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The Scoop on NewsON, Newsy

With traditional news organizations pushing to attract younger viewers and expand their digital reach, two notable efforts by local TV broadcasters to ramp up their digital news services are worth a closer look. Both are downloadable for free.

Backed by such major broadcasting groups as ABC, Cox, Hearst, Media General, Raycom and Hubbard, the NewsON app launched in November with content from 118 stations in 90 TV markets that reach about 75% of the country.

NewsON is arguably the largest effort by broadcasters to expand their digital reach by aggregating such a large amount of live and on-demand content in one place. This greatly simplifies access to local newscasts but creates some obvious navigational and content discovery challenges.

The designers deserve a lot of credit for developing a number of very impressive features to overcome those hurdles. A brief tutorial allows users to easily pick up the basics and navigate through the app, accessing live feeds from individual stations, on-demand content or clips grouped by categories. Newscasts are also broken down into particular segments and the interface allows you to jump back or forward in the program.

One particularly innovative feature is an expandable map that allows you to find stations across the U.S. and move quickly from Oregon to New York City or Washington, D.C., with a tap of the screen.

While this adds up to a very impressive app experience, the early iteration of the NewsON does have some problems with video quality and blackouts of ads. During several tests over a fast 40Mbps Wi-Fi connection, video from some stations were very crisp, while a few others like KOIN in Portland, Ore., were pixilated and blurry. Likewise, the ads from some stations such as KOIN have been removed from live newscasts, leaving the viewer with a screen saying the newscast “will begin shortly” during the ad breaks. Presumably this reflects lack of national clearances for the local ads.

Ultimately, the app’s value depends on viewing preferences. Anyone who wants video from their local station bundled with local TV content from around the country will find this an invaluable app. But the focus on video means it has no text, which may make individual station apps a better choice for some users. And it lacks the entertainment content available via TV Everywhere apps like Watch ABC or SVOD offerings like CBS All Access.

A very different approach to news can be found at Newsy, which is the centerpiece of E.W. Scripps’ attempt to bring in newer generations of viewers, particularly the 18-34 millennial set. Here, the goal is not simply to deliver news content to all the mobile and IP-connected devices heavily used by younger viewers; this app also wants to make news more appealing to younger demos by reinventing the way the news is presented and produced.

This can be dangerous terrain. Such efforts can end up looking like a parody of youth culture, with photogenic young reporters spending more time establishing their pop culture creds than producing good journalism.

Newsy avoids those problems by not pandering to its audience. Much of its reporting is smart and when appropriate entertaining, particularly in its tech coverage but it is also unafraid to explore serious subjects that have been ignored elsewhere. Following the Paris terrorist attacks, for example, it provided a short, but very comprehensive look at the Le Pen family and the National Front that has been leading a far-right attack on Muslims in France for a number of years.

While there is no local news, it offers a wide range of other content, covering international, national, tech, sports, entertainment and other subjects and it is adept at using technology to achieve its overall mission of “delivering the news with the why.” Some pieces on major news events are almost entirely based on data and graphics; others adeptly use social media to tell a story. Like the reporting, the interface is clean and intuitive and video quality is high.

Newsy is more than just an excellent app. The way it creates and presents stories is an example that regular broadcasters and news organizations would do well to follow.