Posted by: structureofnews | July 25, 2011

The Slow Lane

Here’s a new news site that’s trying not to be the first with the news: Newsbound.  It builds on the idea that people are interested in news but by and large aren’t news junkies, and that giving them faster-and-faster updates does little to inform them about the issues that matter.

Newsbound works to engage and inform news consumers who are motivated to learn about the issues of the day, but are turned off by the breakneck pace of the hourly news cycle. Rather than publish a batch of free-floating articles every day, we maintain stacks: episode-based sections devoted to a single news narrative.  Each stack begins with explanatory episodes that offer a point-of-entry for newcomers.

Now, “explainer” stories as a genre aren’t new, of course – and in fact, NYU and ProPublica not long ago teamed up to produce a site devoted to better explainers – but this is one of the first examples I’ve seen of a for-profit venture trying to tap the market for slower, more contextual news pieces, and with a specific format; in this case, what they call “stacks.” (There are other long-form start-ups, of course, but by and large they don’t seem focused on keeping  abreast of the news.)

Whether Newsbound succeeds or not – right now it looks like it has two explainer “stacks” up on its site – is an open question.  But its creation poses nice questions about what the right form is for news in an age where people come to information when they want it, not necessarily when it happens.  As founder Josh Kalven – who also has been maintaining a diary at CJR’s Launch Pad blog – notes in an interview with the Knight Digital Media Center:

The real-time nature of the current news system serves the junkies well, but I think it creates extremely high barriers-to-entry for those whose news consumption is more casual and sporadic.

And so he’s trying out a new format to present information, and in effect getting off the hamster wheel of faster-and-faster:

The most unique aspect of the site is the abandonment of the “article” or the “blog post” as the primary unit of consumption.  Instead, Newsbound maintains “stacks”: episode-based narratives that are devoted to a particular news story and that expand as the story develops.  It is a fixed-but-dynamic piece of journalism, much like the topic pages you see popping up on news websites these days.

This makes sense – at least broadly.  We’re still adapting to this new age of information, and more particularly to the possibilities inherent in these new media.    Treating digital largely a way to publish faster and further, and to embed in more multimedia, doesn’t really tap the possibilities inherent in a form where content can persist forever (or at least for a long time), and user behavior is still evolving.

Politifact, as I’ve noted before, is a great example of how to marry old and new content to create greater value – at relatively low cost.  Google’s Living Stories was an interesting experiment in displaying stories over time.  And Explainer.net, noted above, is a nice way to focus attention on a key genre of information.   And, of course, the core ideas in structured journalism build on the notion that information should be built in such a way that they can be accessed easily over time.

Who knows what will ultimately work?  But it’s good to at least be trying out new forms – and adjusting our pace to that of our audience.

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