After those bits of background, mulling over what I’ve been thinking, here’s what I’m going to do next week. I’m going to spend the week writing an online news website. Part of me is still wondering why, so here are some reasons.
First, I get frustrated with the priorities and choices that news sources make. Some of these seem blatantly wrong (choosing stories for sensation rather than actual importance) and some simply don’t work for me. Reacting negatively to this — pointing out the bits I think are wrong — is easy. Finding a positive solution — working out what mix of stories I think is right — is harder. It’s a problem I’d like to think through by doing.
Second, I’m interested in what a small-scale news website could do and how useful it could be. It’s hard to get smaller than a single person. Most general news websites seem to cater for quite a mass audience, presumably because they cost a lot to run. If a site could provide a broad news coverage but with a tiny budget, could it be more relevant and appealing to a smaller market?
Obviously, a news site with a miniscule staff and budget couldn’t do what a “proper” organisation could. It would mean little or no original reporting or foreign correspondents or highly-paid columnists. It would, I imagine, be very basic re-reporting of the news. Real journalists might sneer at this — it’s merely writing rather than journalism — but a lot of what fills our newspapers and news sites falls into this category. They all cover the same stories and few interpretations offer much that’s unique.
Sometimes it seems that this re-reporting of news is all the press is doing: when the Daily Telegraph was drip-feeding the world with its information about MPs’ expenses, the rest of the media could do little more than report what the Telegraph was discovering.
In a way this activity feels like it falls somewhere between blogging and the simplest kind of journalism. I doubt I’d make a good journalist, but this kind of curating, summarising and explaining appeals to me.
Thirdly, or perhaps two-point-fively, I wonder how much useful material can be generated by someone in a week. I’ll probably spend the week reading a lot of existing news and re-writing, quoting, linking, summarising it all, but I have no concept of how much material I’ll have after a week. Will it be a useful quantity? Or a pitiful, useless amount?
This is one reason I’m focusing on producing a weekly “issue” of a “newspaper”, rather than something daily. I’m not sure I could produce enough in a day to be broad news coverage, particularly given that I’m currently very out of touch with current affairs. Getting up to speed will be a big challenge in itself.
But also, as a reader, a weekly is enough news for me. There is hardly any news I need to hear about on the hour or every day. I used to read a newspaper once a week as a summary of what was going on, and so I’m looking to fill that gap in my media consumption.
So there we go, that’s what I’ll be doing next week. All being well I’ll publish the result, whatever it is, at the end of the week. That might be enough. What I produce could be terrible, a waste of my time and yours. Maybe I’ll learn nothing and no one will want to read it. Or maybe there’ll be something in it and I’ll want to try again for another week and improve it. We’ll see.
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Dan Phiffer at 28 Jan 2010, 4:25pm. Permalink
Reminds me of when Haaretz invited poets to write the newspaper for a week.
Ben at 29 Jan 2010, 12:04am. Permalink
I would read your newspaper.