Newspapers in Feedworld

The Guardian’s Simon Waldman on what RSS means for the future of newspapers:

My hunch – based on some of the usage trends that we can see already is that many users, especially those who already know us – will still prefer to take the good old fashioned route to our front page to see what we have on offer. However, if we use feeds and distribution to our advantage, we will find we can attract an ever growing audience who will be brought in primarily through individual bits of content. And this leads me to the one trend which I believe is going to be critical for news organisations to understand. And that is that the story is the star.

Like other publishers and media owners we invest significant effort into the visual and intellectual context our content sits in. Page design, headling weight, story order and the decision to run one point of view one day and another the next – all are deliberate choices. In Feedworld, much of the design and structure we add to our content is removed and everything is reduced to most basic element. In our case – that is the story.

Our daily efforts therefore are broken up from being a unified whole: a newspaper, or even a website – and instead become a collection of fragments. ‘Small pieces loosely joined’ to steal the title of Dave Weinbergers’ excellent book.

Now, as with a corporate breakups you can see this either as destroying the value you have created through aggregation. However, being naturally bullish, I like to think of this as releasing the value of individual stories. In particular by combining feeds with a combination of search and social discovery tools, you can ensure that people can get exactly the bit, or bits of our content that they want: even if they didn’t know that they wanted it.

In this Feedworld, what matters more than anything else is the distinctive nature of our content. And I say ‘distinctive’ deliberately rather than the more nebulous ‘quality’.

When people have a dozen or more feeds in front of them – they soon learn to ignore those who are simply re-writing the same wire stories and following the same agenda that everyone else is.

As a result, this might be a new media landscape, but the currency is as old as journalism itself: original, accurate reporting and informed comment. And in this environment, success and growth will come to those who are both willing to invest in these, and who crack the commercial model for this new means of distribution.

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