Posted by: structureofnews | September 1, 2010

The Half-Life of An Idea

Trawling through the web, and just a comment on an old posting from Jeff Jarvis about the time-value of news:

The half-life of news

“Reuters still gets high value out of its news in stages, turning this tidbit into a headline and a story and selling it as part of its financial data services and then its wires. It finally lands on Reuters’ web site, visible to consumers, where Reuters collects ad revenue directly. That, Glocer said, is about 2% of Reuters’ revenue.
Of course, one can’t view this timeline in isolation. The news is being spread in all kinds of vectors: other news organizations get it and it’s masticated and repeated in print (slow), on broadcast (faster), on websites (faster), by aggregators (faster), by conversation (aka Twitter – getting faster all the time). The faster that distribution is, the quicker news becomes knowledge and thus a commodity, the faster it loses its unique, saleable value. And that chain is getting only faster.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one reason why trying to lock up the value of news behind a wall won’t work, in my estimation. “

Not to single out Jeff, because others do the same thing, but he misses the point by confounding “news” with journalism. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff that’s valuable the moment it comes out, and Reuters specializes in a lot of that. But there’s also potentially a lot of value in information over time – databases, archives, etc – that hasn’t yet been extracted.

As long as we focus on “news” as “immediate information about breaking events” we’re forcing ourselves into a cycle of faster-and-faster, and trying to derive value only from the short window when it’s exclusive.  We should instead be focusing on how to extend the shelf-life – or “persistence” – of information, so we can spread the costs of content creation over that time, and its appeal to a broader base of users.



  1. Nicely done. Having picked up the link to Structure of News from over at the Newsosaur, it strikes me that there are a lot of ideas on this weblog which fundamentally address the idea of going beyond a simple ink-to-pixels model in order to increase the value of content.

    It also strikes me that a good part of it is related, at least to some extent, to the notion of context journalism ( put forth by people such as Matt Thompson, or what Maureen Skowran calls topic pages in a post ( at Poynter. What seems to be missing in such discussions, at least so far, is how emerging tools such as semantics, for example, can be used to build such story frameworks. It’s almost a chicken-and-egg paradox.

    It also seems evident that a difficulty of placing stories in context is because there are often multiple kinds of context which come into play. One kind, concurrency, is usually a type we see in pack journalism where an event is subjected to multiple takes by different players all writing about the same thing. Another kind, chronological, is where an event can be presented in a sequence of related prior events leading up to it, but one of the bigger problems with simple keyword-driven chronologies is that they often don’t provide insight into the critical waypoints along the timeline unless somehow curated.

    Yet a third kind of context can be called, for want of a better term, a conceptual context in that it presents a story as part of a larger set of related elements to the extent that the informational package total becomes a gestalt or more than the sum of the parts.

    In case conceptual context might seem like theory-only with a measure of pixie dust, there are some precursors around which can serve as very rough examples:

    The first, ( is an example of evergreen content done by the BBC. Another hard news story ( on the same topic ran recently in the Oakland Tribune with less related background but more timeliness. As a what if, wouldn’t it be interesting to combine both the this-just-in news element and the background?

    Yet another example ( under the imprimatur of science historian James Burke who was best known back in the day for a BBC documentary series called Connections. Mystery Tours is a somewhat dated web-based effort that follows more-or-less chronological sequences but places current events and things in a past chronology which connects the dots in an unusual way.

    Sorry if this comment ran long; the feedback loop seemed to warrant it.

  2. Perry, some very interesting links and thoughts here. I’ll dive into them and post comments about them.

    A fair part of what I’m trying to explore here – beyond the notion of new news products and processes – is the easy first steps newsrooms can take to add some additional value to the content they produce. That’s trying to address that chicken-and-egg issue you raise.

    One context that should run through all stories is people relationships, and that may well be a good place to start.

    PS: I loved the old Connections series.


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