Reportory personalizes email newsletters
Here at News & Tech we’ve been creating and pushing our own email Dateline newsletter since the early part of this century.
The email newsletter platform, popular in the 1990s, is having a major resurgence. In a recent study by Pew Research Center, 15 percent of readers consistently consume news through emails. And about half of those are very loyal to that pathway. Indeed, most news consumers — 65 percent, according to the Pew study, are loyal to a specific way of receiving online news.
“Push always works over pull,” said Tracy Clark, Reynolds Journalism fellow and founder of Reportory, a personalized email platform for newspapers. “Anyway a publisher or company can push without annoying the user draws in readership.”
Reportory is born
Clark started thinking of drawing in readers right out of journalism school. She attended the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism and began working at The Roanoke (Virginia) Times shortly after graduation. In 2008, parent company Landmark communications started shopping its newspaper properties and Clark was left feeling like there had to be a better way to keep newspapers relevant.
“Paper and people are just too expensive,” the publisher told her at the time.
“I started thinking about business plans of how to cut back on costs,” Clark told News & Tech. “I thought everything is so manual and why are we doing one product for everyone when everyone wants something different? It just seemed super wasteful.”
With the Internet and mobile technology growing at a rapid pace, it seemed like an opportunity to personalize and automate.
Clark attended business school and kept ruminating on the best way to help newspapers toward more personalization.
In 2011, working with her former editor from The Roanoke Times, she decided to try to build a platform that could personalize content.
“Every other industry was personalizing content and media. Just not the journalism industry,” she said.
One main component was separating them-
Push always works over pull
— Tracy Clark founder of Reportory
selves from an RSS feed, Clark said.
“We wanted to create an entirely new experience and a whole new personalized product for readers where all the content was in one place,” said Clark.
In its first iteration, it was a web interface and mobile app with email for push.
“We partnered with NewsCred and pulled in six different publishers, including CNN, AP, Forbes and Dow Jones,” said Clark. “We wanted enough content in our database to build a personalization engine.”
The challenge came in trying to figure out how to match up a person’s requests with the content on the back end, Clark said.
The idea was to personalize content in three ways: news source, category and key word. People could say they only want to receive news from The Wall Street Journal, or they want to read sports and entertainment, and include key words such as specific teams or athlete names.
Then Apple News and Flipboard came out and while the industry as a whole was figuring out that personalization was essential, publishers were still lagging.
“Publishers are super weary of giving up control to these big tech giants,” Clark said.
So she started working with Reynolds Journalism Institute to figure out a way to make this kind of technology accessible and useable for publishers.
Clark built an in-house product for newspaper publishers to offer subscribers.
“We focused on the email platform because email is all the rage right now,” Clark said.
The Reportory platform was piloted through the Austin-American Statesman.
“We white-labeled the whole platform so that it looked just like the Statesman’s email platform,” Clark said.
The experiment set out to do an apples-toapples comparison of how a personalized email system works when compared with the traditional editor-curated email.
The experiment went on for six months, with 150 users. Half were given the Stateman’s traditional midday email dubbed “Midday Break,” and Clark’s personalized Reportory offered up personalized selections based on reader’s preferences.
Open rate, clicks
The system is completely automated and only the reader sees the end product, Clark explained.
All the newspaper’s content is pulled into a database and an algorithm runs based on three factors — source, category and key word. For the Statesman experiment, source could include the newspaper, Associated Press or both. First the algorithm asks can we find a best match for all three?
The platform had to come up with ten articles per day to match Midday Break and provide an even comparison.
The experiment lasted from April to September and gathered quantitative data — likes and clicks — as well as qualitative.
“At the end, readers were asked to take a survey,” Clark said. “Questions were based on qualitative metrics like happiness, satisfaction and how willing a reader was to share it with a friend.”
While an academic research assistant is still working on the final results, Clark said the initial findings are incredible.
“On my platform the average open rate over six months was 75 percent and theirs was 38 percent,” Clark said. “The click rate was 14.5 percent on Reportory and 5 percent on the traditional Statesman email.”
Clark is now waiting on the research paper to be released and is planning to take the platform to conferences and preparing to show it to publishers.
“We get that publishers might have a worry that they are giving up editorial control if you personalize the news because people are just getting their own little siloed version of the world,” Clark said. “But it my opinion, that’s what they want.”