Idea for the Evolution of the Newsmedia: Get People to Take Their Medicine

The newsmedia has become an incestuous, sensationalism-obsessed mess.  Everyone reports endlessly on the same [trivial] events.

Even the local news feels compelled to cover the same substance-bereft stories airing ad nauseum on cable (though they make a superficial attempt to “localize” them).  Why?  To siphon off the dregs of the audience that hasn’t heard about them yet?  No wonder readers/viewers are leaving in droves.

What newspapers need to realize is that they’re in the business of providing an information service, not a product (absent our sentimental attachment, a physical newspaper is no more consequential than the wrapper my Spicy Chickencrisp Sandwich came in).  Their focus should be making that service more attractive (not trying to commit mass suicide by walling the public off from that service).

Years ago Palm’s epiphany was realizing that they weren’t competing with other gadgets, but instead with the pen and paper.  Today, newspapers need to realize that their competition isn’t the Internet – it’s the authorities people go to for info/advice.

Where journalists might better provide value to customers  is in providing life guidance (for lack of a better term) to the average person more efficiently than other resources.  As this scary Wired Magazine article shows – we need it.  Badly.

Scanning one’s environment for relevant information is a daunting task, even with some of the amazing tools available.  What if the information-gathering abilities could be invested not only in digging up news – but in indexing/categorizing that news so that it can be pushed in front of the people who aren’t looking for it (but who nevertheless need to know about it)?  In that context – American ignorance suddenly becomes a market waiting to be conquered.

What if newspapers analyzed raw data about you using algorithms similar to those developed by and Netflix for their recommendation engines and combined it with their coverage?  What if they could turn that analysis into a daily “to do” list, make suggestions in scheduling your calendar, or populate your address book?

I envision it working like this (three scenarios):

1. Say you’re a homeowner.  You know how much you pay in property taxes every year, but there’s no way you have time to follow all of the public notices and legal happenings that may affect your life.  Would you pay for a service that could:

  • … scan public notices and the minutes of local government entities for developments that affect you, record your support/opposition in a tweet, and recommend a donation to a local political action group that represents your views …
  • … crunch crime data and use it to reschedule locations/times of meetings for you to keep you out of harm’s way …
  • … keep tabs on the real estate market and recommend changes to your insurance policy in real-time based on local housing values, the weather, and a background check of your new neighbors …

2. Say you’re interested in video gaming.  You may follow the latest release details on hot properties like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but beyond that it’s unlikely you’ll see other stories of direct relevance to your life and efficiently make use of that information.  What if if this service could:

  • …make you aware of a recent report on a scientific study about the health effects of playing first-person shooters, and automatically scaled back the time on your calendar that you plan to play during the week…
  • …tell you about a business story about a large national chain threatening to remove the game from its shelves over complaints about the content, then change your shopping list so you can boycott that chain, and inform your broker to divest any of your holdings in that company…

3. Say you have diabetes. You may be able to follow your doctor’s recommendations, but how easy is it for you to keep up on the latest relevant information about your condition?  What if a service could:

  • watch the federal register and automatically send you the paperwork when changes to health care insurance laws affect you …
  • … study consumer reviews about blood glucose testing equipment and send you real-time reviews as you’re browsing in a store …
  • … compare your social calendar to the available menus and reviews of the restaurants you’re going to visit and recommend the best options for you …

Newspapers have access to a lot of this information – but it’s buried within the arcane methods we have for organizing data.  If they spent less time trying to dig up locals with a connection to the latest national scandal or tragedy and more time creating and organizing hyperlocal content, they might survive.

Suddenly a degree in Library Science is pretty relevant.

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