Online News of Tomorrow
By: Jim Reese
This panel was also high on my anticipation list for SXSW ’10. A star-studded panel of Adrian Holovaty, Andrew Huff, Brad Flora, Jeff Jarvis, and Jeremy Zilar discuss and debate the future of online news. The room was packed, and the session was great!
Jeff Jarvis led off by saying journalists, particularly print journalists, need to get out of the habit of thinking in old, outdated models. Historically, newspaper writers thought in terms of pages. The future is stream-based news. Jarvis chided newspapers for complaining about the web “stealing” stories. The web brings them people. The old industrial-age assumptions must be deconstructed, and it will be a gigantic challenge.
Journalists need to adapt to the new ecosystem and learn how to find the right people to follow for breaking news. Trust and credibility are challenging in the new environment, and many journalists rely on old methods that aren’t effective.
The increasing noise level on the web makes it hard for traditional news sources to stay above the noise. The competition for page views from search-engine-optimizers and rewriters makes this even more difficult. Journalists find it difficult under these conditions to maintain the principles of journalism. They tend to rely on personalities.
Journalists have access to a tremendous store of raw data that they do not understand how to use. This raw data has immense value in the web world, but is frequently thrown away when the print story gets written. To excel in the future, they must learn how to take all this data and, as Adrian Holovaty said, “do cool things with it.”
Several panelists stated the need to develop standards for storing and presenting this data. There is a real need to teach journalists how to treat data as news.
As more and more news sources emerge, it becomes harder for organizations to follow all the conversations. Journalists must build a community of interest around news content.
The future of news seems headed toward hyper-personalized news streams.
So how to fill the tills without running off the users? There was agreement among the panelists that current web advertising sucks. Everyone seemed to agree that the old daily newspaper model of city-based advertising wouldn’t work in the future. The future seems to be very targeted ads, delivered in a way that doesn’t distract from the desired content.
Jarvis quoted a CUNY study that showed some hyper-local bloggers are making as much as $200,000 per year. Obviously, not all of them are doing it, but the fact that any are demonstrates that it can be done. Jarvis believes the big, old newspaper companies will eventually get replaced by a “news ecosystem” that moves reporters closer to their neighborhoods.
In order to make money in this new environment, Brad Flora thinks you “need someone mean to ask for money.” As he put it, “you’re not starting a blog, you’re starting a business.” Advertising people must become involved in the news ecosystem in order to teach the new companies how to sell their products. Web content must become as important as print content. If you de-value web advertisements, that de-values the content.
The panel discussed the future of organizations like the Associated Press. Jeff Jarvis was not shy when he said AP must go. It’s run by big newspapers, and is too entrenched to make the necessary changes to operate in the new ecosystem. He put forth the idea of “reverse syndication” as a way to replace the Associated Press. A way to monetize this must develop.
Jarvis said Wikipedia-style membership and collaboration creates huge value. More value than the subscription and rewards model currently in use. His underlying philosophy: ”Write what you know. Link to the rest.”
Sounds like good advice to me!