Posted by: structureofnews | August 5, 2010

Filthy Lucre

So is there money in this idea?

Maybe. There’s at least marginal income for relatively low cost, which makes this worth trying out at least.

The marginal income should come from the fact that search should return better results; not that the search algorithm will work any better, but that it will return a clear summary of the story, written for an audience that is reading some time after the event. That should push usage up, even if marginally, and that should generate more ad revenue, even if marginally. For paid sites, it should increase utility for readers, and again that should drive some revenue – either ad or subscription. If stories are also rewritten in archive for ease of reading months later, that should again increase usability and hence bump revenue up.

That said, it’s probably not a huge amount of money. But it should also require a minimal investment.

The real value is theoretically embedded in the data structure, which allows for new applications to be built to tap into it. At Politifact, that means, in effect, that new story pages can be created out of existing content – if you want to know how often Obama lies or tells the truth, no journalist creates that page; it’s built out of data blocks already entered in by journalists. In very basic business terms, that allows for scalability of an exclusive and high-quality product without the relatively high costs of production. Plus, it gives the reader what he wants.

Other possible applications: If we build the data structure right, as Muckety has done, we can surface new stories/ideas/content, again based on reader desires. If we tag/identify all entities in a story – not through technology, but through journalist input as they write the story – it can allow for stronger quasi-topics pages built around those entities. If we work out a strong enough taxonomy for stories, we may well be able to build very strong pages that give us not just summaries of stories but also single paragraphs of background, build out timelines, and so on.

Can we charge for some or all of this? Is this something we can build a premium offering around? I don’t know. But it seems to me that building a product for reading later on, as opposed to as news happens, is the way that news organizations can leverage the strengths they have: focus, consistent coverage, consistent standards and systems, discipline.

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