Digital Publishing Top Stories
6 mins read

Popular news aggregators are now focusing on regional content, driving substantial traffic for publishers

Local news publishers stand to get a significant boost in traffic as popular news aggregators are now starting to focus on them. Both SmartNews and Flipboard have expanded their local news coverage and added dedicated sections for it within their apps. 

“Driving traffic reliably to publishers”

SmartNews has grown from 40 local partners in early 2019, to publisher partners in over 6,000 cities. The company aims to cover the majority of the US population. 

It recently introduced dedicated tabs for both local and election news in the main navigation menu of its app. The local news tab shows headlines personalized by user location. 

The app prioritizes neighborhood news followed by news from the next-largest administrative area. It uses a combination of editorial judgment and machine learning to present stories to users. It drives almost as much engagement to publishers as the default Top News tab, according to TechCrunch. The election news section displays live updates on primary results, and has sections focused on each presidential candidate. 

Source: Smartnews

In future, the local news section may expand to include information from other sources, including local deals, crime and safety incidents, or city council agendas. 

SmartNews reached $1B valuation last year and has 20M global monthly active users. “It has been driving traffic reliably to publishers,” according to Kelsey Arendt, Senior Data Analyst at Parsely, Inc. 

“SmartNews saw noteworthy adoption in 2016, which is when it popped up on our radar. The sharpest growth in SmartNews referrals occurred last year, up +145% from January to December 2018,” wrote Arendt in a 2019 article. 

Setting up SmartNews is simple. Publishers need to fill out a form and give their RSS feed. They are then given access to an analytics dashboard. 

“Spotlighting local journalism”

Flipboard is the other news aggregator now giving prominence to local news. The app which has 145M users per month, introduced a new “Local” tab earlier this year. 

The new section recommends stories to users based on their location, and can be accessed through the app’s Explore tab. Currently, it highlights news and content from 21 cities in the US and two in Canada. Readers can expect to find regional news, sports, dining, weather, real estate, transportation and more. 

Flip through Chicago, a topic on Flipboard

The content is pulled from local newspapers, TV and radio stations, college news sites and blogs, as well as from larger, nation-wide publications that have sections devoted to specific cities. Flipboard will also add content from other sources, such as RSS feeds and Twitter, and feature community curated magazines.

We’re excited that our high impact local journalism, including investigative, opinion, sports and ‘news you can use’ will be surfaced and look forward to continuing to collaborate with Flipboard on spotlighting local journalism.

Jessica Gilbert, Senior Director of Product and Experience at McClatchy (publisher of the Miami Herald)

Some local publications that organize content based on local interests on Flipboard include The Miami Herald which publishes 15 magazines to Flipboard on topics like The Miami Heat and even Cuba; The Chicago Sun-Times which has 24 magazines including Chicago Politics and Chicago Education; and San Francisco’s Mercury News with 37 magazines on topics like The San Francisco 49ers and the California Wildfires. 

Source: TechCrunch

When articles are added to magazines, Flipboard’s topic engine classifies the content, then recommends it to people interested in related subjects. 

“Different way to engage with and expand their audience”

Marci McCue, VP of Content and Communications at Flipboard, cited a 2019 study from the Knight Foundation which found that people not only have greater trust in local media, but believe that it is better at covering issues Americans can use in their daily lives. 

The study found that 6 in 10 Americans believe local news organizations are accomplishing most of the key tasks of informing communities. And local journalists are seen as more caring (36%), trustworthy (29%) and neutral or unbiased (23%).

Source: Knight Foundation

Further, 45% of Americans trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot,” compared to 31% for national news organizations. These findings played a role in the Flipboard’s decision to build a dedicated local news tab. 

Clearly, it’s time to double down on local journalism.

Marci McCue, VP of Content and Communications, Flipboard 

Flipboard tested the local news section in Toronto. It saw a nearly 10% lift in engagement among users who added Toronto’s local news to their Flipboard interests, compared to those who didn’t, according to TechCrunch.

The goal of this initiative is twofold: to offer our readers the best in both local and national news and information, and to support local publications and broadcasters that are looking to reach and grow their audiences in new ways.

Marci McCue, VP of Content and Communications, Flipboard

Local publishers interested in sharing their content on Flipboard are required to create an account and then use the Flipboard bookmarklet to start curating content into the platform. They can also submit their RSS feed to automate submissions. In that case, their content will automatically be analyzed and indexed by Flipboard’s AI. 

Flipboard only indexes free content currently. For paywalled content, readers are sent to the relevant website where they can login as subscribers, or consume articles according to their limit (in case of metered paywall). Publishers do not have to pay for being featured. 

For participating publishers, being available on Flipboard will give them a different way to engage with and expand their audience, rather than relying on other traditional advertising and marketing opportunities, including social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, and digital ads. 

Sarah Perez, Reporter TechCrunch

“Mobile-first aggregators present a growth story”

Considering current trends, investing in or partnering with a news aggregator may be beneficial for publishers in terms of driving traffic, ad revenues and subscriptions. 

“Mobile-first aggregators present a growth story — the referral traffic they send to publishers has doubled in the past two years,” wrote Nick Lioudis, Content Marketing Manager, Chartbeat in a November 2019 article.

“The field of global mobile aggregators is also growing. Tokyo-based SmartNews and China-based news aggregator TopBuzz have shown rapid expansion, driving an increasing amount of traffic to sites. More importantly, their growth has changed the traffic landscape. Smartnews and TopBuzz are both now sending as much traffic as Yahoo,” he added.

The 2019 Reuters Digital News report revealed that 55% of its survey respondents prefered to access news through search engines, social media, or news aggregators. It noted that overall first contact via social media (43%) had fallen by six points while the use of aggregators (11%) and alerts/notifications (10%) had grown.

We are seeing a significant, if relatively modest, shift towards mobile news aggregators.

Reuters Digital News Report, 2019

Reuters’ How Young People Consume News and the Implications for Mainstream Media report states, “Broadcasters and newspapers are struggling to reach or build relationships with under-35s. This is an age group that tends to access the news via social media, aggregators and other non-traditional media.”

“Quietly potent traffic drivers”

The report mentions that news aggregators are getting increasingly popular because they serve both active and passive news consumers. They allow active readers to access the news they are most interested in and from the sources they want. For passive users, aggregators offer an effortless way to get an overview of the news.

For publishers worried about users of news aggregator apps being brand agnostic, Kelsey Arendt, Senior Data Analyst at Parsely, Inc. said, “Fear not, they rank well on returning visitors. Flipboard, SmartNews, and Google News all have over an average of over 20% of returning visitors.”

She wrote in another article, “One in four readers from SmartNews has visited the same site at least once, from SmartNews, in the previous 30 days. The same is true for Flipboard readers. News aggregators have the potential to spur both discovery and a step toward brand loyalty.”

“Perhaps mobile news aggregators satisfy a need that previously only multiple print subscriptions could provide,” comments Arendt.

There’s always something new when it comes to the platforms. The Google universe has a gazillion people a month. You won’t ever get 100% of that pie, so where are the other places where you can get a bigger piece?  

Dominick Miserandino, CEO, Inquisitr 

According to Digiday’s Deanna Ting, mobile news aggregators like TopBuzz, News Break, Flipboard and SmartNews, “have emerged as quietly potent traffic drivers for some publishers.” 

“The days of simply relying on traffic from Google or Facebook are long gone and smart publishers are proactively diversifying their traffic sources,” she adds.