Student journalist/entrepreneurs offer tips to improve newspapers' WAP functionality

Editor’s note: In the Annenberg-Marshall-Viterbi News Entrepreneur Fellowship Program students from three USC colleges collaborated to invent the future of news. Last month, three teams (each including students from USC Annenberg School of Journalism, USC Marshall School of Business, and USC Viterbi School of Engineering) devised and pitched economically viable mobile news ideas to executives from Los Angeles-area news organizations.

This week and next, the teams will present a summary of their recommendations here on OJR: Part I

USC Annenberg journalism student Dominique Fong was part of a team of AMVmobile fellowship students tasked with devising mobile strategies for the Los Angeles Times. Other students on this team: Vibhor Mathur (USC Viterbi School of Engineering), Jason Choi (Viterbi)


Our mobile strategy recommendations for the Los Angeles Times are grounded in the “3 Ps” best practices identified by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in a report on the trend of more participatory behaviors in the way that people consume news: participation, portability and personalization. The challenge of increasing revenue within existing corporate restraints led us to consider a fourth “P,” partnership, to more efficiently accomplish innovation across multiple digital platforms while increasing revenue potential.


Because millions of mobile users already turn to the Times to stay informed and fill idle moments, the organization should seek to maximize user engagement (and, consequently, brand affinity) among existing users while also attracting new ones. Implementing four new features would advance this agenda. Expanded integration of social media by adding a multipurpose widget (like’s right column on its website) to a mobile app or WAP would allow users to engage with content over their networks without having to leave the Times site. Another idea is a thumb up/thumb down rating option, like the Daily Beast, which lets users immediately voice their opinion about what articles are most newsworthy with the incentive that more popular content is given higher standing on the home page. Third is a save option, giving readers an incentive to revisit content and advertising in the Times app. Fourth is empowering audiences to upload content directly to the newspaper, similar to CNN’s iReport but more immediate and intuitive (using the existing website photo-sharing mechanism and possibly through a partnership with Foursquare).


The intrinsic portability of mobile phones is a strong argument to exploit geolocation, a feature within an app to track and mark a user’s location. To prevent privacy infringement, organizations should offer users the option to decline permission for detecting their location. The Times can offer targeted newsfeeds, such as alerts for bomb scares, news according to neighborhood from the mapping project, and selective, exclusive restaurant reviews from the dining and calendar section databases. Geolocation can also improve advertising campaigns by triggering ad displays relevant to a user’s specific location.


Segmentation of audiences based on user behavior and preferences will add value to advertising packages by allowing customers to more precisely target specific user groups. Brief opt-in surveys regarding user demographics, consumption behaviors and content preferences would facilitate targeted advertising campaigns while allowing users to partially customize their content experience. In addition to global ads, the Times would also be able to facilitate more precise customer to audience interaction through localized banners or interactive ads (including “click to call,” “where to buy,” and “save for later” options) that change according to the user’s characteristics, habits and location. The advantages of interactive ads, of particular importance to tablets, are exemplified by an ad for cameras in a Sports Illustrated iPad app.

Another easily implementable segmentation option would be to enable mobile device detection on apps and the mobile site. When an app detects that it is displaying Times content on a feature phone, ads for “upgrade to iPhone” or for phone-specific games and ringtones could appear. Click-through rates have been successful for the Helsinki Sanomat, which uses Starcut, the same WAP site developer as the Times.


In order to move quickly, the Times should consider partnering with third party mobile ad networks that offer premium and geolocated ads, or look into licensing technology from those networks. Adlocal provides detailed metrics and real-time revenue counts as well as geolocation compatibility, as do competitors such as Acuity Mobile, AppLoop, AdInfuse and Yowza (an iPhone app that offers geo-aware coupons). Collaborative agreements with existing premium advertisers could guarantee revenue from creation of an iPad app, as Chase collaborated with The New York Times. Instead of following trends, strategic partnerships with key existing customers and leading technology firms could position the Times to advance both innovation and revenue growth, better serving audiences and customers.

Los Angeles Times WAP site with more interactive features:

About Dominique Fong

Dominique graduated this month with honors degrees in print journalism and political science and a minor in entrepreneurship. At USC she produced a talk show, worked on the Daily Trojan, and relaunched Bamboo Offshoot, a magazine for the Asian Pacific American community.

She has interned for Silicon Valley Community Newspapers, the Los Angeles Business Journal, Angeleno magazine, and Time Warner Cable. She is dedicated to understanding the convergence of news, media and communication leadership, and was selected to participate in the inaugural class of student scholars at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.

After the fellowship she will be reporting for in Manhattan Beach and updating her blog at She's continuing to develop her fluency in French, Spanish and Cantonese, and plans to work in France as a journalist in the near future.


  1. It is so exciting all the new ways technology is expanding our reach to people. With these new advancements there are real exciting ways to build revenue and readership for us little fish, in the world wide web pond. The only downside for me is the technical know how.