Tag Archives: Online News

Today’s online news: too much surface area, but too little depth?

Even though I had followed the latest financial crisis since its inception on every news site of relevance, I had to wait for the Atlantic’s cover story on the topic to understand where Wall Street had gone wrong (at least to the extent that anyone understood it).

While online news as it exists today is great for 24/7 access, real-time updates, increased transparency, and multiperspectival discussions, it still lacks the depth and detail of a feature story in a print magazine.

As a proponent of digital communication, I can appreciate the pervasiveness of news coverage in the online age, but as a student of journalism I often crave the completeness of long-form journalism, which is lacking on the Internet.

In a very enlightening article in the Nieman Reports’ fall edition, Matt Thompson brings up this very point about digital journalism. Thompson writes that while each new day brings with it an array of breaking news stories on various topics, virtually none of them purport to explain the significance, context or relevance of the subject at hand. Continue reading

Advertisements

The age of “My” news

The Huffington Post went social yesterday. Well, more social than it already was.

Personalize, personalize, personalize, said the world of Web 2.0 to news organizations, and they did. Last year, the New York Times came up with TimesPeople, so users could recommend their favorite articles to other readers, and post links directly to social networks such as Facebook. The Washington Post launched MyWashingtonPost, which basically functions like a glorified RSS feature. MyTelegraph, perhaps the most impressive customization service from a newspaper, allows people to set up profile pages, form elaborate networks with fellow readers, and even blog on the Telegraph’s site.

Almost ever since Salon started bought the then-groundbreaking “Well” online community in the eighties, new media entities have been about building online communities around their sites. And news organizations realized–albeit slowly–that the best way to build a loyal reader base online was to not only connect to their readers, but also to connect their readers to other readers.

As J.D. Lasica noted way back in 2002, personalization is–and should be–an intrinsic feature of the Internet medium. In a world where every news site is offering almost the same kind of information (with few exceptions) and cutting-edge multimedia technology, what can make one Web site special? The people, and the ability connect with other people.

“By recognizing the importance of serving hundreds of different readerships simultaneously, online publications are moving toward a higher order of individualized news. No longer can they afford to treat readers as undifferentiated, generalized, lumpen masses,” Lasica wrote in a related piece.

TimesPeople and MyTelegrpah, while admirable ideas in their own right (especially for news Web sites that started by looking like near facsimiles of their print versions), however, come with the requirement that people spend plenty of time on the site, picking their favorite stories, sharing their views on those stories, and connecting with people that might like the same stories.

The Huffington Post is taking this one step further by teaming up with Facebook, linking readers to their Facebook friends, and allowing users to publish their Huffpost activities on their Facebook walls. Like all the personality tests they take and crops they plant in Farmville weren’t enough! But there is some advantage to this. It comes close to the concept of integrating online identities and bringing them to one place: the universal sign-in and network portability that many Internet pundits have insisted should be implemented in order to allow cross-interaction among various social media platforms.

Most personalized news features allow readers to search for their Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but they don’t offer a way to actually integrate the two networks.  Consequently, this involves exclusively spending time on the newspaper’s Web site to form a community or interact with fellow users. Now, if you had a choice between spending a few hours on MyWashingtonPost or Facebook, which would you choose? And how many different media sites do you want to sign into at the start of your day? Hell, I’m just glad TweetDeck allows me to keep track of Facebook and Twitter in one place. And the number of new visitors a page would gain from linking to Facebook would probably offset the time spent by a single user on the site itself.

TimesPeople does allow users to sync up to their Facebook profiles, but in keeping with the NYT’s prioritization of “information” over social networking, the site does not allow users to have much more on their profiles than a name and a location.

HuffPost Social news is also quite a leap from news organizations generating noninteractive Facebook pages that merely feed fans with links to their latest stories (the same counterproductive way in which many use Twitter), with readers occasionally discussing stories of interest to them on discussion boards.

Of course, as with anything else, there are two schools of thought about such personalization, customization, individualization of news consumption. Some believe that it might fragment an already fragmented audience in the new media world.

