Local news and mastery of the press

When people ask me what Twitter is for I always say, “Twitter is great for following individual reporters, not just the publication they work for.” I’m reminded of this as these local reporters are telling people they need to pay for local news.

I agree people should pay for local news and anything else they consume. But like any rational person, I’m only interested in paying for a product that meets my needs. If I wanted to pay for the promise of something, I’d visit Kickstarter.

With local news we have options between the Indy Star, the Indianapolis Business Journal, Indy Monthly, Nuvo, four local TV stations, WFYI, and probably more I’m forgetting.

I have significant problems with all of them.

Television news is terrible and designed for the least common denominator. I don’t care what random people on the street think about something they’ve never thought about. I don’t care about the crime and fire stories because there are always gangs fighting over drugs and buildings catching on fire. A cursory glance at FOX59.com right now shows 28 stories. Nine of them are stock photos of IMPD cruisers or police tape and are about crime. One is about potato chips, one about pie, one about grilled cheese, a state police lip sync video, the death of two children, four about the Colts, and a couple business stories.

The Indy Star isn’t much better. More about Colts, the VMAs, a crappy pizza place in Carmel opining about road construction, something about a guy named Adam Driver who I’ve never heard of talking about the KKK, and more still about the Colts and IU sports.

Nuvo focuses on a niche I don’t care about — local music and arts isn’t something I care to read much about. But they have their audience and seem to do well. Indy Monthly has great pieces from time to time, but appears more as a place for foodies, wine lovers, and the sort. That’s fine, but I don’t live to eat all the time.

I’m guessing these outlets have viewership data that tells them crime n’ grime sells. That anything with Colts attached gets clicks.

I can’t justify paying for that. You are selling a product I do not care about.

What I care about is rare. A legitimate news story about corruption in the City-County Building, the Mayor’s race, and sharp reporting on what large organizations around Central Indiana are doing.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want more smart coverage that shows a mastery of a segment of news. But that costs money, and without it, I get less. I hear that argument. But publications like the Star seem to relish the endless sports coverage and junk like random pizza joints closing in Carmel because they have their reporters chasing stories for the sake of stories at times when there just is no news.

The Star’s coverage on USA Gymnastics is stellar investigative reporting. But if I pay for all the Colts and Carmel fluff, I’m never guaranteed the Star will put the money into more USA Gymnastics stories. It’s like going to a restaurant where it’s sometimes good, sometimes terrible. Eventually, you stop going altogether.

As the election rolls around, there’s almost no coverage of township races or school board races. Something else I’m sure outlets have viewership data on that says no one reads those stories. Or, they’re so hyper-local and resource-intensive they can’t be produced no matter how much we pay. In things like school board action, we’re almost at the mercy of local bloggers.

The IBJ for its part demonstrates mastery of a segment of news by focussing on matters of importance to business. I think the sustainability and mastery of a news cycle that comes with that focus is in their favor. WFYI’s partnership with Chalkbeat is a good example on the education coverage front. More news outlets would do well to devote their attention to specific areas.


A Question for Geeky Folk

Does this sound familiar?

According to my Google Reader stats, I read over 19,000 articles of news, tidbits, posts and the like in 2010. By “read” I mean that they popped up, I skimmed over them and said, “Mark all as read”. Of the ones I actually absorbed, the number is closer to 6,000. That’s still a lot of news and none of it probably mattered at all.

I mostly read a lot of web, Apple, business and tech news. I follow dozens and dozens of feeds on those topics alone in Google Reader and I use Twitter as a means of keeping a curated list of people similar to me with shared interests that post interesting tidbits from sources I don’t directly follow.

So I was pretty excited when News.me launched. It’s a service that takes those Twitter feeds and spits out an email every morning with all the top links shared from the day before. That’s great, I guess, but I’ve already been made aware of those by following Twitter. The email I received today featured 4 out of 9 stories alone from Smashing Magazine. It’s completely dominated by a few top publishers and by the time I read it, it’s old news. Maybe I need more people to follow on Twitter, but then I lose all control of Twitter and it becomes a collage of crap like Facebook. It just shows me everything I’ve already read. If I stopped following Twitter, how would I ever know to follow new users and what about the folks that I like that don’t do tech stuff? For News.me to work, I still have to keep all those people in my feed.

