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.
We have a saying in the Valley that we live by, which is: iterate or die. So every week we’re producing something that’s better then the week before. This product is going to look a lot different in a year from now and we hope that it’s much bigger in a year from now. It’s just going to be a whole lot of work to get us to where we want to be. When we think about our ideal app it’s this national product that you can take anywhere. At some point we’re hoping that two versions of the same news article are sitting in the same location to provide a robust look at what’s happening. And then with Gigs, allowing the community to weigh in and say this is what I saw or let me show you what I know about this thing. So it is news, but it’s much larger then news. There’s all sorts of things that we can place on this map, and our goal is to produce a product that people find interesting and useful and to help them be better citizens. That’s just one of those things that we’re just going to push for until we either win or lose at this thing.