New Media By Design

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Why is it that the majority of online news sources all look the same?

There is no doubt that news as we know it has forever changed because anyone and everyone can report on an incident live and in the moment. It’s hard for the most respected traditional media outlets to break major news events in this day and age. There’s even been some recent discussion online about whether or not any one outlet can break news anymore with an exclusive report because of our always on/always connected world. In fact, it’s not uncommon for major news outlets to be following the social media channels to source stories as they happen. Look no further than the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed and you’ll find a short-step to a tweet by IT consultant and Abbottabad, Pakistan resident, Sohaib Athar, who unknowingly busted the Navy SEAL’s cover when he tweeted, "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)" as the dramatic military operation was happening live and in real-time. Things got even more Twitter-centric when Keith Urbahn (former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld‘s chief of staff) tweeted, "So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn," nearly one hour prior to the official announcement from President Obama to the media and public. While CNN would like to take credit, it could be argued that Twitter is one of the many digital places where the real news is unfolding before our eyes… long before the journalists get their scoops.

What could the news look like now?

With apps like Flipboard and people saving interesting online snippets in places like Instapaper, the look and feel of our news is beginning to morph, but the look and feel has not been re-invented and this is a very curious thing. For the most part, we have a title, sub-title, byline, date of publishing, body of text and  – if they’re more web-centric – reader comments. Some of the more forward-thinking online publishers may include more updated information as the story unfolds, but the common/only way of knowing this is by a "last updated" insert that resides next to the date of the published piece (more often than not, it’s hard to tell which parts of the content have been updated).

We fail to realize that text is now three-dimensional.

The Web is not a printed sheet of paper and those publishing content online should experiment with what that means. Because of links, people creating their own content on a similar theme and the constant evolution of a news story, we have to look at better ways to both present and keep the content fresh, up-to-date and more interesting. Recently, the CEO of an up and coming pharmaceutical company was injured in an accident. The individual was someone I knew, personally, but was – for the most part – an acquaintance. I was interested in staying apprised of their situation, but the online channel wasn’t much help. The only news published online was a copy/paste of the articles that ran in the respective newspapers. It would be interesting if these types of news items became more three-dimension by allowing people with information to update the news item (perhaps the publishers could then vet this information and put a star next to items they have validated to be accurate). Pushing that idea further, the news item could then be updated but readers could go "back in time" to see how the versioning has evolved from when it was first reported. Why not allow readers to "subscribe" to the specific news item and they can be notified (by RSS or email) when the news item gets updated (and this includes entirely new articles about the same issue)?

This is what will make the digital news more interesting.

It won’t only make the news online more interesting, it may actually make it worth paying for. In fact, if done well (pushing beyond just how the news is reported and looking at the overall layout and design) it could make digital news worth more than what we’re currently paying for news and information. The trick (of course) is in making it better. Currently, even the most engaging Blogs and mobile apps are nothing more than an evolution of what was available in print. The hard work of making the new media worth paying for isn’t only about the quality of the content, it’s also about making the actual platform more engaging by design and function.

The good is news is that anything is possible. The bad news is that most media brands see it as an impossible task.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


  1. We’re still in the “early days of TV” – those early TV shows were nothing more than radio programs filmed on camera. I still feel that’s where we are with the internet. As the paradigm shifts, we still don’t know how to create it properly. The web is, in many ways, at least for content/media companies, still a bit of a mystery.

  2. The “back in time” feature that you mentioned is one reason why I enjoy services like hootsuite, with its ability to let you expand from one tweet in order to get up to speed with the what was happening in the conversation before a single tweet caught your attention.
    I love context!

  3. I know Wikipedia isn’t a news site, but during major events, such as today’s earthquake in Virginia, much of what is described above does happen.

  4. This just in from TNN (Twitter News Network) “News no longer Breaks it Tweets” Thanks Brian Solis. Just today I was watching a Ustream of the #140ConfHV when the earthquake struck and they were Tweeting it instantly, I didn’t see a news outlet Tweet it for several minutes. This works well for events but we still need Journalists trained in writing and telling a long form story or investigative piece, maybe they just need to get out of the “Breaking News†Business?
    I’ve asked a Newspaper Editor friend of mine several times “Is it the Medium or the Message” and he is still tied to the Newsprint delivery system and their web presence reflects this as well. It seems to me that it is more important that people get your message than how they get it, am I wrong here?
    This brings me back to your post of a few Months ago “Marshall @ 100†we are moving closer again to “The Medium is the Message” the only thing slowing it down are the folks from “Old” Media that refuse to truly innovate or let go.
    This excerpt is from Ethan Beute’s blog post “Disruptive Innovation: Clark Gilbert And Deseret Media.†In it he says “Based on his involvement at Harvard and in the Newspaper Next project, Gilbert makes two fundamental points about disruptive innovation. First, only 9% of companies in disrupted industries survive the shift. Let’s be generous and double that; still, fewer than one in five traditional broadcasters and publishers will survive if historical trends hold. Second, a necessary precursor to that survival is the establishment of a separate division, physical location, profit/loss statements, sales team, content team, technology team, etc. The teams should include a significant portion of “outsiders†to the traditional, disrupted industry.”
    Until “Old” Media turns over the Reins to “New” Media Outsiders we will continue to have more of the same.
    tweet it for several minutes in my stream.

  5. That’s right, the news agencies can’t possibly break news anymore because the one person who happens to be there at the key moment has his own media outlet in the palm of his hand. We’re aggregating and curating our own content; we almost don’t need the individual new sites. Love watching the evolution. Thanks!

  6. Thank you for this article. Traditional print and broadcast are handling digital DISPLAY in a similar fashion shown to them by Information pros years ago.
    The challenge for all Web Pros is how to better handle META (which HuffPost handles better than others). Better META paradigms can lead to better DISPLAYS, which would allow for “Timeline Clouds”, “Comparative/Competitive Analysis” and “Rhetoric Measurement”.
    Newspapers, local in particular, aren’t really listening outside of their ‘groupthink chamber of echos’ — and they have the most to lose.

  7. You raise a number of interesting points, to me anyways your notion of static versus dynamic is the key point. We have a dynamic medium that is largely delivering static information. It is the evolution of a story and the emotional response to that story is the conduit for innovation in the media. Your idea of a “back in time” idea to look at the story, is compelling, especially if we look at it within the context that almost all events have something which created it, whether that is political or environmental. The greatest by-product of innovation in online news would be to create a deeper understanding of cause and effect for a generation of people who think understanding something can be achieved in 256 characters.

  8. @Philip — agreed, our news organizations roll-out ‘breaking’ (or tweeting) news as good as they ever have… maintaining a story on a timeline and building META for type of source is fleeting. Especially when sensationalism rolls in and measuring the impact of the previous story aren’t ‘worthy’ of curating…

  9. Mitch,
    @ivanlajara Life Editor at the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y. and alleged human being gave a presentation yesterday at the #140confHV titled Journalism and Social media. His presentation started with the line “The newspaper business model is dead. And you have killed it.” This was right on target with your post. Here are a few of my other favorite quotes from his presentation “Unbound by an invisible duty to serve the newspaper god of a dead tree, we are finally free to do what we signed up to do: Journalism. True and new journalism.†& “The Medium doesn’t matter, the Journalism does!” Here is his entire presentation at yesterday’s #140confHV on Social Media and Journalism along with the transcript and his presentation deck.

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