Posted by: structureofnews | August 8, 2010

Getting Past the Story

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.


  1. […] the newscast, and they need to serve it first.  But it also means that it’s less likely to think beyond the story, to the creation of new products that aren’t story-based, or to create processes that require […]

  2. […] argued here that we need to get past that thinking, because the story – and certainly the daily story […]

  3. […] be that this is the best way of communicating information to people – but maybe it’s not. We should at least ask the […]

  4. […] away from the notion of the story as the (only) basic unit of news.   There’s all sorts of reasons to agree with that – and one key one is that a fixation on story as what we produce ties us […]

  5. […] of the end of the “story” as the basic unit of news – an idea that’s not new to this blog, but appears to be gathering steam.  It seems to make some sense – but does it […]

  6. […] haven’t I written at least a couple of times why we have to get past the story as the basic unit of journalism?  It’s true, I have.  And I think we do.  But if we’re going […]

  7. […] and moderated by yours truly, but it threw up a number of smart, interesting ideas that get us beyond doing what we’ve always done and into truly taking advantage of technology to help fulfil journalism’s […]

  8. […] rather than simply highlighting the value of “timeless works of journalism,” why not rethink how stories are produced today, so that they’re much more likely to be more valuable tomorrow?  Why not produce great […]

  9. […] only good for wrapping fish the day after it’s published?  Why do we keep thinking that what we produce is a story that lives in a moment in time, rather than the information – data, structured and otherwise […]

  10. […] “news products“- for want of a better word – are best suited for them, beyond the classic article, video, slideshow or […]

  11. […] to be going and what structured journalism can help power.  And it moves us off the notion that the story is the basic block of journalism, and more to a world where we focus on facts, context, and evolving different narratives.  And […]

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