Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Future of News

I attended the DaVinci institute's, "Night with a Futurist" meeting last night featuring Stephen Keating. Mr. Keating is currently the business editor of The Denver Post. While I think he had some good insights into what newspapers can do to extend their lives into the next generation of news creation and delivery, he failed to acknowledge that news organizations will be replaced as intermediary (both from a filtering and delivery sense) by smart filtering and personalization technology that began with Yahoo and has been taken over more recently by Google. News organizations could end up becoming purely content creation and distribution into multiple (smart filter) channels. This is similar role that recording companies play in the record industry, or movie studios to the film industry.

Mr. Keating began the evening by reviewing the EPIC 2014 flash video, that predicts the death of the New York Times out in 2014, replaced by a behemoth organization labeled "Googlezon" (resulting from the merger of Google and Amazon in 2008) and begins to seize control of distribution, filtering, and personalization of all information in the universe.

He then went on to describe the size of the advertising market ($424 billion globally) and that newspapers have roughly 30% of this market. So newspapers still own a major chunk of this market and new media is whittling away at this chunk every year. What news papers have going for them are three things: authority, brand, and content as well as an organization that knows how to manage all three components.

Perhaps I'm being unfair in my opinion of the talk. Mr. Keating does believe that the delivery of news is undergoing transformation on a major scale, but stops short of declaring the model broken and proposing a completely new solution. I agree with his main thesis that the three important components that get people to pay attention (in our attention economy): authority, brand, and content. However I would argue that "authority" equates to "people we trust". I get the majority of pointers to information today from emails and the blogs I read, and podcasts I subscribe to. These are my personal brands and authorities all rolled into one. I listen to NPR on the way in to work, look through digg, and scan a news widget that sits on my desktop during the day as my second tier of news and news pointers. My third and local tier is my local television media. As for content, this is your personal aggregation point on the desktop. Right now that is a mishmash of web apps, RSS readers, and podcast tuners.

The talent management and content distribution (indexing) should resolve itself in the current dead tree media shake out. The content filtering and desktop delivery are dead center in the attention economy problem space and I believe will be solved by a number of targeted vertical filters and some general search engines strung together with a much smarter reader/listener/writer than current RSS readers are capable of. These Content Tuners will act as proxies to the various filtering services and provide personalization and collaborative filtering on the front-end to learn the tastes and preferences of their masters.

The content king is dead, long live the personalized information filter and aggregator.


cks said...

A good newspaper is much more than just an aggregation of content, it's a unified whole.

The Washington Post (my newspaper of choice) decides not just what news to cover, but also how many articles, how long the articles are, where they are placed, and the overall tone of continuing coverage, all based on a clearly articulated view of what is and isn't important.

I find alternative news sources/filters valuable as a balance (and possible check) on the traditional media, but I think most people would find The Daily Me empty and unsatisfying in the long term.

Tim Wolters said...

I'm afraid your "most people" may not include Gen Y'ers who have become used to an interrupt driven society and eschew traditional news in favor of WOM information obtained via social networks. I agree that writers and editors still have critically important functions in the creation and quality control of information. It's just that those roles in the traditional sense are becoming fragmented and changing. The Washington Post will not continue to survive, as is, if advertising dollars migrate to non-Post on-line media. Perhaps they will become largely subscription-based and cater to the palette of the refined news reader.

P-Air said...

Newspapers have one other thing...a business model and content that advertisers (read "the money") have no problem associating themselves with.

Note that the Washington Post has been very innovative here recently, realizing that they have the advertiser relationships they have opened up what is effectively an ad network competitive to FM Network (John Battelle's ad network for bloggers). They know how to sell advertising and have solid evolved relationships to draw on. As the quality of blogger content continues to rise, so does their market for blogger customers who can benefit fm their A-list advertisers. I think that more newspapers should be thinking in terms of their core value proposition which includes the list which you've correctly illicited, as well as their advertiser relationships.

The Lal said...

The current 'demise' of traditional newspapers is on the cards. Its already happening and is generated huge turmoil in the industry at the moment (just look at newspaper chain consolidation etc..)

Newspapers KNOW they need 2 change. What direction they will go in remains to be seen.


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