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The Future of News

I'll start with an uncontroversial statement: traditional journalism, while not dead, is leaving the internet. Longform articles are becoming so endangered that a specific community and app has been formed around the concept of engaging in and maintaining longer journalistic pieces. What qualifies as a longform article, presumably, is anything over the optimal 7-minute article length championed by the now de facto medium-form Journalistic Source of The Internet (ha, get it?).

A more controversial statement is the belief that long-form journalism is not the best way to consume or understand most news in the modern world. A huge portion of the news I consume consists of small updates that address evolving and dynamic topics that have developed over short -- one day to a week -- timespans. Longer than that, and the event is in some sense archived, and I see little of it until I read a long-form, static summary piece in an appropriate news outlet, many of which are fueled themselves by those small updates found on social media or other news outlets.

Those small updates by themselves could create a coherent narrative about an event or news item within its short lifespan, but compiling those small updates is close to impossible. There are, and always will be, hundreds of quotes from news lines, millions of tweets, thousands of blog posts, and uncountable facebook updates about a popular news item -- some small percentage of which is useful, interesting, and aids understanding, and the rest of which is useless clutter.

Anyone who works in the journalism industry will tell you that the benefit of reading their product is that it is curated. Journalists and editors cut through the cruft, find that small percentage, and make it easily consumable.

They're right, but maybe we can do better

So, then why do so many people now use facebook and twitter for news? One clear explanation is that they care what their friends think of news events, or that they trust their friends to provide more relevant news than an editor who has never met them. If your friends are more well-connected than you on average, then they may be more well-read than you on average too (right?).

I think another equally important reason why people may turn to social media for modern news consumption is that it is dynamic. A twitter feed provides a living documentation of events and analysis. An article is out of date the second it is published.

While many journalistic sources are embracing the interactivity of the internet, the default form for journalistic content is simply static text. Even the rare efforts to embrace interactive storytelling through the web are generally static documents that don't change over time.

I think the ideal news source automatically provides an up-to-date archive of reporting and analysis on a particular event through pulling small pieces of content from around the web. Users shouldn't have to aggregate and search for content related to a particular topic themselves; news sources should do this for them. While some companies are embracing this paradigm, it's used sparingly and with severe caution. It's time for a platform that embraces this, and delivers accordingly.

Self-Promotion

"Breaking", a prototype (also prototype name!) app that I'm working on, is one small step towards investigating this concept. It allows users to create news topics and add short pieces of content to a living article. Content can be clipped from around the web -- instagram posts, tweets, quotes from news articles, etc. It includes a voting system, where users vote positively or negatively on individual pieces of content based on whether that "atom" is part of the clutter, or if it aids their understanding of the topic at hand. This acts as a curation system, and the ranking created from this voting process creates a viewable "article" of content about a topic that is pulled from around the web. It's possible view the history of an "article", to see how content about a topic changed over time.

app screenshot from hackmit


About Me

I'm interested in building technological platforms that leverage what we know about social dynamics to help people live their lives better.

I'm currently working at the Human Dynamics Group at the MIT Media Lab, creating systems that attempt to measure and impact human social and health behaviors.

I've also worked with the Lazer Lab, inferring partisan dynamics from congressional public statements.

You can e-mail me at dan@dcalacci.net

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