How The Dallas Morning News made a millennial-minded news app

For years, newspapers have worried that future generations have less and less use for their product. The Dallas Morning News felt this acutely, and it’s been launching jaunty spinoff sites like Guide Live and SportsDay to appeal to young people. But the Morning News wanted to be part of their news diet, too, even as millennials increasingly get their news by way of Facebook.

So a year ago, the Morning News revamped its free mobile app to be graphics-heavy, easy to navigate and customizable. The results: Overall readership is still small, at 40,000 monthly users, according to the paper, citing Google Analytics, but a big increase from 27,000. Sixty percent of the app’s users are now under age 34, up from 23 percent pre-redesign.

“It was a very old app that was long in the tooth; it looked like a newspaper,” said Chris Williams, who runs digital for the Morning News. “It was essentially an automated stream of content and hadn’t changed from 2012 to 2014.”

The reasons for the increased readership weren’t entirely what the Morning News expected, though. A key feature feature of the new app was My Feed, a news feed whose stories and alerts are customizable across 42 news topics. It came from the belief that millennials wanted complete control over their news feed, as they do with their social news feeds. Score one for editors: Turns out, app users were more likely to go to the front-page section that’s picked by the editorial team.

The customizable My Feed section

“There’s so much content out there that people need a way to filter,” Williams said. “I expected that people are so used to social media and sorting the way they want see see everything, that would be the way most people would want to go.”

The editor-curated Front Page section

Eighty-seven percent of the app’s usage is on mobile phones, with the rest coming on tablets, which could have a lot to do with how people are using it. “People tend to use a tablet in the morning and after when get home and turn to mobile devices during the day,” said Joel Dollar, digital marketing principal at Commerce House, the agency that the Morning News hired to overhaul the app. “That supports my belief that they’re using this as news filler.”

Based on these findings, the Morning News plans to give the app another look and make the Front Page more prominent and reflect the hierarchy of the stories in it.

“The lesson here is that nothing is ever done,” Williams said. “You launch something, you don’t just dust off your hands and move on. Don’t be afraid to change direction if the data doesn’t show you what you expect.”

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