The Future of News is Curators Not Reporters

It’s no secret that the Newspaper Industry is hurting badly since it has failed to adapt to the internet fast enough and has found its market share and revenues erode greatly.  Their current strategy is the plan to erect pay walls for their content, which users won’t pay for.  The problem is that users don’t go to one source to get their news online; they browse multiple sites to get the whole story, from multiple angles.  That behavior not only hurts the pay wall plan, but leads to less time on site for the newspapers, so less advertising dollars.

The problem is that the Newspapers are overvaluing their reporters.  Yes, there is a difference in quality in newspaper reporters and many homegrown sites, but there are also many ex-journalists who have been laid off due to the industry’s decline and are now working for other sites, so there are still plenty of free news sites with quality journalists.  Additionally, even if a paper’s reporter is the most knowledgeable about a story and has the most interesting facts and take on a major story, it is too easy for other journalists to learn those facts from reading the story and then write their own story leveraging that info.  So the newspaper pays more for the story than competing sites, which puts it at a disadvantage.

There is a way to leverage that knowledge in such a way that adds more value, keeps users from going to multiple sites, and is harder for competitors to emulate.  The current popular term for this would be curators.  When a user wants to learn all about a story, especially a major one like Haiti, a Celebrity Death or Swine Flu, they turn to many news sites as well as Google and Twitter to try to get as much information as possible about the story.  This is time consuming and additionally there is usually lots of bad info floating around making it hard for the consumer to figure out the accurate story.  That’s where a knowledgeable curator comes into play.

The newspapers, or other news sites, should be focusing on building great curating tools for their employees.  Their reporters who know how to investigate a story and sift through the information for the facts can transition to being expert curators.  They would, using the tools, compile all the information about stories for the users, gathering information from news reports, interviews, twitter, videos, flickr, forums, blogs and more.  There would be a landing page for the story that has articles outlining the history of the event as well as the best updates in near real-time as selected by the curator.  They would create mashups and interactive info displays and whatever else would be beneficial to a user trying to get the entire story of a major event.  Consumers wouldn’t have to waste time searching for information and updates on stories of interest; they’d just go straight to this website, which they’d grow to trust as being the expert on the event.  Instead of newspapers trying to have the best individual story written by their own reporter, they’d become intelligent, vetted news aggregators with informative and innovative ways to relay that data to their users.  Engagement would be high on the site and there would be opportunities for advertising: branding, display ads, calls to action, etc.

Let’s use last year’s LA Wildfires as an example.  A landing page would be created for this major story.  News from sources around the city would be aggregated and editorialized by the curation staff.  An interactive map showing up to date fire location would be displayed, perhaps overlaid with data such as current firefighter locations, tweets originating from the area, and estimated danger zones where the fire may spread next.  The best tweets from locals would be displayed in a stream and an interactive timeline would be available for consumers to see the history of the fire from day one.  Local shelters would be listed and businesses could pay to display applicable coupons, such as local hotels offering discounts to affected residents or Starbucks offering free coffee to volunteers.  In short, this mini site would contain everything a person would need to know about the story, so they wouldn’t have any reason to go to other sites or waste time trying to research it themselves.  If the site did a consistently strong job of accurate and updated curating, then users would trust it enough to be up to date and accurate so this site would become the destination site for news and time spent on site would increase substanially.

There is so much data on the internet these days, especially now with real-time streams from twitter, which means there is great value in sites that can cut through the noise to assemble a good picture of the situation for users without the user having to do any work.  This can’t yet be accurately automated so knowledgeable humans that can accurately curate the information are valuable resources and news organizations should consider transitioning their reporters to a curating role.  In the end, they are in the content business and shouldn’t be tied to a specific medium (newspapers) or content type (stories).  They have the resources with the knowledge and skills to investigate, editorialize and package the info for their users.

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