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June 16, 2019
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Noa’s new Alexa skill has human narrators read news from NYT, FT, Economist & others

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News junkies who want something more in-depth than Alexa’s Flash Briefing now have a new option for listening to the day’s news – as well as features and other reporting – right from their smart speaker. A company called Noa has just launched an Alexa skill that uses human narrators to read you the news from top publishers like The New York Times, Financial Times, The Economist, and others. With the skill, you can catch up on the stories you missed while you’re doing other things – like cooking, cleaning, commuting or exercising, for example.

The skill is aimed at those who already enjoy listening to longer-form audio, like podcasts or talk radio, on their Amazon Echo or other Alexa-powered device.

The use case here is also similar to that of “read it later” apps like Pocket or Instapaper, both of which have added an audio playback option for listening to your saved articles. However, those apps currently rely on text-to-speech functionality, not on human narration.

Noa, meanwhile, employs a team of half a dozen narrators based across the U.S., U.K., and Ireland who read the stories published by the company’s current partners. These include The New York Times, Financial Times, Business Insider, The Economist, The Independent, Bloomberg, The Irish Times, and the Evening Standard.

That list will grow in 2019 to include more news organizations and magazine partners, the company says.

To use the skill, you must first enable it on your Alexa device by saying, “Alexa, enable Noa.” (It’s pronounced like the “Noah” from the Bible with the Ark.)

You can then ask Noa to read the news by published, journalist or category.

For example, you can say “Alexa, open Noa and play ‘The New York Times;’” or “Alexa, ask Noa to play Tim Bradshaw;” or “Alexa, open Noa and play ‘Technology.” 

Not all articles from the publisher partners will be available, explains Noa CEO Gareth Hickey.

“Only a limited subset of articles lend themselves well to audio – namely, the opinion and feature style stories.  Essentially longer-form journalism,” he says.

The skill also employs a metered-access paywall that allows listeners to stream up to ten articles per week for free. To listen to more, you have to subscribe at $7.99 per month (or €/£7.99 per month, depending on location) for unlimited access. The company doesn’t currently support Amazon Pay, so you’ll have to sign up at Noa’s website or through its mobile apps, if you want to upgrade.

The Alexa skill is the latest from the Dublin-based startup Noa, founded in 2015 by Hickey and Shane Ennis, with the goal of providing access to audio journalism.

“While audio-journalism is a core part of our offering, personalised discovery and quality curation are equally as important,” Hickey says. “The goal isn’t to inundate users with audio articles, but instead to help them learn and understand the news,” he adds.

Given Noa’s focus on audio, smart speakers make sense as the next big platform to address – especially now that they’ve reached critical mass. The startup raised $600,000 last year, Hickey notes. 

The Alexa skill itself is called “Noa – Journalism, narrated,” and is free to install and use for up to 10 articles per week.

Pew: Social media for the first time tops newspapers as a news source for U.S. adults

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It’s not true that everyone gets their news from Facebook and Twitter. But is now true that more U.S. adults get their news from social media than from print newspapers. According to a new report from Pew Research Center out today, social media has for the first time surpassed newspapers as a preferred source of news for American adults. However, social media is still far behind other traditional news sources, like TV and radio, for example.

Last year, the portion of those who got their news from social media was around equal to those who got their news from print newspapers, Pew says. But in its more recent survey conducted from July 30 through August 12, 2018, that had changed.

Now, one-in-five U.S. adults (20%) are getting news from social media, compared with just 16 percent of those who get news from newspapers, the report found. (Pew had asked respondents if they got their news “often” from the various platforms.)

The change comes at a time when newspaper circulation is on the decline, and its popularity as a news medium is being phased out – particularly with younger generations. In fact, the report noted that print only remains popular today with the 65 and up crowd, where 39 percent get their news from newspapers. By comparison, no more than 18 percent of any other age group does.

While the decline of print has now given social media a slight edge, it’s nowhere near dominating other formats.

Instead, TV is still the most popular destination for getting the news, even though that’s been dropping over the past couple of years. TV is then followed by news websites, radio, and then social media and newspapers.

