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News Organizations Try to Grab Readers by Their Wrists With the Apple Watch

Several of the nation's major news organizations, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Flipboard, the Los Angles Times, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and USA Today, will develop apps for the Apple Watch.


Some of the nation’s most prestigious news organizations have developed applications for the Apple Watch as they seek to grab readers and viewers by the wrist.

The New York Times will dispatch one-sentence stories that answer the question, “Hey, did you hear?” in a conversational tone. The Washington Post will pick one story — say, an article about the end of tipping — and storyboard it like a movie or TV show, using a combination of graphics, images and text to adapt it for the 38 mm (or 42 mm) screen. CNN will let people personalize their news feeds by picking from among a dozen topics and choosing how they’d like to be notified (a tap on the wrist or no?).

These approaches to storytelling on the super-small screen are as varied as the news organizations that created the watch apps. But the motivation is the same.

The amount of time consumers devote each day to their smartphones has increased by 60 percent over the last three years, though news tends to lag behind apps focused on social networking, entertainment and communication, according to Nielsen.

Media companies are betting the Apple Watch will create greater enthusiasm for up-to-the minute updates, as well as hoping apps for the device will fare better than their attempts on the iPad. Indeed, one researcher predicts news, together with finance, health and fitness and travel, are likely to be the greatest short-term beneficiaries of Apple’s new wearable.

“News has not been the most popular category,” said Josh Martin, director of researcher Strategy Analytics’ app strategies. “A lot of the categories that are underutilized on the phone seem to be likely to flourish on the watch.”

When the Apple Watch makes its debut Friday, consumers will have plenty of news options, including apps from the Wall Street Journal, Flipboard, the Los Angles Times, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and USA Today. Magazine publisher Conde Nast has already created a “smart timer” for food recipes under its Epicurious title.

The New York Times has been quick to partner with Apple on previous product launches, creating an app to coincide with the 2010 introduction of the iPad tablet. This time is no different. When the developer kit became available shortly before Thanksgiving, a special team began working on a watch app.

“The watch comes at a really interesting time for us,” said Andrew Phelps, senior product manager for the Times. “It comes right at the moment that mobile is truly becoming, if not the most important platform, certainly a first class citizen.”

The Times’ strategy could be described as “All the news that fits on the wrist,” with a single sentence encapsulating the top six or seven stories in business, politics, science, tech and the arts.

“We’re not claiming to be revolutionizing communication — someone was teasing me about trying to invent the sentence,” said Phelps. “The idea is, first and foremost, it’s a way to get caught up on the news quickly.”

Readers who want more than a two-second update can continue reading any story on the iPhone or iPad, or tap “Save for Later” to build a personal reading list. The editorial team crafting one-liners even got special dispensation from the Times’ standards editors to drop the honorifics, so the president of the United States will be referred to simply as Obama.

New York Times

Mobile devices already account for nearly half of CNN’s digital traffic, so Chief Product Officer Alex Wellen didn’t need to think too long or hard to recognize the importance of developing an app for a device that’s worn against the skin.

“It’s important to go to the user,” Wellen said. “No longer can we ask them to come to us.”

The challenge was creating a news experience that was as personal as the Apple Watch. CNN gives the wearer the ability to choose not only the topics to display on the watch, but the number of headlines for each category. Its key differentiator, Wellen says, is video.

Apple Watch users who want more than a snippet of information can leap to CNN’s live television news feed, which they can watch on their iPhone — provided they’re already registered as pay TV subscribers.

 The Washington Post’s new Apple Watch app will pick a single story to explore through words, graphics and images.
The Washington Post’s new Apple Watch app will pick a single story to explore through words, graphics and images.
Washington Post

At the Washington Post, the Apple Watch presented an opportunity to practice its philosophy of “adaptive journalism” — reshaping its storytelling to fit a new platform and audience, rather than attempting to retrofit a print article.

In the case of the Apple Watch, a dedicated team will select a single story that it will tell through words, images and graphics.

“Nobody knows what storytelling is going to look like on the watch,” said Cory Haik, executive producer and senior editor of digital news. “We wanted to be among the first to experiment with it.”

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