Thoughts on Andreeson's Article on the Future of the News Business (2014 Article)

Marc brings up the great point that readership is, for the first time in history, able to observe the editorial process in real time. Articles published on a news site can be edited at any time, which creates what I would call a 'continuum of truth' as opposed to just probabilistic truth, in Marc's words.

I had a quick brainstorm that news sites could capitalize on this continuum by presenting some kind of user-friendly 'article versioning' information to the consumer. This could include calling out errata just as print publications have done for hundreds of years. The beauty of digital presentation of content is that news sites could literally show in-line notes or redlining right on the story's page, instead of just appending updates at the bottom of an article, which a few major websites unfortunately do as a low-tech solution to add updates to emerging news.

Marc at first reminds those who manage news organizations to attend to their business like any other. And yet, Marc cites funding of news as coming from crowdsourcing, subsidization from other healthy businesses, or philanthropy. That doesn't sound like a business so much as a not-for-profit, which is harder to sustain as a business. The key concern with 'altruism funding' is that funders are generally going to give money to get the results that they want.

In the era of 'truthiness', where consumers have 30 - 120 seconds to read an article to grasp its meaning, people may be less interested in the factuality of the content so much as how well the memes presented resonate with the readers' preconceptions.

Growing up in publishing, I had never considered Marc's fair point that keeping the editorial voice out of the content isn't necessarily the bellweather of journalistic integrity. I always assumed that the journalist must always strive for objectivity and look to cover all sides of a story, then let the reader decide. Obviously that concept has gone out the window within the last few decades with the talking heads 'journalism' of Fox 'News' and MSNBC, but are those modern exceptions, or really the rule?

Consider the ongoing debate about Fukushima and its effects on the California coastline. Or the re-emerging story (which appears to have started in 2012) of a polio-like virus crippling children in California. Or the most prominent ongoing domestic politics story of ObamaCare. Or the ongoing but lesser-known story of the impending cataclysmic drought in southern Florida due to the destruction of the Everglades. Media outlets with different points of view publish the information that panders to their consumers in all cases, so how can anyone be sure of any news organization's 'objectivity' anymore?

If the default in the news 'business' is indeed that consumers want to read content that is suffused with a point of view, then it seems to me that the only way anyone can make a thriving news business is by getting money from special interest groups or political parties.

The underlying question here is are people really going to be willing to pay for objective news coverage? Am I a member of a dying breed of citizens that care about objectivity in news? Truth be told, I haven't purchased a newspaper in perhaps a decade. When I go to read an article on any site, I steel myself to the notion that there are likely errors, omissions, mistruths, and perhaps downright fabrications. However, by checking a few sites, I somehow form my opinions about the 'probability of truth' in a news story. Are people in my generation doing the same thing, or people still paying for general news content? What about those younger generations? What is the opportunity to make money selling general news?

Fact checking is costly. Sure, you can crowdsource a news story on the latest version of an XBox or Android device, but covering the costs of journalism in a war torn region of the world or some major catastrophe is massively expensive. These costs could indeed be borne by other 'healthy' news businesses, as Marc suggests, but at the end of the day, the only sources of revenue for those organizations are subscriptions and advertising.

I see 'truthy' journalism as having a healthy future, particularly in the coverage of international and domestic political news. It may even be that large corporate brands may invest in news services as part of their content marketing strategies so as to keep their brand messaging and narrative in the public's mind. However, I see a grimmer future for journalistic integrity and objectivity in general news reporting.

In the area of tech news and other vertical market publishing, I agree with Marc that there could be the opportunity for much greater accuracy in reporting. People that work within those market sectors typically are more informed consumers and can more readily differentiate how far along the continuum of truth a news story is.

At the end of the day, however, in vertical markets, people will often pay for the reporter's voice, since so much of market-specific content falls into the realm of product/service reviews. Where things get tricky is when those sites start taking money to write reviews of products/services. At that point, the site is no longer about editorial content but has crossed into the realm of advertorial. Sadly, so many vertical-market 'news' sites have crossed that line already.

(Written by Joe Bachana, February 27th, 2014)

I just finished Marc Andreeson's recent article on The Future of the News Business and wanted to share my thoughts on his key points. Marc reminds us that news publishing can be done by anyone these days. Like all major content industries, anyone with a website and the ability to type can publish content. The caveat central to this discussion, of course, is how well they are actually doing it.