Messaging is the Medium

Messaging — everything from SMS and MMS to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Kik and WeChat — is how we share stories, organize events and increasingly run our lives. But it’s more than just a way for us to communicate; it’s become a platform where journalists share their stories and engage their audiences. I’m interested in taking it a step further, using messaging not just for distributing usual news alerts and notifications, but to have actual conversations with people about stories and issues they care about.

I strongly believe the future of mass media is messaging. It’s not about developing another social messaging app. It’s about creating a sense of community and rejuvenating interest in “local” news. I’m especially excited to experiment with the multitude of story formats we can deliver through messaging platforms and who we can reach. Messaging is ubiquitous and the technology is over twenty years old, but most news organizations have yet to experiment in this space in a meaningful way. Now is the time. Messaging is how we converse, and it’s where journalism needs to be.  

Status and next steps

I’m currently running an experiment with a small group of people to see whether they would engage with text messages about the news. Among those who signed-up during the JSK Festival of News Innovation, I selected people based in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area with the goal of figuring out what “local news” means to them. Thanks to their engagement with my experiment, they’re teaching me a lot. The more we communicate with one another, the more I learn about their interests, perspectives and reactions to every story in almost real-time.

On the back end, I’m designing a prototype that will enable me to effectively scale message delivery, track member interactions and measure member engagement.

My next steps are to:

  • Finish developing the back end prototype so I can broaden the experiment to people living in other geographic areas
  • Recruit journalists/content producers who care about their community and are interested in experimenting with messaging
  • Strengthen the project’s editorial voice

Takeaways

Even the most well-conceived ideas don’t turn out as planned. Since I began my messaging experiment and started to interact with people, I’ve made what some would call mistakes. But by running experiments in low-risk environments, the lessons I’ve learned have helped me evolve my ideas. It’s always good to have a vision, but when it doesn’t turn out the way you expected, the results can still be valuable. That applies to life too.  

This is the result of Leow’s effort to address a challenge in journalism: How can we create and deliver stories that are native to messaging platforms?