Article: The future of content and journalism

I’m attending George Brock’s talk at City university tonight on the future of news (Is News Over?). Hoping there’ll be mention of spaghetti throwing again!

in preparation I read this article from the Strange Attractor blog, which argues for less focus on getting content out there and more on delivering the content people actually want. Information overload is a massive problem in these days of aggregators and Google News (not that the approach of most news organisations differs).

More on the talk tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “Article: The future of content and journalism

  1. I actually wasn’t arguing for “delivering the content people actually want”. What I was saying is that more (especially more of the same) information isn’t necessarily going to lead to a better informed society or a sustainable business model for journalism. Matt Thompson and I are actually challenging some of the ways that we have presented information which really are little more than a leftover from other media. Instead of simply producing lots and lots of incremental, episodic stories, we have the opportunity to actually build up a body of facts from reporting that help audiences understand issues rather than get lost in a blizzard of facts.

  2. Fair point, apologies for misinterpreting your piece (serves me right for speed reading!).

    It’s really important that media organisations (including we at the Guardian) develop a better approach to reporting online, rather than simply applying traditional methods and styles to a new medium. The potential for reporting on the web remains largely untapped. Is there an argument for abandoning the rush to be first which every story, no matter how insignificant? I’d be interested in the format you think online journalism should take, away from episodic reporting.

  3. I think episodic reporting will always be with us, but there are a lot of opportunities for journalists to move beyond ‘related items’ on stories and automatically generated topic pages. Right now, the depth and richness of the reporting we do is largely hidden. It’s not just an issue of discovery, although that is an issue, but it’s also an issue of presentation and packaging.

    I think one key element is that we need to move beyond the idea of the ‘story’ as the atomic unit of news. (atomic in the original sense, being “a part or particle considered to be an irreducible constituent of a specified system.”) There are people, places, dates, companies, etc in a story. Digital news is different. We can tag, with things like the hNews microformat or NewsML to pull out the semantic details from stories. OpenCalais does this automatically and can help highlight relationships that might be hidden currently. It helps create a resource for audiences and for newsrooms.

    Beyond that, we have new ideas with topic pages or ‘wiki-fied’ news where the individual stores are links below a top-level narrative. The New York Times has its Topics and Google has been exploring this with Living Stories. Living Stories tries to address the issue that generating rich topic pages that are more than a simple aggregation of stories an outlet has created on that subject is time consuming. Very few news organisations will have that resource. Generating the meta-data I mentioned above will help both in terms of automatic, algorithmic generation of pages like this and also in speeding edited, curated pages.

    The real goal of all of this is about creating understanding instead of simply creating more information or incremental reporting. The 24-hours news cycle has driven this breaking news madness that leads us to over-report incremental updates that don’t actually add that much to the overall understanding. We’ve got opportunities with digital formats to overcome limitations in live and continuous news and also in news websites of print publications. Some of this isn’t about the technical changes I’ve outlined but about basic changes to improve reporting.

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