Sunday, February 06, 2011

The battle against press release-based news.

The Atlantic Wire, demonstrating its own growing ability to offer valuable original content, recently ran a piece about Gawker Media founder Nick Denton's reading habits.

While the piece is itself interesting in a voyeuristic, what-does-the-gossip-merchant-read kind of way, what's most notable is Denton's ability to portray his reading habits as a reflection of the publishing business at large.

He says to John Hudson:
I learned the news business in the UK, in which newspaper political coverage is much like cable TV news in the US. Fake news, manufactured, hyped, rehashed, retracted -- until at the end of the week you know no more than at the beginning. You really might as well wait for a weekly like the Economist to tell you what the net position is at the end of the week.

To follow the daily or hourly news cycle is the media equivalent of day-trading: it's frenzied, pointless and usually unprofitable. I'd much rather read an item which just showed me the photos or documents. And if you're going to write some text, take a position or explain something to me. Give me opinion or reference; just don't pretend you're providing news. That's not news.
Immediately before this excerpt, Denton says, "Journalists pretend that these official statements and company press releases actually constitute news."

That might sound surprising from the fellow who publishes Gizmodo and Gawker, both which post endless streams of spokesperson-originated news. But consider that Denton has been pushing for original content since the very beginning. (Exhibit A: Elizabeth Spiers' "Coke - The Perfect Dealer" on a very young Gawker site.)

The difference, in my opinion: he recognizes that limited resources and a 24/7 news cycle require some of this pandering. (One major difficulty of a website: there's no "next issue" on which to wait. Denton can't afford to have everyone off crafting an opus when there are 40 posts to manufacture for eyeballs that are already waiting for them.)

On the other hand, now that Denton's company is growing in size, success and reputation, that's precisely why you see exclusive news scoops and a healthy dose of assigned -- yes, assigned -- feature writing.

Mainstream news organizations got it wrong. It wasn't the aspect of blogs repurposing their original reports that was the threat. It was blogs creating a voice around them, a style, and then building an audience from it.

What big news organizations didn't see coming was that some blogs would gain enough success (and resources, and reputation) to eventually challenge their ability to provide content with value.

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