Text-message journalism: A new way to reach SMS users?

by | Aug 8, 2016 | Public Relations

With the 2016 Rio Olympics now in full swing, fans of the much-anticipated sporting spectacle are no doubt turning to Twitter and other real-time social media for up-to-the-minute news on sporting events.

But an unexpected move from The New York Times may influence how sports news consumers get their fix. In an unprecedented move, the paper announced the launch of what it calls “text-message journalism”.

Individuals interested in receiving Rio Olympics news texts can sign up on the Times’s website or by texting “RIO” to 63937, where readers can then join deputy sports editor Sam Manchester, who has been interacting with subscribers through two-way text messaging. Subscribers receive personalized updates—including photos and GIFS—from Manchester, and will also be able to reply.

Although they say Manchester will not respond to all replies, responders will be asked to give feedback and answer questions about the Games.

As quoted by CNN reporter Dylan Byers, Andrew Phelps of the Times said, “It feels like a cool way to interact with our people, and to make the Times feel a little more user-friendly.” Phelps also told CNN the project is an effort to develop more personal relationships with readers, adding that with text-message journalism The New York Times “can show up in the same place as your friend, your mom and your work colleague”.

And while expanding to SMS messaging—which has been around in various capacities since 1995—may seem a bit of a throwback, The New York Times isn’t the first to recently get in on SMS usage to promote content: Facebook, as well, recently released an SMS feature for its messenger app in an effort to gain SMS users.

It appears some companies are trying to capitalize on the ubiquity of SMS, and text-message journalism may be the new way to tap into this market (along with, at least in theory, creating more of a dialogue between readers and journalists).

Will more outlets and journalists catch on to this kind of journalism? No doubt many will watch to see how the NYT’s experiment during Rio 2016 plays out.

Chantelle Brule
After receiving her Master's in Communications from Carleton University, Chantelle brought her research experience to Agility's Media Insights team as a data analyst. She's particularly good at what she does.