It used to be – and especially if you were in the wire-service business – that speed was how you valued news. If you beat the opposition by a day – or even a minute, if you covered the Fed – that was how you kept score.
And to some extent, that is the way news should be valued. If I can tell you before anyone else that taxes are going up next week, that’s something readers should appreciate. So too is anything truly exclusive – the mayor is corrupt, the school canteens are serving toxic food, and all that.
But in many cases bringing that news to someone a day later isn’t critical to his or her life; and so it’s hard to extract real value from that. If it doesn’t matter to you whether you learn that the school board is wasting millions of dollars today or tomorrow, will you pay more for the earlier story?
Perhaps instead we should be thinking of the value of stories rising over time, not falling. For many readers, it’s the past stories – the archive – that will add value to a story. If there’s an accident on the nearby corner, it’s the fact that there have been 12 accidents there over the last year that matters, not that there was one yesterday. Of course, a good reporter should access the archive when he or she writes the story about the accident, and mention the other 12 crashes there. But that depends greatly on the skill of the reporter, and it doesn’t allow for other connections that could be made.
To some extent that’s partly what EveryBlock does, by bringing together a huge trove of police reports in a visual manner. But that’s just police reports – what about the stories? And how should they be presented? Shouldn’t stories be structured in some way that allows us to access them like police reports are accessed, so we can reuse them in a different format?
More broadly, as we look at newsrooms and what journalists do – how do we increase the value of their output beyond that day’s newspaper and that day’s story?