Contributing to the Information Diet

i love the newsThere's a book I read about two years ago called, The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption. I remembered that I liked the book and found it informative, but after two years, I've forgotten the premise and main points. Since it's a short book, and since I've gotten back into the news business, I've borrowed it from the library to read it again. I think this is an important re-read as I am fulfilling the role of creating news and content for the consumption of others. I've already gone through the introduction, which refreshed memory that Information Diet makes the case that the consumption of news/information should be treated like how we ought to consume food. The over-consumption of food can lead to a variety of diseases, and the same can happen with a hyper-consumption of information in general, or in the over-consumption of the wrong information. As summarized in the introduction of the book:

If unhealthy information consumption creates bad information habits the way unhealthy eating creates food addictions, then what good is transparency?... You cannot simply flood the market with broccoli and hope that people stop eating french fries. If large numbers of people only seek out information that confirm their beliefs, then flooding the market with data from and about the government will not work as well as the theorists predict.

The overall point is that it's not enough to put the good information and the good news coverage out there. You need to change behaviors as well, probably concurrently as you put out the information that's part of a healthy information diet. A point that I'd like to make about this concept is that over-consumption can lead us to a point where we aren't filtering the information to come to a logical conclusion or to weigh various sides very well. It's much like choice overload, as the act of filtering information means that you are making choices about which information is most credible, most relevant, or even the most truthful. If you have too much choice, or too much information to go through, then it's easier not to choose or to settle on ideas that confirm your beliefs or affirm what you already know or think to be true. Or, even to choose not to read any information at all.

"We choose not to choose even when it goes against our best self interests," as Sheena Iyengar says in this speech below about why people chose, or don't choose, in the first place.

Commitment to Good News Coverage

As I get back into the news industry and assess trends, study what I'm doing, and watch what competitors are doing, I need to look for a way to contribute to the information buffet and to encourage a healthful information diet. I'm not one to do what everyone else is doing, so I need to figure out what's happening and then fill in what's missing. Curation and aggregation are hot right now, but I'm not much of a fan of either. Too easy to spread information that's just incorrect while creating a system where too few people are the actual news writers and creators. It also can lead to an echo chamber where something that's wrong is shared and repeated before it's corrected. Curation and aggregation involves sharing and repurposing what other people are doing. When there's too few people, certain topics will be missed simply because everything can't be covered. When there's an echo chamber, there's also an incentive to report things that do well in the echo chamber, versus topics that need to be said and covered. I wish I had the answer to everything now. Perhaps I'll have a few more once I finish re-reading the book and work in the industry a few more months or years.

What a Koch Brothers Newspaper Purchase Would Mean for News

Koch Brothers newspaper purchase It's rumored the billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch are considering a purchase of the Tribune Co. a media conglomerate that includes titles such as the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun. Although neither the Koch Brothers, or their spokesperson, have confirmed or denied the rumor, such a possibility is a dangerous one if it were to become reality. Here's what we think a Koch Brothers newspaper purchase would have on the news industry and the news we get:

Further Consolidation Would Decrease News Quality

Information from diverse, competitive, and independent sources is vitally important to the health of a democracy, and a Koch Brothers newspaper purchase would only consolidate the media further and decrease the diversity, competitiveness, and independence of our news and its sources. We already don't hear enough about what's going on outside of the United States, and the facts that affect the issues. We don't need more of the same. Just how consolidated is the media already? Here's a quick rundown of who owns what, according to Common Cause:

Viacom owns CBS; General Electric owns NBC; Disney owns ABC; and News Corporation owns Fox Broadcasting Company.  ABC's corporate parent is the Walt Disney Company.

Disney owns 10 television stations, 50 radio stations, ESPN, A&E, the History Channel, Discover magazine, Hyperion publishing, Touchstone Pictures, and Miramax Film Corp.  Viacom owns 39 television stations, 184 radio stations, The Movie Channel, BET, Nickelodeon, TV Land, MTV, VH1, Simon & Schuster publishing, Scribner, and Paramount Pictures.  General Electric owns 13 television stations, CNBC, MSNBC, and Bravo.  News Corp. owns 26 television stations, FX, Fox News Channel, TV Guide, the Weekly Standard, New York Post, DirecTV, the publisher HarperCollins, film production company Twentieth Century Fox and the social networking website MySpace.

Do we really need (or want) the Koch Brothers in the mix?

The Koch Brothers Don't Need More Influence

The brothers' spent hundreds of millions in the 2012 election. Granted, they did not get the results they wanted, but that doesn't mean their money doesn't carry a big stick and influence a few people (okay, many people). Not only don't the Koch Brothers need newspapers and televisions stations to their arsenal, but adding newspapers and television stations would give them much more power to influence than they already have. Newspapers may be a dying species, but they certainly aren't a discredited species. Newspapers would give these two men much more ability to spread their message than ever before, and with much more credibility than ever before. This opens up the possibility that the news these entities deliver will not be the same, or will not be an honest reflection of what's happening in the world. The Los Angeles Times may end up with a new owner, but who that new owner is won't change the minds of those who read the LA Times. Most of those people will still think it's a great paper, and might not notice a shift in content and stance (presuming there will be a shift in content and stance if the Koch Brothers were to own these newspapers and television stations).

Overall, a Koch Brothers newspaper purchase would be detrimental for news. It doesn't need further consolidation, especially consolidation into the hands of the rich and powerful. The Koch Brothers have also demonstrated that they will use their assets to affect change in policy and in who gets to be in government, and having news entities has assets will only better enable them to do those things (whether the idea of the Koch Brothers changing policy or deciding who gets to be in government is a good one or not is debatable). Not sure if the purchase can be stopped, or if allowing someone else to make the purchase is necessarily better, but a Koch Brothers newspaper purchase isn't good at all.

