Charting a Course for News

November 7, 2009

I’m a serious consumer of news. I read, listen and watch a lot of it. Sometimes though I get caught in the trap of only reading stories that I find interesting. Certain major topics do not interest me enough to follow up and read about them as much as I probably should. I still don’t really know what Rihanna said about Chris Brown, so sometimes I need something that will force certain items to my attention.

One website that I’ve found that can do that is Newsmap. Newsmap is a colored-coded grid of stories that uses Google News to prioritize the most significant stories of the news day. Stories that have had more written about them are relatively bigger in the grid and have their headline in a larger font. Clicking on any of the stories will bring up the story where you can read more about it.

It defaults to having all categories of news, but if you want to limit it to just certain sections like health or technology, you can just click the appropriate check boxes and the grid will reorganize itself. It’s a nice little way to visualize the news.

At the 10000 Words blog, they have a great list of other news visualizers if you are interested in looking at news in a different way. There is the popular Newser tiled headlines with pictures, but this type of layout tends to make me focus on the interesting pictures instead  of finding good stories.

Another interesting visualization is 10×10, which offers a 10×10 grid of story pictures taken from Reuters, the BBC and the New York Times RSS feeds. It is very focused on international stories, but the way that it works is worth noting. It analyzes the words from the RSS feeds of these stories and computes the most important words of a particular hour. Then it will associate a picture with each word. Often times, the result will be that the same picture will come up multiple times, which lets you know that a story is worth looking at more closely. I would prefer if looked at a larger amount of time than an hour, because you will often get stories with no picture or only a very few stories and lots of repeated pictures.

How do you find news content? Have any interesting tips? Let me know in the comments.


Newspapers and Too Little Black Ink

May 2, 2009

As the Boston Globe continues its frenzied negotiation to continue operating with the New York Times Company (Stock Symbol: NYT), the entire industry is in a state of flux. What’s the problem? As with many things in the digital age, it is too expensive to create physical objects to disseminate information, but people are very hesitant to pay for information that they can get elsewhere for free.

The most recent example of this is the folding of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. Recently, there have been efforts underway by the staff of the newspaper to move the journalists to a digital format called InDenverTimes.com. After initially announcing that they wanted to obtain 50,000 premium subscribers for their venture, (note that this was at a newspaper that had a circulation at just over 200,000, so they needed a conversion rate of about 25%) they announced they were only able to obtain 3,000.

At this point the venture decided to downsize their operations, from what Poynter cited as 31 newsroom staffers and 18 contributors to a staff of 2 and no contributors. It is interesting that they have one staffer on “News/Business” and another on “Sports,” a noteworthy division of labor by itself. As the folks at Poynter point out, the previous line up was most certainly overly ambitious for what amounts to a start-up media venture. One might also notice on visiting the site is the lack of advertising. While there is an e-mail link to the advertising department at the bottom, nothing has come to fruition on the site yet.

As mentioned earlier, the industry as a whole is suffering tremendously and there are several factors, some obvious and some less so. The Internet is obviously a key component, but John C. Dvorak, a technology expert, and Marketwatch.com columnist, has an interesting argument that newspapers have become too flowery and aren’t doing enough local news. Given the pared down nature of the InDenverTimes, he might be a fan of simply having a news/business reporter and a sports reporter as the staff.

I believe that another important factor is simply a case of supply and demand. It is expensive and time-consuming to do actual reporting, while it is relatively cheap to do something like what I do. Basically, I just re-write and re-organize content that is already out there. In fact, it is so easy that there are many people (like me) who are willing to do this for free. This is where I think the enterprise of journalism is in the most trouble. There are enough people to do things that appear close enough to journalism to the average reader for free that the value derived from the customer for that information is cheapened to the point where it becomes not economically viable to create content.

I recognize that this is a controversial opinion, and I acknowledge that I may, in fact, be wrong. However, I’ll leave you with one final question, how much are you willing to pay for news content today? Whatever the answer, the newspaper industry thinks it is not enough.


Drop the Remote, Pick Up the Mouse

October 26, 2008

I’ve talked previously about the large amount of great online video on the web, but I have found a couple of other great places to fine network and cable quality content (whatever you think that might be) on the web.

The first is Gizmodo‘s great summary of this season’s network content online. Each network is listed with a series of links to where you can watch each show. Most of the networks are hosting their own content with Hulu providing coverage for a couple of them. I’ve seen a few summaries that try to duplicate this sort of line-up, but I like the simplicity in how it is organized.

Now these sites are all obviously sponsored by the networks and will show ads at various times during the program. I would call these clearly legal.

However, the networks do not offer all of their programs online, and some of the shows that are offered only have the current season, or worse the current episode available. What’s a TV addict to do?

Well, there are alternatives out there for when you have to see the first season of Battlestar Galactica. Project Free TV links to a wide variety of shows and back episodes that are hosted on a number of free video sites throughout the Internet, like Veoh or Megavideo. While the legality of this is certainly in question for the sites that host the content, I would be hard-pressed to believe anyone would prosecute a viewer of this material online. Although, anything is possible in this litigious age. One thing to keep in mind when using these services is that there will sometimes be some pop-up ads for things that are not safe for work, so that’s something to keep in mind.

One other possibility on firmer legal ground is Streamick, which is a service that streams of variety of channels over the Internet. While I hit a number of streams that didn’t work, or that were audio only, it was impressive to see the variety of material that was available. This should be on pretty solid legal ground, since all the content along with the ads is being streamed, but I’m not a lawyer so proceed with caution.

With all this content, there’s no reason to bored on the internet again, that is, as long as you have a connection and enough bandwidth to handle it.