What’s frightening is how much time I spend reading the news. I asked a friend how much time they spent browsing around and while it certainly varies, they can sometimes spend most all day reading blogs, posts and other things that really don’t matter. Unfortunately, I do the same thing. There needs to be a filter or system in place.

But that’s News.me; that’s the answer for the system to parse through and give you what you want. Except,  I don’t know what I want, necessarily. I know that I want the good news that matters and I want to stop spending so much time parsing through everything, but I don’t know where to look and where to find it. It consumes hours upon hours each week. It’s important for me to stay on top of these things; it’s my job, but it takes time that I could be using elsewhere. The system needs human curation. I don’t think it can be adequately automated. Even if I followed just a few of my favorite blogs, like Daring Fireball or Shawn Blanc, I’d be afraid I’m missing some great post from Mac Rumors or Neven’s blog.

So, my question for you, dear reader is this: does this sound familiar? Do you have this same problem? As much as I enjoy reading through all the various links, blogs and stories, I’d rather be in better control of my time by not spending all of it reading this stuff.

What if there was a news service that aggregated all this stuff into the top 10 stories with none of the fluff. GigaOm, Engadget, Tech Cruch, The Huffington Post Tech section, they all latch on to the link-bait stories and post something every 15 minutes. I don’t want to know that Steve Jobs might sneeze tomorrow or that Microsoft “might be in trouble” according to some no-name analyst predicting the future or that HTC released some new version of Android device and another one’s likely on the way next week. I want to know whats really happening, what’s really going to happen and I want updated just a couple times a day: in the morning before I wake up and in the evening after work.

Breaking news, like if Microsoft declared bankruptcy or Google inventing a second sun, would be worth an interruption. Some original reporting would be great, if it were good, too. Some new jQuery library or a gallery of inspirational websites or tips on how to use an iPad as a steering wheel aren’t of use to me. If I wanted to see a gallery or some snippet of code, I’d Google around for it.

I’d even be inclined to pay for such a service. $2.99 a month for a subscription to such a service would let me save countless hours of time and remove half my feeds and halve my desire to check Twitter all the time sounds like a life saver. Make it integrate with Instapaper and everything’s covered.

Yes, they’re podcasts like TWiT, but that’s once a week and is a little too slow for my tastes. I want to have something to read every day.

What about you? Does that sound more or less like what you’d want to see and read? Nothing sensational, nothing hyperbolic; just great coverage of the truly important news and tips linked to sources updated twice a day.

Death of the Newspaper

Over the past couple of days I’ve been reading a lot about the death of U.S. newspapers. Some analysts say that print is dead and we all should just move along to the Internet. Others say otherwise, like this guy:

We live under the happy illusion that we can transfer news-gathering to the Internet. News-gathering will continue to exist, as it does on this Web site and sites such as ProPublica and Slate, but these traditions now have to contend with a new, widespread and ideologically driven partisanship that dominates the dissemination of views and information, from Fox News to blogger screeds. The majority of bloggers and Internet addicts, like the endless rows of talking heads on television, do not report. They are largely parasites who cling to traditional news outlets. They can produce stinging and insightful commentary, which has happily seen the monopoly on opinion pieces by large papers shattered, but they rarely pick up the phone, much less go out and find a story. Nearly all reporting — I would guess at least 80 percent — is done by newspapers and the wire services. Take that away and we have a huge black hole.

I even read where one guy thinks we should make universities pass along the costs of newspapers to their students so they’re forced to read it. Well, that may be one way to raise money for ailing newspapers, but a piss poor way of pleasing your customers. As an IUPUI student I subsidize The Indianapolis Star, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and USA today. Too bad I’m never on campus early enough in the day to actually pick up one and read it. Heck, I’m not even on campus most days of the week to pick one up. So that’s a retarded idea.

Some other arguments include moving all newspapers to the Internet. To that, I say, well, maybe you should. You already spend millions on printing the things and my frugal self never pays a dime for newspapers. Heck, I even write for one. I just get it all online. The folks that don’t have net access probably don’t have a newspaper subscription, either.

As usual, I’m here with an idea: shut down all the unprofitable print newspapers and turn it all to the Internet. Keep your reporters and staff and generate revenue via web ads like you already do and cut the frickin’ printer. It’s draining you people ragged.