News on the Web
Megan Garber's article on Slate's foray into long-form journalism will make you very optimistic about online news, and so will Matthew Yglesias's comments. I'll just add two things that make me yet more optimistic.
First, I think people really underestimate how much further we can go in using the Web's abundance of space to increase the amount of information we give to readers. Most media outlets have blogs and occasional interactive features, but the basic articles that we publish have remained almost exactly the same. Which is weird. The way we do the news was developed around the tight space constraints of print. There were only so many pages, and there was a lot of news, and so everything had to be written and condensed and squeezed into the paper. But now we have the vast expanses of the web. That changes everything, even though it hasn't changed everything quite yet.
Take interviews. A news article you read on the front page of the Los Angeles Times is the product of at least six or seven interviews. But because the Los Angeles Times prints only a certain number of pages each day, the vast majority of those interviews are thrown out. That's a waste. Readers who are interested in the article are probably also interested in the interviews that went into it. But no newspaper or magazine, to my knowledge, has made a serious effort toward posting even a small fraction of the interviews conducted in their newsroom each day. That's a huge untapped source of value for readers -- and particularly for elite readers who need lots of information, and who advertisers really love -- and I imagine someone will eventually capitalize on it.
Second, I think we're just beginning to see how much the Web can do to integrate new and old information. The weakness of the news is that we're reporting, well, news. New stuff. The things that happened yesterday, or an hour ago. But readers often need to know what happened up until this point. There was no way to give them that information in every issue of the print edition. But you can give it to them online -- and to do so, you need to write it only once. Every article can link back to a expansive explanation of the bill under discussion, a graphic display of the numbers that're being talked about, a series of interviews with the key players. I think that type of old news is much more important for readers than we give it credit for.
Now, part of the reason none of this happens is that newsrooms aren't set up for it. Who's going to transcribe and edit all those interviews? Who's going to write the summaries of the bill and keep them updated? But at some point, media outlets also didn't have anybody who coded HTML or managed Twitter accounts. Now they do. So things change. For all that it feels like we've been talking about the Web forever, we're really not that long into the Internet age. In the news business, I think we're still trying to figure out how the web affects presentation, accessibility, and revenues. But as time goes on, I think we'll see more changes and additions to the core product, as well. And all that will be good for readers.
Photo credit: Cesar Manso/AFP/Getty.
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