Why Are We Still Consuming News Like It's 1899?

40 thoughts on “Why Are We Still Consuming News Like It's 1899?”

  1. Interesting article. I’m a web developer for a major British newspaper and find some of these points particularly interesting, especially the “Editors don’t know what we already know” one.

    I do find point 2 a little tricky, though. I agree it would be cool to be able to flip back to arbitrary dates for news sites and see how they covered major events. At the moment your only option for that are caches and archive.org versions, assuming they exist. The one issue I find with that, from a technical perspective, is how to actually store that information. Speaking for my own newspaper, our front page changes by the minute and it’s hard to capture a “definitive” edition for that day. When do we archive that day’s front page? Or do we break it down by hour? What about half hour? This could go really granular. What if someone wants to view our homepage from 6 months ago but we’ve since removed the particular template or component that page used? How do we support backwards-compatible webpages from an arbitrary time period?

    The Guardian, my company, has a content API which developers can use to build their own hacks with. It’s free, offers full article text, and goes back for years’ worth of data. With it, people could build their own version of our homepage featuring all of the news from a specific date, optionally filtered by tags, sections and more. Obviously this won’t reproduce how the page looked visually, but is that what’s important here? Your first point suggests that you don’t care about additional backstory when you just want to know what’s new, so why care about layout? Not that I don’t think it’d be cool to see these old front pages, but is that what news (particularly online) is all about?

    In relation to point 3, I think a news editor would argue that they *do* curate the news. Obviously traffic is an important factor but it’s not the only metric. Getting the top link on reddit for a novelty video or picture might boost ad impressions but it won’t do much for longtail stuff. If newspapers used community-driven tactics like reddit’s upvote system (for example), who’s to say the news wouldn’t be “gamed” by SEO marketers, or buried by politically-motivated downvote mobs? We need good people to edit and curate, as you say, and I think we have them. There’s always room for improvement though – will follow this idea with interest.

  2. Hi Ben, I am working on a news-related project with my co-founder, Peter K Chen. Over the last couple months, we tried a number of approaches and although haven’t sold for a billion yet, we got a few good points of feedback from our alpha group. At the moment, we are building features, testing, trying to understand what might click with the users. I am confident that although a ton of applications out there are funded up to wazuu, we will find something worth using, w/out all the money. If you could find time, we would love to meet with you for a coffee/drink and chat further about your ideas.

    Thanks for sharing, and let’s get in touch!

  3. Ben –

    I share your frustration with the presentation of news, and in particular breaking news. As we have been noting for some time, we also need to create news differently in the first instance, and allow community curation of key community topics to allow easy engagement at any time or place, on any device.

    I would suggest including Abe Abreu @thinkbigsmaller, Dan Conover @xarker, Stijn Debrouwere http://stdout.be/2011/04/15/context-is-not-a-bolt-on/#summary, and Jonathan Stray http://jonathanstray.com/designing-journalism-to-be-used in your conversations.

    Next time, I would like to be a Seer!


  4. Hi Ben congratulations on picking this topic to explore. It’s much needed.. The summary outline is very interesting. Looking forward to the updates!

  5. On 1). It is a problem. But. As news pieces are ‘triangular’ have the older/context stuff further down you could stop reading when you reach it?

    I think the triangular shape is from when print pieces needed to be able to be fitted onto the press and cut from the bottom with no journalistic/editorial input.

  6. The real problem with news is all the critical information that the advertisers blackmail the editors into censoring, like poison in food or water.

    If you want to release a distribution of Drupal that looks and functions exactly like Huffington Post or hascrapburger then go for it. Every journalist worth a damn already has his or her own blog. You’re not really saying anything new or constructive, IMHO. The last thing i want is the FOXNEWSbot tracking what i already know.

  7. I agree with all the points except for the one about the updates—I like having the update in the story’s beginning and the older version at the end. Sometimes having an explanation of what occurred earlier is helpful and places the update in a larger context.

  8. Just heard Ben on TWIT #305 and came here.

    Matt wrote above: “What if someone wants to view our homepage from 6 months ago but we’ve since removed the particular template or component that page used?”

    Easy, take a snapsnot and archive the static image. Do away with any scripting or widgets.

    DJFelix above points to Archive.org’s CNN webpage from 9/11. The hyperlinks connect to archived articles from that time. I think this is the way to go, except Archive.org could curate the collections much more extensively than they have. For far only a few collections exist and they are USA-centric:


    But they HAVE the archives of news sites already going back a while. All they have to do is curate them like this, more extensively.

    The German startup “Niiu” bridges the gap between hardcopy and website news by allowing clients to choose what news will be published into a paper for them, and delivered the next day. An interesting blending of the two media:


  9. Nice name … PITA coming up with a good one. (I tried to register Agora mid-90s and it was already gone!)

    I think the key design depends on an answer ti this: are we selling popcorn? or polishing diamonds? I’m all about the latter. (I think of the LIbrary of Alexandria for inspiration, and of Hesse’s glasperlenspiel to keep me focussed.)

    @bentrem | @ITGeek

  10. Pingback: » Circa News App

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