to establish a scalable revenue model for content syndication between national and local publishers and to empower the news publishing industry to benefit financially from Web Monetization.
DML utilized blockchain technology, through partner Uphold, to process transactions and test fund distribution to publisher wallets when a piece of content is read. DML created a method for consumer payments that is aligned with the open web’s inherent decentralized structure and economics.
DML wanted a topic-based journalism collaborative as a test subject for the Web Monetization project. These collaboratives offer an opportunity to better understand the potential economic value of multi-party payments for engagement with a specific topic that may lend itself to consumer subscription, donation revenue, and corporate sponsorship models.
DML launched a Web Monetization technology test through the LMA Climate Collaborative partnership in January 2022.
DML expects to launch Web Monetization as a service to benefit publishers and consumers in 2023.
Finding the ideal embed location has been paramount. Unsurprisingly, collections in prime viewable positions have much higher CTRs. The most significant success story comes via Graham Media properties’ (KSAT, Click2Houston, ClickOrlando, New4Jax, ClickOnDetroit) evolution from embedding the collections on their “Forecasting Change” section to utilizing weather pages. The change took negligible impression numbers to a daily average between 5-6,000 and click-through rates from below 0.5% to over 3%, in the case of News4Jax. When severe weather struck, there was a surge in collection interest. During the week Hurricane Ian made landfall (Week of Sept 26), News4Jax had a 3.39% CTR and ClickOrlando had a 2.71% CTR, far higher than average.
Engagement rates are strong across the embedded network. Once readers click into the viewer, they read an average of 1.5 articles per session. Collaborative-wide adoption and prominent collection placement would improve collection impressions and engagement rates.
However, even if an organization isn’t embedding a collection, that participating publication still gets a traffic boost through collection placement within the LMA network. The Miami Herald only recently embedded the East/Southeast collection and WWNO has not yet embedded the Gulf collections, but their content has been traffic-generating leaders among collaborative members.
Organizations that embed collections benefit from extended user session times, increased engagement, and enhanced content with a greater appeal to their audience.
Top stories across all embedded collections received thousands more page views than they would have without DML’s additional distribution. The focus of top-performing content includes:
DML will continue to serve its mission by increasing efforts to amplify the reach of collaborative journalism projects. The Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water desk recently launched a DML collection for the “When It Rains” collaborative project and plans to develop more DML collections to spread throughout their network of 16 newsrooms. “When It Rains” is a five-part multimedia series that examines the causes and catastrophic effects of increased rainfall and flooding throughout the Mississippi River Basin.
The company has ongoing discussions to provide story-sharing solutions for organizations in Health Care, Education, Automotive News, and Black news collaborations.
DML’s technology creates a new channel for audience discovery, development, and engagement. This fresh path to audience growth will aid local media organizations in their economic transition from traditional to digital media business models.