Based on recent headline ratings, % of this readership currently trusts the local media, which has an average score of % regionally and is currently trending .
Media Trust Score%

Case Study: Building a Media Network

Project Profile 💼

In a snapshot:

  • Time Winter 2019 – Summer 2021
  • Role Product Designer
  • Location Remote

My main contributions:

  1. Build MVP
  2. Develop data structures / IA
  3. Create product roadmap
  4. Implement growth strategies through digital marketing and tracking mechanisms

Introduction & Background 📖

Fake News — It was at the forefront of the 2016 Presidential Election and has since not winded down one bit for headline readers. As a former journalist, one of my main frustrations was scanning through news(y) headlines and then immediately thinking how slanted they sounded. Add to the fact that Facebook was in no better shape than to reinforce the echo chamber, in whichever camp you belonged, and the end-result is that news lost its authority, authenticity and objectivity. The Press Enquirer is a new approach to the onslaught of headlines by stripping out all the essentials and providing readers with some intuitive experiences to rate stories.

The Process ✍️

The Press Enquirer started out as Folsom Press, the city in which I moved to a few years back. It was difficult to find relevant news, so I built my own aggregator.

After noticing that Folsom Press gained some steady traction, I wondered if the stripped format worked in other cities, so I added more. And more. And more. Eventually, I wondered if it worked across different non-location-based verticals like obstacle course running or blockchain. Turns out, those drew in readers, as well. Combined with a location- and niche-based navigation, a new press aggregator called The Press Enquirer was born.

The Requirements 📋

Building a content aggregation service is highly resource-intensive task, because every piece of incoming data (ie. news headline, Instagram picture, city hall tweet) gets pulled through a cronjob, an automated scheduled task for each type of data across each press site. All of the sudden, a highly-optimized shared hosting plan soon turned into a slowly throttled user experience with regular bandwidth overages that totaled more than the monthly costs associated with hosting the network of sites. After much research into finding the best hosting solution, the entire network was migrated to a dedicated VPS hosting service, which also integrated vertical scaling, in terms of server size and block storage (we’re talking Intel Xeon SSDs with a RAID10 configuration on a cloud server).

Post-POC 📈

Having built the first successful press site, which was more of a proof-of-concept, the next iteration focused on one thing: optimizing. Everything from the slider and navigation components — I tested nearly a dozen of them — was chosen for its performance, knowing very well that content-based sites need to be highly responsive. This included several opportunities for improving the numbers across several factors including the following: TTFB, FCP, CLS, CPU and RAM usage. to the actual hardware .

As part of the optimization efforts on the hardware side as well as the development side, the upgraded version of the press network also entailed revamping the overall design. Instead of working within a fixed grid-based design, which limited the way in how to accommodate promotional content, a masonry layout replaced the overall design. This allowed for variable height of the promo blocks, which in turn also allowed for more visual opportunities in displaying that content.

Through in-page analytics (Plerdy, HotJar, Inspectlet, Mouseflow AND Smartlook), the user experience was further optimized by hiding certain features on initial load, which also improved several Google Lighthouse KPIs.

Growth Strategies 📈

What started out as an exercise to answer the question, “do people really believe that the majority of news fake?” eventually morphed into a bigger curiosity in figuring out if this was specific to Californians or also abroad, going beyond the West Coast and even beyond location-based news.

Research went into figuring out what markets to tap into for faster growth opportunities. This took several factors into consideration such as population count, median household income, political affiliation and current trends. Based on those inputs, several more press sites were spun up to create a network of sites, which could cross-pollinate with each other.

The Press Enquirer Publications

New Features & Refinements 📈

As the average number of daily readers and subscribers increased, some new features and refinements were added as well. The next iteration focused on the user backend, where promotional content could be easily created and distributed. Additionally, a user account management area was added to slowly glue everything together with one goal in mind: automation.

Data Tracking & Milestones 🧭

Gut feelings can only take you so far, so it was essential to have a good heart beat on the on-goings of the network and its roadmap. Every essential service that keeps the network up and running is tied to a mobile app, so data can be easily fetched at the fingertips. One touch is all it takes to view growth, usage and next milestones to hit, as the network continues to evolve.

Results 💪

Overall, the press network has garnered more than 20,000 regular monthly readers within less than two years. All the services related to keeping it up are kept on a shoestring budget and the trajectory is more than healthy at a staggering 120% YoY growth rate, as everything stays optimized and automated.