The zeitgeist of the mobile era (era here meaning the past and coming few years) might be “Currency is Time.” The line came from the San Francisco head of News Republic, a mobile news aggregation app from Mobiles Republic. He was demoing last night at the ONA-organized “What users want from mobile news.” The app is not about excellence in news or saving journalism or anything so squishy. Mobiles Republic is a tech company using news to make a buck. But the hope among “content providers” is that News Republic will bring more readers to their stories. If it’s successful, I hope news companies give reporters a cut.
In any case, News Republic is moving toward journalism somewhat untethered from its origins. Circa takes it a step further and depending on how you look at it, the app could be considered brilliant or terrifying. I vote for the category of “intriguing but unsettling.” The mobile-native app, still in the angel investor stage, chops up news into facts, quotes, stats, images, videos. It destroys the idea of the article by stringing bits together to tell a story. But that may make the more pleasurable experience on mobile.
It’s intriguing and tempting and I have been wondering since I started a heavily data-driven project in August about whether it is okay to abandon narrative sometimes. No story, no infographics and no data visualization.
How many times have you read to the third graph and trailed off because, my god, the article just kept going on and on? I thought about instances in which economic data could be reported straight out. For example, politicians in Louisiana want to stop a lawsuit against the oil and gas companies because, they say, the industry drives employment and the local economy. But it’s not true. Pages about the conflict have filled the papers and some of the national ones have been inaccurate and lack data to back up the claims by the politicians. I would list the claims, the data and the source of the data in a table w links to the original sources and the spreadsheets the reporter is using. The digital director of an online site said his team helps journalists get readers to engage with their stories (he’s from a town that comments a lot on the local reporting unlike the Bay Area). But sometimes, he said, he has to ask if the story is worth reading when it’s ignored. Maybe the information is important but will turn out better in raw form as opposed to a story. That’s true for mobile, anyway, according to serial news innovator and Circa news director David Cohn, — who I am fond of because he showed up at News Hack SF a couple years ago talking about unicorns and rainbows to explain the latest start-up he was working on.
So yes “atomizing” the news is intriguing. But unsettling: What are the consequences?