Ready? Here’s My Formula for Online News Success

    by Jay Rosen
    October 17, 2007

    I am at the Online News Association annual meeting in Toronto. Listening to some of the speakers at the J-Lab’s workshop, puzzling through the success of some sites and the failure of others, and putting together what I have learned from four years of doing PressThink, the emerging model I see would combine…

    √ High quality aggregation within a strong editorial focus. (Like the Huffington Post nationally, or Twin Cities Daily Planet locally.)

    √ Blogging platform with the best posts filtered to the front page. (Like Daily Kos)


    √ Original reporting with hybrid strength: amateurs with pro support (training, production values, copy editing, editorial oversight, and traffic), pros with amateur support (like Regina Lynn; see also my Idea Lab post on beat reporting with a social network) and pros doing what pros have always done.

    √ Features with narrow comprehensiveness: everything about something. (Lisa Williams: “That is, a site with some Denver restaurants is OK; but a site with ALL Denver restaurants is better.”)

    √ Forums that allow a previously atomized group—people sharing interests and problems—to connect and converse with each other.


    √ Crowdsourcing projects that gather information impossible to get any other way. (Like WNYC’s efforts, or the News & Observer’s speeding investigation.)

    √ Find, prepare and place online data sets that are “available” (but not easy to use), and of strong interest to a user public; let people access and interact with the information by framing it properly and providing the bigger narrative that the data is a part of. (See chicagocrime.org.)

    √ Reverse publishing: web-to-print, for the highest quality content generated online. (Read Dan Barkin: “Every day except Sunday, we take photos, forum comments, user-submitted school news, user-nominated volunteer stories and publish it on Page 2.” See YourHub.)

    √ Absolute commitment to breaking news in the coverage area by any means necessary: pro, am, aggregation, blogging, crowdsourced.

    √ Geo-tagged information: organized so people can access it by location, or via a map.

    √ Headlines and summaries optimized for search; open archives and permalinks.

    √ Put-it-all-together key topic pages that combine… aggregation, original reporting, blog posts, data, forums and crowdsourced information on something big and of intense interest, like a bridge collapse.

    Like my coordinates for distributed journalism, these are the coordinates I see for the emerging model of a successful online news organization.

    Tagged: aggregation blogging news newsroom ona reporting
    • ‘narrow comprehensiveness’ makes the most sense the narrower you get.

      For example, a map of every free parking lot near downtown San Jose, or of every farmer’s market around Santa Cruz, or of every state park on California’s Central Coast.

      The killer ‘news-you-can-use’ apps will be different in every town: Hotels in one place, beaches in another, restaurants in a third, crime in a fourth.

      The goal could be as simple as creating a FAQ for your town, with readers adding ratings, reviews, and tips to the answers. More Yelp than Wikipedia.

    • James

      >>”For example, a map of every free parking lot near downtown San Jose”

      And why exactly would I go to a news site for information like this? That’s the function of a search request and news operations aren’t in the search business.

    • James, I get your point. I’m not sure I’d go to a news website for that. But it’s the kind of ground that news sites have ceded to Google, et. al. — should they continue to roll over and die?

      Okay, that’s a little extreme, but if media companies are going to succeed online, they’re going to have to take a piece out of the big horizontal guys like the search engines — by doing things that will get people like you to say, okay, for this particular thing, how they’re presenting it is better, more useful, and fresher than search.

      (Come to think of it, most stuff that’s interesting now is, to one extent or another, alternatives to search: hyperlocal pages show you what you’d see if search on news sites actually worked; mapping shows you search results spatially..)

      Will such a strategy work, or will broad horizontal net players continue to outflank local and regional news organizations as they have over the last 10 years?

    • @James – Show me a search engine that can do that trick and I’ll most definitely pick up a few shares of stock in it.

      Local information has always been our business: School lunch menus, crime blotters, classified ads — readers pick up our product with needs and intentions. The better we serve them, the wider an audience we have for the capital-J Journalism that makes the front page.

    • jay-

      I think your spot on … I would add one more check mark:
      – make all of this available on every platform, especially mobile

    • Great list. I agree with most items, when optimizing for editorial content.

      The question is, what’s the list when you optimized to create a healthy business? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

    • The best example of an appropriate online news site is Topix.

      An online news site with forums would be better for citizen media than blogs.

      Most blogs are narrowminded and often launchpads for the ego-trips of the bloggers.
      Forums permit more open ended conversations than blogs.

      Look at Daily Kos, Huffington Post, The Slate and the other popular blogs and you can notify their limitations to popular citizen media, because of their elitist bias.

      Topix has over a million visits daily, because of the open-mindedness of the administrators and editors and they are more global in their news reports, current affairs, features, etc. But the examples you gave are often restricted to their social, cultural or racial characteristics.
      People from other cultures are often not given equal rights to on these American blogs.

      I am a member of the Online News Association.
      I am both a mainstream journalist, and a prolific blogger since 2005 to date. I monitor online news sites, forums and blogs.

    • Michael Goetz

      I completely agree with the Geo-coding or articles. Having a tag on each story and then letting viewers decide how “local” they want to go would alleviate the “column of sections” problems for menus and give viewers choice at the same time.

      I’d love to see a system where viewers can start at a generic level of area coverage and drill down or expand the amount of news they see based on their preferences.

    • new rowmen

    • good post http://www.pbs.org
      Local information has always been our business: School lunch menus, crime blotters, classified ads — readers pick up our product with needs and intentions. The better we serve them, the wider an audience we have for the capital-J Journalism that makes the front page.

    • This is pretty interesting. We posted a knight news challenge grant proposal with an idea that is similar to the ones you describe in your post. Especially the one about allowing atomized users to get together. In this case the relations between users are create automatically, and in our project users will not need to search for new contacts, the relations will be automatically suggested!

      I would love to have your feedback on the grant proposal, even thought the post date is passed, we’re still continue to develop the idea!


      thanks a lot,

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