To which Ben replied: “might sound like a dumb question but how is the punch innovating?”
I answered via email, saying:
“Innovation = creating new wealth from new or existing resources.
The Punch is a new resource aimed at generating new wealth. It’s a new way of delivering news, of engaging readers and of producing content. It’s often great content at very low cost with very high engagement.
While it’s not perfect, I support it, because lots of people will be waiting for it to fail. And, if it does fail, it will be much harder to justify news innovation in the future.
I want it to succeed so people aren’t afraid to commit resources to figuring out how news is sustainably delivered online.”
This post expands on my original email response to Ben and outlines the three areas of online news ripe for innovation:
One of the roles of a journalist is to filter the mass of information that floats around us and distil it down to the stories that need to be told.
It turns out that online you can automate the distillation, democratise it and give it scale. Google does it. Digg does it. Services like Wotnews offer it. The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast both use it as a key component of their news offering.
But the best, most valuable kind of distillation is still human. Whether it’s a great Tumblr, a great Twitter account, or a blog – Kottke’s distillation of the liberal arts is a personal favourite – there’s value in finding someone you trust to distil the world’s information for you.
The breadth of information online means that regardless of your taste, you should be able to find a content distiller that suits you. And if you can’t, you’re just a few clicks away from becoming one yourself.
The majority of news online is text-only, a few hundred words and offers only surface-level insights. Online news is dominated by headlines referencing sex, murder and/or celebrity. It’s low value, shallow, churned, press-release rehashes.
As John Hartigan says, it’s content that is “ubiquitous rather than unique”. This kind of news works, to a point.
But it’s very hard to argue that you can charge people to view it and even harder to imagine people paying for it.
That’s where depth comes in. What you can reasonably charge people for is deep, rich, multimedia content delivered in a customisable or premium way. An article summary, a full article, multiple hi-res images, audio streams of the source interviews, video footage of the interviews and background pieces on the story’s multiple sub-plots.
As an example, journalist and blogger Jeff Weiss wrote an excellent piece for the LA Times recently about ‘Jerkin’, LA’s new dance craze. Along with a long, well-written article was a short documentary about the kids who started it. If Jeff did that kind of work on a regular basis, I would pay to read it. When it comes to charging for news, it’s reasonable to expect people to pay for similarly rich content.
Go to any news site and let your eyes sit, for just a moment, and take in the visual horror. As a general rule, news sites – overloaded with links, content, ads, videos and multi-size text – are an eyesore. They make you want to get out as fast as you got in. For all the smart brains in the news world, none seem to have given much thought to the way that news is delivered online. http://www.slideshare.net/NativeDigital/news-delivery-diversity
There are simple fixes. There are sites that make you want to look at them and explore them. The Big Picture is a case in point. But let’s look at news through a design lens and try and imagine an alternative, more intuitive, more aesthetically pleasing way of delivering it.
You never know which innovations will work. But you do know that 100% of the innovations you don’t make will fail. That’s why I like The Punch and why I’m looking forward to seeing news organisations start innovating in news distillation, depth and delivery.