Credit: By Sam Azgor on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The main role of a news organisation is to inform and educate their audience, but in order to do so, publishers first have to know where people are and how they want to receive news.

Some news outlets are still investing in developing their own news apps and becoming mobile-first, but messaging apps are also becoming an additional channel for distributing and even sourcing stories.

“Our aim is to use all the various touch points, whether it's social, mobile web or messaging apps to get people from serendipitous usage to forming a loyal relationship with them,” said Julian March, senior vice president for editorial and innovation at NBC News.

NBC News counts a few apps under its belt, including Breaking News, a news aggregator app that gives users access to news in different formats, such as text and live video.

Earlier this year, the broadcaster became the first TV news organisation to have a presence on messaging app Kik, which claims to have 200 million registered users.

People can add the 'NBC News' account on Kik and receive real-time news tailored to their preferred topics. For example, if a user searches for ‘politics’ or ‘technology’, the app would return one or more recent, relevant articles from the publisher.

“What we're all getting at is that the new broadcast is the ‘narrow cast’,” said March.

“It's no longer enough to broadcast one message to millions, when you can also narrow cast messages to individuals.

“There is an opportunity to give a brand a sort of persona within an app or instant messaging environment, which allows the app to become more like a news search engine.”

NBC News is experimenting with a news quiz called ‘Incredible’, a piece of content designed as a messaging app that is currently being trialled in Canada, but also with vertical video.

However, he pointed out that while these newer experiences are exciting for the audience, publishers still haven’t scratched the surface in successfully monetising them.

March also said that even though messaging apps are giving newsrooms new ways to reach younger people, publishers should be careful not to take a patronising tone with hard news topics, such as politics or the refugee crisis.

The BBC has been making extensive use of such apps in recents months, having used Viber and WhatsApp to communicate with people during the Nepal earthquake, the Ebola outbreak and even for newsgathering.

“Engagement is ultimately about people coming back,” said Tom Bowman, senior vice president of sales operations and commercial production for BBC Worldwide.

“You can go down a very deep rat hole around the topic of viewability, but is your service actually useful to people?”

Where we are as media owners now, our first reaction is ‘how do we engage with what we currently have’, but if we provided our services to people through one platform, that would take us back to the old timesTom Bowman, BBC Worldwide
He explained that more than 70 per cent of the BBC audience has a “completely unique footprint of usage” across different services, so it’s important to “decide which ones are valuable and worth investing in”.

Bowman said news reporting can’t be done without publishers knowing who they’re trying to reach and what people expect in terms of coverage.

“Where we are as media owners now, our first reaction is ‘how do we engage with what we currently have’, but if we provided our services to people through one platform, that would take us back to the old times.”

“If the audience is choosing to receive information from us in a particular way, who are we to argue?”

Jason Mills, head of digital at ITV News, said being a legacy broadcaster in this environment is still a challenge.

The ITV News website was completely redesigned in 2012 and most of the traffic now comes through mobile and social media.

He said the difficulties revolve around getting people to find and interact with ITV News content on chat apps, as well as deciding in which ones to invest resources.

“We’re still working out what is the best editorial approach for different platforms,” Mills said, “and convincing the TV industry that a two and a half or three minute package isn’t always going to work for mobile is still a challenge.”

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