Today, Matt Wynn of the Omaha World-Herald and I put forth our manifesto on the business of news applications.
Our basic argument is this: News apps today are too often married to the story — they are essentially Infographics 2.0. Decoupling them from stories holds tremendous potential, both in terms of revenue and engagement. We need to look at news applications more like entrepreneurs and less like content producers. Anything else is fiddling while Rome burns.
We’re not crazy enough to claim credit for the entire argument. Fact is, it’s been bubbling up from different organizations, different people, even different countries over the last couple years.
There seems to be a mutual feeling among many of the brightest minds in the business that news apps have hit a wall of sorts. And more and more, there is a growing desire to break through.
Consider these posts from the last few months alone:
Last March, Matt Waite of the University of Nebraska lamented that journalist-programmers have been locked in the Infographics 2.0 sandbox rather than being able to hack on core components of the content production process. In his words: ”I’m disappointed on what hasn’t been done. Where we, from inside news organizations, haven’t gone. Where we haven’t been allowed to go.”
Also last spring, the AP’s Jonathan Stray introduced the concept of the editorial search engine, in which he described several news apps as “story-specific search engines, optimized for particular editorial purposes.” He continues on the subject of news apps: “… we haven’t even begun to see the full potential of software combined with journalism. We are under-selling the news app because we are under-imagining it.”
In February, Michelle Minkoff, now with the Associated Press, laid out what she called DataStories — a core feature of which was that they stand on their own, rather than being coupled to narrative text.
As recently as a few weeks ago, Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman made the case that newspapers should focus on building mobile apps that actually serve consumer needs, rather than simply repurposing their content in mobile formats. And in the course of talking about his data plans at Reuters, Reg Chua, put forth the idea of packaging data as “for lack of a better word — news product(s).”
As I write this, I am sitting in a panel at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev, Ukraine. In response to a question about the future of data in news, Heine Jorgensen, of the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet, had this to say: “In the future, I don’t think we’re going to live off news, I think we’re going to live off services.” As an example, he cited data-driven services like crime notifications.
And that wasn’t even the first conversation about data business models that came up today.
There is definitely something happening here.
The arguments may all be a little different, but the core narrative is the same. News applications today are fenced in by a newsroom culture that still puts the narrative story at the center of all content. There is a need for more freedom, more entrepreneurship, and more consideration of news applications as a business strategy.
We don’t claim to have the answers, but we’re working fo figure it out. Exploring these opportunities will be a big part of CIR’s strategy going forward.
In the mean time, just articulating this case is progress in its own right. Next up, Matt Waite, the New York Times’ Aron Pilhofer and I are pitching a session on the topic at O’Reilly Media’s News Foo event in December. We look forward to continuing the discussion.