We’re getting closer with the design of the prototype, which means it’s time to focus on the content of the prototype. For now, for reasons I’ve previously mentioned, I won’t get into the specifics of the content/concept other than the fact that it is global news. I am working on the presupposition (prayer!?) that it will be unique, premium value that will appeal to a general readership. Just how “premium” and how “general” they will be is a topic for another post, about paid content, and the like. Needless to say, more than one smart person has suggested I simply drop the idea that a “general readership” exists and/or can be reached. I disagree. And so selecting a representative mix of articles, et al, for the prototype is key, and means both trusting my old-media gut/news judgment and thinking hard about how the old definitions and categories are changing.
I have recently discovered Sam Lessin, founder of drop.io, whose BIG thoughts about how we (will) communicate/interact are both instructive and provocative. In a recent post, he expanded on his prediction that power will shift from content distributors to content producers. To help make the point, he used a series of mathematical computations and graphs. Over my head!? But he also wrote about how every bit of content can be categorized as information or entertainment (often, inside the same piece article, video, et al), and his belief that the two types of content will be increasingly separated and distinct from each other, “because Information and Entertainment are at economic odds with one another. When you wrap Information and Entertainment into the same body, you dilute the economic power of each because your incentive set on scale conflicts with itself.”
Hey, even a hack like me got that one! This distinction has been implicit in the news business for a long time, about how far we sink (or high we reach) to get people to want to consume the stuff we produce with the righteous presupposition that we think they SHOULD consume it, both for basic civic reasons and because that is the unique service that the press provides (part of the business model, eh?). Lately of course, there have been far more bits of entertainment (gossip) in our copy than some of us are comfortable with. I cover Silvio Berlusconi after all. A few weeks ago, I did a time.com piece on some medical researcher doing a completely unscientific study of great works of art to surmise probable health conditions of the people portrayed…alas, Mona Lisa had a high cholesterol. It was the most popular story on the site for two friggin’ days!? It had virtually no real value in a news (information) sense, and I was not the first to do it, even in the English-language media. But it was not “pure entertainment” either, and hooked people into reading about science, art. Maybe they’ll come to France to visit the Louvre? Dan Brown himself is a phenomenon that straddles these categories in a new way.
You could even make the case that the internet’s flattening the playing field only increases the attempts by editors to use bits of entertainment to communicate information, and vice-versa. Maybe this is digging their own grave? Still, a writer/editor’s question about this distinction is how do you qualify a well-written sentence: information or entertainment?
And so these thoughts are with me as I cull together the content mix for the prototype. Potential partners, backers, etc, are going to open up the URL and see the lede story. Will it be scoopy? Will it be sexy? A little bit of both? Still to be determined. But I can already safely say that if the first story is heavy on Information, the second will have a bit or two more Entertainment. And vice-versa.