“Alexa, read me the news from the Tampa Bay Times.”
With those 10 words you can receive the top headlines from our newsroom delivered via your Amazon device.
Nearly one out of every four households in America own an Amazon Alexa or Google Home assistant. I use one on my nightstand. We have another in the kitchen.
Once you get past the concern that Jeff Bezos might be monitoring our every move, these are pretty nifty gadgets. You can play games, check the weather, listen to music, set alarms or control your TV through voice commands. You also can stay informed with the latest news.
Scores of news organizations have launched “flash briefings” for voice-activated home devices, including the Times.
Our flash briefings typically last between 90 seconds and two minutes. They go live around 3 a.m. every weekday. My new morning routine looks like this: Make the coffee, check the paper, scan the website and ask Alexa for the latest headlines.
The flash briefings are part of a larger initiative inside the Times newsroom to reach broader audiences through targeted newsletters, breaking news alerts and streaming video in select retail locations.
“This project is only the first step in our voice-activated goals,” said Joshua Gillin, a senior digital editor in the newsroom who has been involved in all of our new initiatives. “That’s a technology people have yet to adopt widely, but it is undeniably here to stay."
We launched our weekday flash briefings in mid-August after testing the technology for about a month. A team of three journalists take turns narrating the audio reports.
“We gather a broad set of compelling stories our newsroom is working on, and then write a script that we aim to keep to two minutes or less,” Gillin said. “Then we record the audio in our studio or even on our phones and upload it so Alexa can play it.”
For our Hurricane Dorian coverage, we uploaded new flash briefings during the long holiday weekend. We can also upload breaking news. But typically we post the headlines in the morning. We hope to extend our audio report to Google Home soon.
If you have an Alexa device, you can listen to the Times headlines one of two ways. The easiest way is to simply utter those 10 words at the top of this column. You can also go to the Alexa skill store, search for Tampa Bay Times and add it to your device by checking a box. You can add other news organizations, too. So when you say, “Alexa, read my flash briefing,” or ask “Alexa, what’s in the news?" you’ll get all the headlines from any of the news organizations you’ve chosen.
Gillin says that down the road, we may introduce video since many of the latest generation devices can stream it.
“We're looking forward to learning the capabilities of this technology and taking full advantage of it to better serve more of our audience,” he said.
We’re not the only newsroom in Tampa Bay available on voice-activated devices. But we feature more local reporting to draw upon. It’s part of the value we bring as the largest newsroom in the state of Florida.
And now we have one more way to connect with you.
You can reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter at @markkatches