News now is all about time

Journalists are trained to think in terms of “the lead store.” The lead story gets special treatment. It has it’s own place on the page and a bigger headline, and on a good day, a great photo.

On the web, there is no lead story. There is only now.

In talking to journalists, I find it’s hard to get them to drop their lifetime belief in the lead story. They never say it, but I know at some level they’re thinking it, “We’re supposed to tell readers what’s important.”

But on the web, readers decide what’s important.

In a pull medium, the reader is in control. The reader decides how best to get news and when. You can’t impose your idea of how news should be presented.

Because readers are using the web to find out what is happening now, they want to see what has happened between this now and the “now” when they last checked in.

What matters more than the story hierarchy of the printed page is the time line of now.

This is one of those things blogs have taught us.

Dale Dougherty writing for O’Reilly Radar grapples with how the web has changed news presentation in a post on the Burning Man arson.

It wasn’t the subject of Scott’s story that stood out; it was the way he was telling it on his LaughingSquid blog. He reported the story by updating the blog over time. ….

Having been on the road, I had not read much about the Burning Man story until I read Scott’s story. Scott does a great job covering the story (and he doesn’t cloud it with opinion.) This story on Scot’s blog had a real beginning and I could follow it, having the sense of how it developed. I was able to catch up on what I missed and it was satisfying. If this story had been covered in today’s newspaper, much of the detail would have been collapsed and summarized — and that summary, if I want it, I’ll be able to find in Wikipedia. While a newspaper is unable to give me a choice between a chronological view and a summary, the Web could.

Dale is wondering if there might be a better way to tell news stories on the web. Should the web page offer alternative views (story summary and time line)?

Maybe. Google news offers two sorts (relevance and date), and it’s never a bad idea to ask yourself “what would Google do.”

But one of the things Google would do is keep it simple, and the simplest, most straight forward online publishing tool is the blog, and Dale’s post is really about the power of the lowly blog. Maybe that’s all we need.

The main point, however, is that we journalists need to stop concerning ourselves with story hierarchy and starting thinking in terms of keeping news pages updated with what is news now. Reminder: The root of news is “new.”

2 thoughts on “News now is all about time

  1. There’s a lot of truth in this post, Howard, but the editor in me makes it imperative to call “hyperbole” on the headline and apparent conclusion.

    Yes, news is vastly more about “now” than it used to be. Update uber alles.

    No, it’s absolutely NOT “all about time.”

    I don’t buy the notion that our role in verifying, sorting, prioritizing and filtering is gone. I’ve written a lot about this — perhaps most comprehensively here.

  2. Whoever has the story first will get the credit (and the traffic). This causes a lot of consternation among editors who say the better story is being overlooked whether it was our own breaking story or a competitor’s.

    Dale Dougherty does hit upon a problem with news sites. If you aren’t following something very closely, it’s often hard figure if you are reading the latest on it.

    Using a static permalink that’s updated for running stories is intriguing. His basic complaint is another variation of news sites are too hard to use. We need to solve that one. Course, we are in a business where one of the major complaints about buying ads is “we’re too hard to do business with.” We come by convoluted by inheritance.

    Yes, as Howard Weaver, notes, the filtering role is key. You do choose what to put online, what to pursue, where to use your resources.

    But sound the drum — loud — for being first; it STILL hasn’t sunk in.

    A boring story online first is but a boring story you saw here first.

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