But, if anything, integrating Web site audiences with social networks should help consolidate these virtual and real communities. Chances are, many of your Facebook friends are people you know–and have known—in real life, in contrast to the exclusively online people you interact with on blogs and discussion forums. This is a way to bring those groups together, defragment the so-called “online-offline” divide. Many of the causes I’ve signed up for on Facebook, for instance, are tangible ones, to save the libraries in the city I live in or promote gay rights at a rally: offline events that can make a difference to the community.

Gatewatching for local news

Among the many good things about Internet news consumption is the fact that audiences can seek any sort of information to suit their interests and inclinations. No longer stifled by editorial, corporate or advertiser monopoly, readers browse everything from obscure blogs to mainstream news sites to get the information they want.

Ever since Internet media started going mainstream, however, many have raised the question of whether this vast and tolerant space is causing people to replace news that informs and educates with that which merely entertains. One has only to look at the slew of sensational Internet videos that go viral, or the latest online reiteration of Jessica Simpson’s gaffe to accept that this is a legitimate concern. In addition, people have more options than ever before to confine themselves to fragmented communities and echo chambers to get the news they want in lieu of what they need.

As Charlie Beckett points out in Supermedia, while the diversity provided by the Internet with regard to information dissemination is important, it also tends to further the divide between those looking for real, relevant information and those who merely want instant gratification through the latest celebrity gossip.

Of course, blaming new media for its endless possibilities would be sort of like blaming that decadent chocolate cake for existing. Just because it is there, doesn’t mean you need to seek it.

This has been a more major concern with regard to local news. Citizens might tend to focus on the latest iPhone application released by Apple at the expense of important news happening at home – information that would be vital to them as contributors to a democracy.

But while lack of reader interest is a problem, it is often spurred on by scarcity of engaging content from news organizations – if all a local paper can provide is a string of wire service accounts and press releases, how do they expect to keep readers motivated? This was hard enough to accept in an age where the newspaper or the evening news broadcast was the only source of information. It is simply untenable in the Web 2.0 world, where readers can get actual, eyewitness accounts from their Twitter followers and view firsthand pictures through Flickr groups. In other words, in this age of social media and online networks, local journalists seem almost out of touch with the community they live in.

The question then is, can residents of a community do well as their own gatewatchers?

The New York-based site NYC.is, which functions as a “Digg” for the city and its surrounding areas is trying to do just that. “Our goal is to connect bloggers, independent reporters and activists in different parts of the five boroughs, rewarding the best work by sending it traffic and increasing potential for impact,” reads the mission statement.

I got a chance to talk to Susannah Vila, a graduate student at Columbia University, who launched the site. “The inspiration behind the concept is [it provides] ways of democratizing the Web.  This was part of what excited me about making the site,” she says.

Readers themselves direct attention to local news that they deem important, while also channeling traffic to independent bloggers, regional Web sites and mainstream sites. Anything from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s job approval ratings to rising prices of a pizza slice in Brooklyn can turn up on the front page.  “The point is, it is not just one type of story that gets popular. There is a lot of range,” says Vila. The common thread is relevance to people of the community. In true Digg fashion, the top contributors get a mention on the home page, as do the most popular stories.

Can this go one step further, and actually motivate people to do original reporting or garner data for a new story? “Once I get more of a community on the site with more engaged readers there is definitely a possibility to prompt them to investigate certain things or to [urge them] to go to community board meetings,” Vila says. ““It would also be cool to let people vote on ideas for stories.”

A gatewatching site at a local community level may not be sufficient to provide all the information residents need, but it certainly allows a comprehensive look at what readers are looking for, and what is important to them as residents, and as citizens: it can sometimes be an aspiring young band, or the New York Mets’ dismal season, but more often than not, it is about hard issues, such as the annual decline in household incomes, grassroots candidates for City Council, and governmental oversight of local schools.

How successful bloggers become bureaucratized too

Making Online NewsI’ve recently been reading ‘Making Online News‘ a book of ethnographic studies of online news production. Tucked towards the back of the book is a chapter called The Routines of Blogging by Wilson Lowrey and John Latta. It is one of the few studies I’ve read to look not at journalists, but at the work practices of bloggers – specifically, political bloggers.

And their findings support what I’ve increasingly suspected: “the more relevant bloggers become in terms of audience and influence, the more their production routines resemble those of professional journalists.” Continue reading