Al Jazeera has today launched AJ+, a global news platform aimed at engaging viewers between 18 and 34 years old.
Following in-depth research into how the millennial generation consumes news, the new platform will focus on "engagement, platform and editorial", explained Riyaad Minty, lead of engagement at AJ+.
"When we talk about AJ+ we talk about it not as a video channel, not as an app, we talk about it as an experience," he said.
AJ+ was soft launched in June, and has already amassed 42,000 Twitter followers, almost 45,000 Facebook fans and more than 18,000 YouTube subscribers.
Though social media has been key to building an audience for AJ+ before its official launch, Minty explained that mobile is the first consideration for all other elements of the new platform.
"People talk about a mobile-first experience, but that generally still translates to an extension of the legacy brand," Minty said.It allows us to really deconstruct the notion of traditional storytellingRiyaad Minty, AJ+
"With AJ+ we've literally gone back to the drawing board. So we've spent a lot of time piloting different content, a lot of time trying to figure how we can create a space to engage people around the world on issues that matter."
The AJ+ app has been shaped around “bitesize” content for a mobile audience, said Minty, aimed at a younger generation who are "continuously connected" to their phones and are already in the habit of talking to their friends and peers via social media.
The app delivers news via cards which are each based around an interactive element such as a video, conversation or quiz.
Stories are formed of 'stacks' of cards, which users can follow to receive notifications when they are updated.
The card format is popular with explainer journalism platforms such as Vox.com due to their ability to impart information in smaller chunks, and apps like Circa for updating stories.
Cards work well on mobile not only because the format is visually suited to smaller screens, but because they enable users to quickly skim through and understand the essential points of a story.
"It allows us to really deconstruct the notion of traditional storytelling," said Minty.
"For example, a stack on Russia might be made up of four or five cards. The first might be a video card, followed by a conversation, followed by a three-minute explainer, followed by a quiz and then a debate."
Engagement is of equal importance to AJ+ as editorial, Minty explained, with a team who are "really focused on empowering people to conversation points".
"Our engagement team is as big as our editorial team", he said.
"So the content team will put out a video card, the engagement team will then also work on how do we then build a narrative to go from that video into a conversation, into a quiz, into a debate, and what are those conversation points that we need to build into the mobile experience.
From those conversation points, Minty hopes the sense of community will lead to users returning to the app several times a day in a similar manner to Twitter or Facebook.
Shareablity is another important factor for AJ+, targeting an age group which, Minty noted, is more likely to consume news posted to Twitter or Facebook by their friends and peers over more traditional sources such as newspapers, television and even websites and apps.
Part of the reason for this is the "trust factor", he explained, adding: "I'm more likely to click on a link because I trust the person who posted it, versus the end destination of where they're ultimately taking me to."
As well as placing a strong emphasis on visuals, one of the ways in which AJ+ content will encourage sharing is by aiming to impart at least "three or four" key points to the reader, said Minty.We want this to feel like it is part of the audience and the audience are going through this journey with usRiyaad Minty, AJ+
Having learned something new, users are more likely to share content because they feel "empowered by it" if they feel they've learned something which can benefit their own communities on social platforms.
AJ+ aims to be part of the conversation taking place around current events, rather than simply a broadcast medium.
Editorial decisions are therefore based not just on what's happening, but on the discussions happening around an event on social media.
The engagement and editorial teams work closely together to examine what has and has not been said already, explained Minty, and to assess how they can "move the story forward".
"We want this to feel a lot more organic," said Minty. "We want this to feel like it is part of the audience and the audience are going through this journey with us."
The tone of editorial pieces is also important to younger audiences, said Minty, who noted that "people don't like to be spoken at, they like to be spoken to."Our focus right now is let's get a quality product out the door and let's start learning from the audienceRiyaad Minty, AJ+
In keeping people's reading habits on mobile, articles are also designed to be read within a fairly short space of time. Some pieces can be scanned in less than 15 seconds, while the longest pieces of content can be read in "around seven minutes" said Minty.
AJ+ uses data from its quizzes to gauge readers' understanding of a story. For example, a lot of low scores would indicate the content is not conveying enough information.
Although AJ+ is part of Al Jazeera's overall business model, there are no plans to monetise the platform at present.
"We are looking into creative ways of how we can do this and enable it," said Minty, "but our focus right now is let's get a quality product out the door and let's start learning from the audience."
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