Let’s pull news out of its hole

black holeMost of what we call news is filler. The practice of filling space and time — stuffing “content” into a “news hole” — is a relic of an era when printing and broadcast space and time were limited, privately held, and paid for mostly by advertising, which requires ears and eyeballs showing up predictably and in fixed places.

The Internet obsoleted all of it, including the frame of news as filler.

There is no hole.

The river is a good metaphor for what news is, and should be. Sometimes it’s a trickle, sometimes a flood. But it always flows.

With news rivers, destinations are personal. So are many sources. Individual people are the first and best discoverers and producers of it. And also its only consumers.

They can also be customers. But no news publisher has come up with an optimal way to charge for news that works across all of them. The best they’ve come up with is their own private silos, each with paywalls and counters on them. And those all suck.

There is no centralized service that has done news right yet, and I don’t expect there to be. News is naturally distributed in both supply and demand. Some routes between the two are better than others. But they are all limited by the hole-filling frame in which they still operate.

Of all the publishing concepts we have, including publishing itself (around since Gutenberg), the one with the best leverage for the Internet is syndication. This is why RSS works so well.

Let’s build from there.

(Note: The first draft of this post appears as a comment under Dave Winer‘s Middle-of-the-night’s thoughts on news, with which I agree. Dave invented syndication and rivers as we know both today. His fingerprints are also on blogging, outlining and much else.)

More: Dave’s hackathon idea.

Bonus link, from Jay Rosen. Another from Jeff Jarvis.

6 comments

  1. Aram Zucker-Scharff’s avatar

    I’m actually developing a tool with a group at George Mason University aimed at doing exactly that, starting with RSS, but looking to expand further, called PressForwad. Syndication, especially done with an editorial eye, a topical focus, and with a group is, I think, a major space for the news business to go.

    We’re building out a tool that lives inside of WordPress, pulls in RSS, and allows groups to discuss, nominate and syndicate those posts into one river and RSS feed. A number of academic journals are working around it, as is at least one news room (I’m hoping more will as well).

    Check out the site: http://pressforward.org/ and the open-source code: https://github.com/PressForward/pressforward/. We’re getting the whole thing ready for a wider release soon, and I’m hoping to work with more newsrooms to see them use it as well.

  2. Joe Riviello’s avatar

    Aram, I’m interested to learn more about your WordPress tool. Are you saying that the comments will become part of the actual content of the post?

  3. Aram Zucker-Scharff’s avatar

    @Joe – Not exactly. Those comments are for backed discussion among editors as they work through syndication feeds, nominate and draft aggregated content. They could potentially be made public too, though the code to do that isn’t included in PressForward at the moment. It’s a cool idea though, I should totally add it.

    Though if you *are* interested in making comments part of posts, I built an entirely different plugin to do that: https://github.com/CFOPublishing/response-stack

  4. Joe Riviello’s avatar

    Cool! Thanks Much! I’ll have to give that a try.

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