Kevin J. Delaney: Look beyond news for mobile innovation

Kevin J. Delaney is editor-in-chief of Quartz, the global business news site launched in September by Atlantic Media. He was previously managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Online. This essay is part of Predictions for Journalism 2013: A Nieman Lab Series.


(…) Mobile news will start growing up
The list of breakthrough interfaces for reading news on smartphones is a short one. Instapaper is arguably the pioneer in this area, with its focus on a simple reading experience. Vox Media’s SB Nation iPhone app cleverly grouped news updates about the same topic (Vox tweaked that design in its current web app approach.) But many mobile news apps and sites are little more than re-skinned RSS readers, and surprisingly few publishers even bother to format their email newsletters for easy reading on iPhones and BlackBerries. When we were creating Quartz earlier this year, we needed to look for inspiration to non-news applications, such as the Clear to-do list app — it’s hard to find boldness and creativity in the news industry’s smartphone products.

(…) Clearly, more publishers will reconsider their native app focus in 2013 in favor of HTML5.

(…) Gawker Media’s Nick Denton is among those who have made admirable efforts to improve commenting, and Nick has rightly proclaimed that comments on their own can represent as high-quality content as any article. But most of the best discussion takes place off publishers’ sites, on Twitter, Facebook and in private emails. This is a reality that won’t be fully addressed in 2013, if ever.

He Said, She Said, and the Truth

Margaret Sullivan, the NYT public editor, struggles with the US journalism tradition of “balanced reportage”. See what you think: 

(…) false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.

“Recently, there’s been pressure to be more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading,” said Richard Stevenson, The Times’s political editor. “It’s one of the most positive trends in journalism that I can remember.”

It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public, fueled by media critics, bloggers and denizens of the social media world — to present the truth, not just conflicting arguments leading to confusion.

There must be a pony in there somewhere!

(…) Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere”

Thanks to Herding Cats!


The DRM free movement for eBooks expands

Joshua Gans notes that the JK Rowling initiative is gathering momentum. Now publisher TOR is going DRM free. Prof. Gans sees the revolution in music proves that DRM free works for the content owners as well as consumers:

The same thing happened in music. DRM was the thing that got music publishers interested in digital downloads (like iTunes) and then something we couldn’t have predicted in 2003 happened; DRM was abandoned and nobody really noticed. What is more DRM was abandoned with a coincidental 30% (!) price increase to consumers as compensation for the extra value provided by portability. My feeling (based on no real evidence) is that overall the consumers won out of that deal (they are paying a little more to save on paying lots more later). It will be interesting to see how TOR’s pricing changes as it goes DRM free.

Read the whole thing »

Atlas Winced

Megan McArdle wanted to like the new movie, but could not:

(…) There could have been a great movie made out of Atlas Shrugged. For that matter, there may still come a day when such a movie is made. But to quote the trilogy I did like–this is not that day.[From Atlas Winced]

Avoid News


We avoid news fairly thoroughly — no television, no newspapers, no newsmagazines, no Google News. That frees up the time to learn and to discover. For example, the time to discover that Bryan Caplan and Rolf Dobelli share a similar perspective: “News is to the mind what sugar is to the body” to quote Dobelli’s 2010 paper Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet.

Dobelli’s paper was the trigger for Bryan’s post (and many others, such as Bill Gross). Here’s Bryan [BTW, I’ve never located the TED Talk that Bryan references – Ed.]

By and large, I think news is a waste of time. If I want to increase my factual knowledge, I read history – or Wikipedia. News, I like to say, is the lie that something important happens every day.

Most people think my position is crazy, even for me. I was surprised to learn, then, that someone even more anti-news than me got to present his arguments at TED. A few of his arguments are silly, and more are poorly documented. But the best parts of the paper that inspired the TED talk are excellent. From Rolf Dobelli’s paper “Avoid News” [PDF]:

News is irrelevant.

Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business – compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news.


Assume that, against all odds, you found one piece of news that substantially increased the quality of your life – compared to how your life would have unfolded if you hadn’t read or seen it. How much trivia did your brain have to digest to get to that one relevant nugget? Even that question is a hindsight analysis. Looking forward, we can’t possibly identify the value of a piece of news before we see it, so we are forced to digest everything on the news buffet line. Is that worthwhile? Probably not.

In 1914, the news story about the assassination in Sarajevo dwarfed all other reports in terms of its global significance. But, the murder in Sarajevo was just one of several thousand stories in circulation that day. No news organization treated this historically pivotal homicide as anything more than just another politically inspired assassination.

Read the whole thing, then dive into Rolf’s paper Avoid News, which begins:

This article is the antidote to news. It is long, and you probably won’t be able to skim it. Thanks to heavy news consumption, many people have lost the reading habit and struggle to absorb more than four pages straight. This article will show you how to get out of this trap – if you are not already too deeply in it.

Google takes the FTC to school

Jeff Jarvis is my go-to guy for accurate wisdom on the plight of the old print media (e.g., NYT, FT). Recently, Jeff wrote a smart commentary on Google’s very smart response to the silliness going on at the FTC, where the old media barons are trying to get the FTC to restore their now-dead business model via regulation.

Jeff’s commentary is good enough that you may not feel the need to read the full text of Google’s response.

This says it best:

The large profit margins newspapers enjoyed in the past were built on an artificial scarcity: Limited choice for advertisers as well as readers. With the Internet, that scarcity has been taken away and replaced by abundance. No policy proposal will be able to restore newspaper revenues to what they were before the emergence of online news. It is not a question of analog dollars versus digital dimes, but rather a realistic assessment of how to make money in a world of abundant competitors and consumer choice.