But “TV news” doesn’t necessarily mean cable news networks, Pew clarifies.

In reality, local news is the most popular, with 37 percent getting their news there often. Meanwhile, 30 percent get cable TV news often and 25 percent watch the national evening news shows often.

However, if you look at the combination of news websites and social media together, a trend towards increasing news consumption from the web is apparent. Together, 43 percent of U.S. adults get their news from the web in some way, compared to 49 percent from TV.

There’s a growing age gap between TV and the web, too.

A huge majority (81%) of those 65 and older get news from TV, and so does 65 percent of those ages 50 to 64. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of the youngest consumers – those ages 18 to 29 – get their news from TV. This is the group pushing forward the cord cutting trend, too – or more specifically, many of them are the “cord-nevers,” as they’re never signing up for pay TV subscriptions in the first place. So it’s not surprising they’re not watching TV news.

Plus, a meager 2 percent get their news from newspapers in this group.

This young demographic greatly prefers digital consumption, with 27 percent getting news from news websites and 36 percent from social media. That is to say, they’re four times as likely than those 65 and up to get news from social media.

Meanwhile, online news websites are the most popular with the 30 to 49-year old crowd, with 42 percent saying they get their news often from this source.

Despite their preference for digital, younger Americans’ news consumption is better spread out across mediums, Pew points out.

“Younger Americans are also unique in that they don’t rely on one platform in the way that the majority of their elders rely on TV,” Pew researcher Elisa Shearer writes. “No more than half of those ages 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 get news often from any one news platform,” she says.

 

Audioburst turns the best part of podcasts into personalized news briefs

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Tel Aviv-based Audioburst has been developing a search engine for audio news, which allows users to locate audio content within podcast and other talk radio programs. Today, the company is capitalizing on its technology to launch personalized playlists that deliver custom newsbriefs that get better over time the more you use the product.

The feature has been built using deep A.I. learning, the company says.

The content itself is drawn from top podcasts and the radio stations in Audioburst’s index, and will alert you to new information based on your chosen keywords and topics.

To use the feature, you first sign up on the Audioburst website, then select from a set of interests or add your own. When you’re finished with the selection process, you just hit the “I’m done” button to be taken to your personalized playlist of audio clips.

The end result is being about to listen to the parts of the podcasts or other audio programs you would actually care about, rather than slogging through half an hour or more of chatter, for the one tidbit of news you were interested in.

For example, when testing the feature this morning, I chose a variety of topics like “tech news,” “movies,” “entertainment,” “tech news,” “science,” “parenting,” and more, and was delivered a set of audio clips that included a discussion of Disney’s “Star Wars” spinoff series starring Diego Luna; a chat about the 2018 MacBook Air overhaul; an assessment the smog in L.A.; and a lot of other clips I chose to skip (but will hopefully train the A.I. further.)

You can try the feature yourself at search.audioburst.com by clicking on “Personalized Playlist” in the top left.

The results were hit or miss, which is expected – to some extent –  fresh out of the gate. But there were also times when the clips didn’t actually serve up too much information. That is, you’d still need to turn to the podcast itself for the full story.

However, the feature itself isn’t necessarily going to be used by consumers directly on Audioburst’s website.

Instead, its development came about thanks to requests from partners using its API.

The company says you can expect to see the personalized playlists integrated into its partners’ products in the smart speaker, mobile, in-car infotainment, and wearable tech space in 2019.

Audioburst currently has partnerships with Bytedance, Nippon, Bose, Harman, Samsung and more.

“Our mission is to deliver the most interesting news and audio content to our users wherever they are and personalization is the key ingredient. Through this feature, Audioburst is changing the way people consume audio in the same way that users consume music on Spotify,” said Assaf Gad, VP Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Audioburst. “Expanding this experience through our partnerships with top OEMs, media companies and content creators means this has the power to reach users wherever they are,” he added.

 

How to stream U.S. elections coverage if you don’t have TV

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You don’t need a TV to tune in to live coverage of the U.S. elections results today – and you don’t have to have Hulu or another live TV streaming service, either. Today, YouTube announced a list of news organizations that will be broadcasting live elections coverage on its site today – helpful for those who don’t have another way to watch at home, or need to tune in while on the go. There’s also live coverage available on other sites, including Facebook, Twitch, Twitter and elsewhere.

