Sometimes I wish there was a script I could plug in that would automatically link to new articles posted by certain writers. Mandy Brown of A Working Library is one of those writers. Everything is pure gold and her most recent post discussing the state of journalism, news, The New York Times, and paywalls is simply brilliant:
[T]he Times paywall does not map to my reading behavior. I don’t read a single source for the news—I read thousands. I consume the news from all directions—from venerable institutions like the Times, to blogs that obsess over particular topics, to tweets from witnesses, and every imaginable source in between. I want news that is the aggregate of all these sources, that admits all of these varying (and often contrary) perspectives. Erecting paywalls between these locations misunderstands the ecosystem that each story participates in. The value I find in the news today is in its connectedness—in the ways in which often divergent sources come together to create a story—not its solitary authority.
This is a fascinating insight that I had not considered when thinking about why the paywall rubbed me the wrong way. Like many others, I was concerned about the general complication and confusion about the setup and pricing structure as well the fact that it’s hard when something that was free gets taken away. I don’t want to pay for something I got for free for so long.
But this idea of the connected story? This was new to me, yet in retrospect feels completely obvious. It started seven years ago when I set up my first RSS reader and started compiling the sites I visited each day. The way I got my news, in that moment, changed and it’s only deepened since. The Times wants me to pay because they think they will be my number one, go-to source, except that’s not the kind of world we live in anymore.
So what does this new world of news look like? It looks like Instapaper, or Readability, or perhaps Flipboard, if Flipboard can learn how to aggregate information in a way that makes sense. It looks like 1-Click, or Kickstarter, or Amazon’s singles. It looks like tools for making timelines or managing primary sources. It looks like dispatches from people on the ground. It looks like startups we haven’t seen yet, because a few smart people (perhaps exiles from newsroom layoffs) are right at this moment looking at the reactions to the Times and starting to plan for how they can do better. It’s both dispersed and connected, social but not inane, reliable and diverse. It looks like many things, because there isn’t going to be a single way forward; the future is, as ever, more complicated than the past.
So what is the future of news consumption? It’s incredibly personal, customized to each consumer yet, in the same breath, it’s beautifully connected, allowing us to see the larger stories unfolding around us.
Mandy Brown on a web designed for reading from the Readabilty blog.
[P]eople do read online. They read more than they ever did. They even read long articles, and straight to the end. They read one article after the other. They crave reading in the quiet moments of the day—waiting in line for coffee, riding the bus, enjoying a glass of wine before their date arrives at the bar. They read while walking down the street; they read at their desk in between tasks; they buy devices that permit them to carry more words than they ever could before—and with those devices in hand they read more and more.
Who says this isn’t an exciting era for the written word? What’s interesting is that the web, at its core, is designed for quick consumption, not long-form journalism. But we don’t have to choose between one or the other, between the longer, thoughtful pieces and the shorter, ad-driven sites. The web’s big enough for all of it.
Lois Beckett reports on Gerald Marzorati, former editor for New York Times Magazine and his thoughts on long-form journalism online:
We have metrics at The New York Times that show that people absolutely click the 23 clicks through to the end of the story. When I was at the magazine, the longest pieces in the magazine were the best-read, the most-read, the most-emailed. The pieces also tended to be, at the end of the year, the pieces that got the most pageviews of anything the Times ran…. People figured out their own sorts of behavior. They printed out the story — on the subway, you would see a printed-out version. Or Instapaper. People are reading these things, and they still become conversation pieces. I don’t know how many of you read Larry Wright’s [New Yorker] piece on Scientology, but a lot of people have read that piece…. [That] you can comment on them, you can blog about them, actually brings more readers to these long-form pieces.
The future is exciting. It’s like Gutenberg all over again.
(And, for the record, that Scientology piece Marzorati mentions is worth reading. One of my favorite things I’ve read online recently.)
Adding to the Noise
There is a lot of talk amongst those I follow on Twitter about “noise.” Media is bombarding us from every angle and it’s hard to filter. Jeremy Cowart’s resolution for 2011 is “less emailing, more creating.” Then my pal Zach McNair responded on his blog with his desire to reduce the noise in his life:
To be honest, my mind has been contemplating all the ways that I can reduce various noise in my life. In September of this year, I was subscribed to or following countless blogs, was following over 250 people on Twitter, and read every email that came my way (including advertisements). Noise at its finest distracting me from what my clients were paying me to do – work.
I applaud both of these great fellows for their efforts. This can be hard thing to do. I’ve gone through it as I’ve essentially completely changed my online reading habits, significantly reducing the blogs I read and the people I follow on Twitter. However, I think this is only one side of the apparent “noise” problem. We shouldn’t only be thinking about reducing the noise in our lives, we should also be thinking about the noise we might be creating.
As my online reading habits changed, I started to notice another change. If I’m going to be particular about what blogs I read and who I follow on Twitter, I also need to be particular about what I am contributing and sharing and producing. I tried to stop blogging about every single cool thing I came across online. I stopped tweeting about every meal and every place I go.
I’m trying to be more thoughtful in what I publish online. For my blog, that means quality over quantity. I’m much more selective about what gets published and I try to avoid the ephemeral and trendy. If we continue retweeting, reblogging, and relinking to everything we see, post, and like, what we produce will never rise above the noise and become something lasting.
And that goes for more than just social networking. As creatives, I think that should be the goal for everything we make: to create something lasting. I don’t want my work to just be more noise in a world that is already too loud. Thoughtfulness and sincerity will always win over retweets and link-love.
The best way to reduce the noise is to stop creating it. And that’s my goal for 2011.