Columbia Journalism Review has just launched a great new resource: The News Frontier Database.
It’s pretty much exactly what the name says: A database about new online news organizations – a profile of each one, with details on its size, type of coverage, funding, and so on. A great idea, and one much needed.
The News Frontier Database is a searchable, living, and ongoing documentation of digital news outlets across the country. Featuring originally reported profiles and extensive data sets on each outlet, the NFDB is a tool for those who study or pursue online journalism, a window into that world for the uninitiated, and, like any journalistic product, a means by which to shed light on an important topic. We plan to build the NFDB into the most comprehensive resource of its kind.
This was an idea we mulled around doing at NYU for a while, but never managed to really get off the ground. The goal then – and I assume here as well – is to get past all the talking about new news initiatives and present hard facts about them, so there can be more understanding of what works or doesn’t work and what people are trying.
To be sure, there are good, useful profiles on each organization in the News Frontier Database, and those are necessary. But if that was all there was, it wouldn’t be half as useful as it is. It’s much better – and easier - to be able to easily dig into the profile of any site and find out how many editorial and business staff they have, whether they’re relying on local ads, or whatever.
That’s the power of data over text.
With data – when structured right – you can do things you can’t do with text: For example, the database will let you look only at news organizations that are focused on hyperlocal. Or those with a certain size of editorial staff. And so on.
It’s a very nice thing to explore. Although I do have some quibbles. (No journalist is ever without quibbles).
I don’t seem to be able to search the site by multiple criteria – say hyperlocal sites with 6-10 editorial employees that depend on local ads. Clearly the data structure supports that, but the interface doesn’t; so it just makes it harder to really delve into the information as a whole, as opposed to learning more about any one site.
And I’m a spreadsheet geek, so I’d really like to be able to just run off all the sites and tick off their characteristics on a table – again, a quick way to do some comparisons and get a sense of how this whole ecosystem is developing. Hopefully, too, over time, there would be more information on traffic, budgets, revenues, CPMs and other hard numbers. I realize that’s asking for a lot – and many companies wouldn’t want to give it out – but that would really help advance the study of new journalism business models.
But as I say, these are quibbles. This is a great new resource that anyone who’s interested in where we’re going as a profession should be digging into. It’s nice to be digging into facts.