As more people cut the cord with traditional pay TV, YouTube’s reach has been growing when it comes to distributing the news. That’s apparent in the list of available news media organizations that have decided to broadcast live to YouTube tonight.

For comparison’s sake, YouTube in 2016 reported viewers had spent over 20 million hours watching and rewatching the presidential debates on the site ahead of the U.S. elections. It then pointed viewers to live coverage from a handful of outlets like NBC, PBS, Bloomberg and Telemundo, as well as MTV, the online news show The Young Turks, and an election special from Complex News.

This time around, all the major broadcast networks are participating on YouTube’s platform.

The company says viewers can tune in to watch live election results throughout the evening on the following channels:

Several outlets are choosing to broadcast on Facebook, too, including ABC News Live, CBS News, and PBS News Hour.

The Washington Post will broadcast on Twitch.

On Twitter, ABC, PBS, and Univision will live stream election coverage, says Poynter.

Snapchat will feature Washington Post in the Snapchat Discover section, NBC’s “Stay Tuned” news stories (these are on IG, too), and will offer live Election Day coverage itself starting at 6 PM ET, hosted by “Good Luck America’s” Peter Hamby.

In addition to YouTube, CBS will live stream coverage on its free streaming news service, CBSN, which is also available through its streaming service, CBS All Access.

And ABC is covering all the bases, with commercial-free streams from ABC News Live across Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple News and its own site, as well as on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Yahoo News (disclosure: also owned by Verizon, TechCrunch’s parent) will live stream on Yahoo.com, AOL.com, HuffPost and Tumblr.

Apple News will have an elections hub, including live streams.

Poynter’s handy resource also includes other places to get the news directly from media companies’ own websites and elsewhere, including The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, FiveThirtyEight, Telemundo, Newsy, and more.

Apple News will launch a real-time election results hub on November 6

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Apple is preparing to launch a new way for its customers to track election results. The company, on 8 PM ET on November 6, will swap out the existing Midterm Elections section in the Apple News app, and replace it with a new Election Night section instead. This section will also replace Apple News’ Digest tab at the bottom-center of the app, in order to lead users directly to the special section where they’ll be able to track the live results, updates on key races, latest developments and more.

The company is partnering with the Associated Press for its real-time election results, as do many news organizations thanks to AP’s history and experience with verifying results.

Here, Apple will use that AP data to inform a number of dynamic infographics as well as offer a complete list of federal election results in every state, including House and Senate seats.

These results will update every minute, or you can just “refresh” the page manually to force the update at any time.

If the balance of power in either the House or the Senate is determined by way of the incoming results, Apple News will publish a special alert at the top of the feed and a pop up notification, as well.

The Key Races section, meanwhile, offers another set of live updating infographics, showing the live results from the most interesting House, Senate or Gubernatorial races.

Another section will focus on the latest developments – meaning breaking news headlines and stories related to election night coverage. This will feature news from a variety of sources including Axios, Politico, The Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, CBS, and others.

CBS News, CNN, and Fox News will also contribute video clips to the Election Night hub, while ABC will offer a live video feed. Another live video feed from NBC News will appear in a widget alongside the Live Results infographic.

Apple says users won’t have to authenticate with their TV provider on election night to watch the videos in the hub.

A diversity of news sources was important to Apple, which wanted to have a range of options for people to read, as well as a way to present the news so people could see how it’s being processed across the ideological spectrum.

More importantly, all the news coverage in the hub isn’t being driven by algorithms. For Apple News’ team, Election Night is an all-hands-on-deck type of situation involving real human editors. In fact, human editorial oversight is a key difference between Apple’s approach to news aggregation and curation, compared with competitors like Google, Twitter and Facebook – all of which have come under fire for their outsized roles in the spread of information, and, at times, disinformation.

Apple has been taking the opposite approach, by staffing up an editorial team of former journalists, insteading of leaving news curation to technology.

Apple News is available across iPhone, iPad, and as of this year, Mac devices.

 

 

 

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