How About a Newspaper Comprised Entirely of Business Blog Posts?

Huffington Post of business blogsThink of It as the Huffington Post of Business Blogs

I applied for an Arch Grant toward the end of last year. I didn't get it, but if I did, I would have put that money into a brilliant idea I have called The Stirring Standard. This idea is essentially an online newspaper that syndicates all of its content from business blogs. Nothing like it exists, at least not yet. I'd like to see the Stirring Standard live and thrive, and perhaps be a game changer for news and content marketing.

Why Is This Needed?

As someone in the content marketing industry, more and more businesses are buying into the idea of content marketing, starting business blogs and venturing into other types of content. This is great, however, businesses lack channels to get this content in front of consumers. Companies currently have their own website, search engines, social media, and co-marketing/guest posting opportunities. The first three are great, and there's nothing wrong with them. However, it's incredibly difficult to find and to build guest posting relationships (co-marketing isn't as difficult, but you don't want to co-market all the time, or co-market with just one or two folks all the time). Businesses want to get their content in front of more people, build their audiences, and to build backlinks, but all that is tough to accomplish with the channels that are currently available. The Stirring Standard is designed to be that additional channel, something that accomplishes those three goals but rewards great content that is of value to the audience.

Rewarding Great Content is Key

With content marketing on the rise, it's going to be tough for companies to have content that stands out from the competition. It'll come down to more than optimizing it right, and covering the right topic for your audience. Those methods will work for those who started creating content early, but it won't be enough for those who start this year. The Stirring Standard will be an entity that will set the standard for great content, and will make an effort to have that great content rise above the mediocre stuff. It'll also level the playing field between those who've been in this awhile and those who are just starting. As an online publication, there will also be additional opportunities to feature content that isn't a blog post. Calls-to-action will appear in the sidebars and at the bottoms of posts, leading to eBooks, whitepapers, webinars and other long forms of content. It also forces content creators to think about the audience, instead of writing about company announcements, products, and services.

What Do You Think?

If you have any thoughts on this idea, please let me know in the comments. Since I didn't get the grant, I am strongly considering getting this done on my own. I already have two separate companies submit their business blogs for consideration, and this is through no advertising and no action on the site since September 2012. Something must have caught their attention to submit their blogs, despite five months of inactivity on the website. I believe that businesses have a story to tell, and have stories that consumer would be interested in. I believe that businesses are some of the best experts in their field, and aren't driven to create sensational content or false content, which has plagued online and print publications in the past. That is my vision, and I think there's a lot of merit to this vision. I think a lot of businesses would be interested in this opportunity, and would be willing to pay money to be syndicated. So, please, let me know your thoughts here.

How I Would Change Newspapers

How I Would Change NewspapersNewspapers may be a dying breed of mass media, but I have one certainty about newspapers: they aren't dying because people don't want the news anymore. The journalism industry may be falling apart because the world has changed and it's now the older folks who are reading the morning paper with their cup of coffee.

Steer Away from Advertising

The biggest reason newspapers are failing is because advertising revenues are down. People are no longer paying for classified ads when Craigslist is available for free. Businesses are no longer paying for ads when everyone is hopping online for their news. If advertising revenues are down, then newspapers need to find a new source of revenue. My suggestion would be advertorials, articles from businesses that relate to their products and services while offering something of value to readers of the newspaper. No, these things won't be press releases, but simply informative and feature articles that happen to be written by companies instead of freelance writers or journalists.

Do More Multimedia

I would suggest that newspapers engage in some of the content marketing techniques that businesses are using, such as infographics, videos, slideshows, ebooks, and whitepapers. No, this content wouldn't be promoting the newspaper, but would be supplemental content to the journalistic article we are used to. For example, coverage of President Obama's inauguration could be accompanies by an infographic outlining what he's accomplished in his first term. An article on the latest in Syria or Israel/Palestine could come with an e-book or whitepaper that goes into the history of the situation or the two countries. I'm not necessarily saying the coverage of the Super Bowl or the State of the Union should be in a slideshow. I'm simply suggesting that newspapers can get a little more creative here in order to draw readers in.

Granted, they are already trying with online techniques such as video and social media, but newspapers need to do more than to promote their own content. They ought to create content no one else is creating, utilizing the knowledge that their reporters have built up over the years.

Hold Government Accountable

As the only industry protected by the Constitution, newspapers have the responsibility to hold government and its officials accountable. For newspapers, this would primarily be local government and state government, since national government would be of the purview of national newspapers and perhaps the newspapers in Washington D.C. It's tough work, and not everyone wants the press or a journalist talking and asking questions, but that's the job of the press and a journalist. This is an incredibly responsibility because if newspapers don't do it, it's hard to figure out who will.

Put the Feature Stuff Elsewhere

Okay, I grant that sports, editorials, opinion and what not are more popular than the hard news stories. Because they are more popular, I think these sections shouldn't go into the main newspaper but be given their own platform, whether that's strictly online or as an insert or even as a smaller tabloid that could be purchased separately. This would give both the hard news and the fun stuff more column inches, increasing the coverage of both topics. This would also make the hard news less reliant on advertising. Folks are advertising to be seen next to the report on what President Obama is doing or on what's happening halfway across the world.  Folks are advertising to be seen next to the sports or arts sections, which might have stories more relevant to what's being advertised.

Perform More Investigative Journalism

With the budget cuts, newspapers don't do this as much as they used to, although newspapers are one of the few institutions that can be trusted to do investigative journalism well. This may be easier to do once the feature stuff is moved around and maybe more revenue is coming in and all of that good stuff. Or, perhaps a newspaper could go change things entirely and only do investigative journalism. After all, there's tons of other people and publications covering much of the other stuff.