Online breaking news is the key for 2009

Continuous NewsThe ability of news organizations to focus on breaking news will increasingly determine their relevancy in 2009 and beyond. Just as cable news brought about the creation of the artificial news blockbuster, so will online news develop strategies and tactics that will focus on that which is breaking. I view this as a good thing.

At the time that I published “News is a Process, Not a Finished Product,” I had been thinking about the concept of what I call “Continuous News” for many months. Make no mistake — Continuous News (CN) IS the model for sustainable online news in the future. It is fresh and compelling; it meets the needs of the online audience for news (M‑F 8am-5pm); and it’s sold by daypart. Nothing can compete with the concept.

Borrowing freely from my essay, the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Fifth Annual State of the News Media report captured the essence of the model:

News consumption has become continual, with news morphing from a “finished” product — a newspaper, a newscast, even a Web site — to a service that helps consumers “find what they are looking for [and] react to it.”

And what is CN, if not an ongoing series of breaking news events and stories?

I was with executives from IBS years ago, and the discussion was about why people use local websites for news. Their research (and other’s) revealed that people go online for breaking news and the weather. This should come as a surprise to no one.

So the operational mandate for local media companies is the publishing of breaking news, but here’s the key difference in new and old thinking. In the traditional media world, the term “breaking news” was reserved for big stories, those that, in the judgment of the editor(s), warranted the use of the term based on criteria that included such things as importance or impact on a large scale. In the new world, however, the people formerly known as the audience are in charge, and our job is to let them make the determination as to what is or isn’t important. Hence, everything is breaking news, and this is our online mission as journalists.

In the mass marketing world, the ultimate award goes to the blockbuster. This is true whether it’s Hollywood or a best seller. In the news business, blockbusters are major events, often disastrous and life-threatening and always significant in their appeal to a wide audience. Nothing beats a hurricane to drive ratings for the cable news channels.

Blockbusters don’t occur every day, and this is a problem for mass media, especially the cable nets. Over the years, we’ve developed marketing strategies and tactics to make everything appear to be a blockbuster, although we know good and well that they’re not. Hyperbole is the defining principle of manufactured blockbusters, and the audience is sick of it.

Turning a ribbon-cutting ceremony into a breaking news item, however, is not the artificial manufacturing of a breaking news event, for it is, to at least a portion of the community, an event that belongs in the ongoing chronicle of the day in the life of that community. There is nothing artificial about treating such an event as an item in a CN stream. In fact, such a mention delivers points for authenticity, because we’re letting people decide for themselves if they wish to read about it beyond a headline. Authenticity trumps editorial judgment in the online news world.

We’re at the dawn of the CN or “unfinished” news model, and I believe the extent to which local media companies embrace it will determine their place at the table in a “news as a conversation” paradigm.

Comments

  1. I agree with you utterly about the “unfinished model”. My question is: isn’t there a deep need we all have for the finite? A book, say.

    Isn’t there a premium, somewhere in the economic models being created, for a “setting down” product? Narrative is changing, and so too our ability to stay with confusing and often conflicting reports. But ultimately don’t we yearn for a closure? Just a thought. Love the site.

  2. fuck off

  3. The notion of the continuous news is powerful, but.…

    Consider the weather channel. One of the most viewed of the cable channels. Mostly no drama. Then drama when the storms hit. A good model, I think, for what you describe. But how does it make money? No reporters. No journalists. No career path to a pulitzer or becoming a talking head. Just the reporting of events. No ambiguity. No need to spin. Just the facts, please. And then if there is time, the “scientific” explanation of why the events happened.

    I think Robin has uncovered an important point. TV ( which includes most of the Internet) is a conversational medium. By the nature of the beast it is almost impossible to stop. But stopping is what has to happen to think. Thinking is what has to happen to learn. Print has evolved over 500 years in the west to be the perfect medium to stop and think That’s why it enabled the scientific revolution. The conversation was stopped. So that it could be carefully considered by other scientists.

    It’s why I believe that Print (connected to the conversation in the Cloud) is going to be the Next Big Thing. Unlike TV/Internet print does not require eyeballs. I think the culture of the web is “read for free, pay for print.” The trick for news organizations is to figure out what Print stuff people will willingly pay for.

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