Newspapers – and newscasts – are great products in many ways, and this post really isn’t about those forms of “journalism delivery,” to coin a phrase. We all know that they’re well-suited to some things – a concentrated burst of information, in a pretty reader-friendly format, which allows for a level or serendipity. But they don’t allow for interactivity, pull demand and a host of other things, all of which websites provide. Mobile devices offer other forms of value – location-specific information, news on the run, and so on.
The issue isn’t with the delivery platform. It’s about the basic unit of journalism that’s being delivered: The story.
While the platforms are being innovated around newsrooms, hardly anything has changed about the basic story unit. To be fair, there are new things being created – animations, interactive databases, slideshows, short videos, etc. But in many newsrooms, those things are secondary to the word – and that makes some sense, since words (and narratives) are time-tested ways of efficiently delivering information.
But we haven’t really looked at the story in detail in terms of its form – other than making them shorter, or longer, or pithier, or whatever – and we still treat most of our stories as if they’re going to be read the next morning or the next second. And that ignores the many readers who will probably come to the story much, much later, through search. So we should be thinking more about those readers and customers.
Some will argue – rightly – that most of what newspapers produce is near-useless, daily dross that no one will want to come back to. I agree, if that’s all it is. If a street closing is announced, I no longer care once the street is reopened. The real value of that information is in its timeliness. But it isn’t an either/or proposition. There may be value in the aggregation of all street closings, or in the closings of that street over time, or in some combination of that and other data.
But we’ll never know, because the only time we address those questions is when a smart reporter thinks about it as she’s writing the street closing story, or when a smart CAR reporter digs into the last 10 years’ worth of street closings. The former is too dependent on smart reporters with a lot of embedded knowledge, and the latter is not only hard work, it’s not scalable.
So let’s fix the product – the story – and let’s see what value comes out of that, both for readers and for the bottom line.