There’s an interesting discussion happening on Fred Wilson’s blog about the choice between physical and digital news (including comments from Seth Godin and Jeff Jarvis).
(pic by Jack Cheng)
It rekindled my thoughts around news and the race between digital and physical. I’m probably one of the few people of the ‘new, connected’ generation that actually still enjoy reading newspapers. My parents still buy “Die Burger” (daily Afrikaans newspapers) and “Die Rapport” + “Sunday Times” on Sundays (weekly newspapers).
I enjoy reading it either in the morning or night (usually when there’s no company around the table). Would I buy ‘Die Burger’? Nope. But I still enjoy it for what it is. Catering news to a specific market. However, what I like most about newspapers is that the content is ‘done’, when it is ‘done’. That’s what physical newspapers still provide. There’s no expectation or the possibility of extra content. When we are subjected to a constant fire-hose of information, where there will ALWAYS be more information, it makes people anxious.
That’s why I don’t frequent newspaper’s digital sites. It’s “always-on” news, and you don’t always want ‘always-on’ news. There are news that can wait a day, or 2, or 3. Important “emergency” news will find it’s way through Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc. But most news just aren’t ‘emergency’ news.
Here’s a correlation to this published by Fastcolabs. They coined it: “slow live blogging”.
Here’s what we learned about long form stories—and why quality, not velocity, is the future of online news.
Physical newspapers to my mind have 3 features that make it different than other forms of news consumption:
Like I mentioned previously. It’s done when it is done. Jack Cheng sums it up well in his blog post about the "Slow Web Movement". Timely vs Real-time.
Real-time interactions happen as they happen. Timely ones, on the other hand, happen as you need them to happen. Some real-time interactions, like breaking news about an earthquake, can be timely. But not all timely interactions are real-time. I’d argue that most are not. And where the Fast Web is built around real-timedness, the Slow Web is built around timeliness.
A great example of a Slow Web product is Instapaper. Instapaper takes the process of discovering a long article and reading it on the spot (real-time) and breaks it apart, deferring the act of reading until later, when we have an extended moment to read (timely). I may be stretching my analogy a bit here, but it’s kind of like boxing up a meal and putting it away in the fridge for when you’re hungry, except in this case, it doesn’t lose as much of its taste.
2) Niche market.
I say this in terms of news. There’s layers of news, and it filters down and down and down, to eventual hyperlocal news. For any type of product, knowing the market means much better content, instead of going for a “shotgun” approach. It feels like newspaper companies, in fear of digital, tries to do a shotgun approach, trying to ‘connect’ news to events that are only vaguely related to their market.
Sean Parker, in his post lambasting the media for his wedding coverage, says:
A kind of mob mentality reigns supreme in the unrestricted, uncivilized world of social media: whether it is found on Facebook, on Twitter, in blogs, or even in the remnants of traditional journalism, where the old guard is now forced to compete with the instantaneous news cycle of the “real-time web” and the blogosphere. The economics of this new media have, in so many ways, rendered obsolete the economics of the old journalism and the value system that went along with it. The ethics of journalism, a commitment to objectivity, accuracy, and civility, formed a kind of loose social contract between the creators and consumers of news.
Read the whole last section. Poignant stuff. The result is poor news. It’s like news “inflation”. Everyone’s losing, but everyone has to play this game. To compare, it’s like the classic case of competitors racing themselves to zero margins, because they think they can only compete on price. Niche news is valuable because 1) larger news players don’t provide it, 2) it doesn’t have to be “always-on” and 3) it benefits from shared culture.
3) Shared culture.
To continue with the idea of a niche market. Newspapers were cornerstones of shared culture. That’s how information propagated. If you read the local daily news, you’d know that most people would’ve read it, and thus that becomes part of the zeitgeist. With ultra-recommendations, we start to live in bubbles of information. That is going missing.
I say there’s a need for carefully curated, finite news that caters to niche markets. Be like “The Magazine”.
The Magazine publishes five medium-length articles every two weeks on a wide variety of subjects of interest to curious people.
Keen to hear your thoughts. If you have stopped buying local newspapers, why? Would you pay for finite, digitally delivered news? Keen to hear your thoughts!