I’m a journalism purist, so I think that one of the best things about the newspaper is that you have an editor who decides that a story is very big and it’s something that you’re not thinking about. You may not have seen that on TV or Facebook, but this is important, so I’m going to put that on your front page. But with this product, because all news is location-based, that serious story is not coming to you necessarily, at least for version one of this product. What we’re hoping to do is try and figure out how we can bring the editor back into this process. That’s a harder problem, but we’re hopeful that we can do that.
The nice thing about a newspaper is it gives you a broad view of what is happening in your region, your state, the nation, and the world. This product does not have that because it is focused on hyperlocal. At some point I would like to bring that back but I would say that’s the weakest part of this app.
It comes to that balance of how technology can help inform you in a substantial way and not just a consumer-based way. How could this sort of technology change the way news organizations produce the news?
It is funny how technology has changed the role of the journalist and the things that journalists are interested in. When the Internet came around, journalism organizations were, and still are, focused on getting clicks. And that kind of popcorn journalism, it’s driven very much by traffic, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good direction to go in. The Huff Post-ization of the web, picking out the broadest stories, “Justin Bieber Sneezes,” and putting that on the front page to get that traffic. I don’t think that a great direction that we’ve moved in.
Because every time you open an app it knows where you are and it knows exactly who you are because you’re only opening it up on one phone, mobile makes it possible for newspapers to create a much more personal product and a much more location-aware product. It is able to bring us back down to hyperlocal in a way that I think is positive. I see that kind of counterbalancing the popcorn nature of journalism on the web, and I think that mobile has the potential to make us focus again on what we do really well as reporters, which is local news.
If you are working for a community newspaper or a community radio station, chances are you’re providing the very best local coverage. There is no blog that’s out there that is producing that content better then you. It’s really a question of how do you get that content out to the right people? If it’s on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, you know, all of that content is location based. I can consume the three or four stories that are relevant to my neighborhood immediately, and then go on with my day.
What I’d like to see is newspapers give up the celebrity coverage and allow other people to do that much better, like TMZ, and focus on what they do really well, which is local news. But that’s just my personal thoughts.
So when the app first opens up and gives you the top five stories for your area, how are those stories decided on?
That’s currently decided by an editor. At some point we could automate that, so say this is the most clicked on story today, this is the most buzzed about video today, this is the most shared deal today, then that becomes something updated throughout the day, and is much more real time, essentially allowing the crowd to vote with their clicks. But that could be in later versions; right now it’s still being decided by humans.
Oh, those pesky humans. It sounds like you’re already into some serious thinking about version two.