Washington Post vs. Gawker #2: How to Monetize the News Industry

Previously, I talked about the value-add that blogs provide when they aggregate original reporting done by the mainstream media, a discussion precipitated by the Washington Post/Gawker kerfuffle.

As reporter Ian Shapira described in his follow-on piece, he did about a day’s work, which culminated in the published article. While the argument over Gawker’s usage of his article is illustrative, it is not the really interesting thing.

Far more fascinating to me is the work that Shapiro did to create the article. He spent an hour on the phone, took notes. He went to a seminar session, recorded it, and transcribed it. Talked to numerous people. Took notes. Made, I suspect, numerous revisions. Had it edited. Made more revisions. You get the picture.

The end result was the article. But along the way lots of other interesting information was accumulated.

What I want access to is all that other interesting information that formed the article, but is not in the article in its published form.

More important than what I want, it’s what I think reporters and reporting organizations could sell.

Sure, there would names that would have to be redacted. Reporters would have to think hard about what parts of the story should be held back, for future considerations. Various means which provided key pieces of information might be too valuable to expose directly, or, dare I say, extra-legal. But these are engineering questions, not existential barriers.

News organizations could take the artifact we know as the article, and sell it as a cloud of information. Sell access to the backing data, sell access to the various opinions as the the verity of various quotes inside, sell overviews of the blogosphere/cable news/twitter/wikipedia/etcetera reaction to it. Sell the revision history for the article. Host and sell online debates about it by various luminaries.

Sell the conversation that the article engenders.

How about letting me see how the article developed, before it’s published. For a price, let me see articles being birthed, before they are out in the world. This would make the article an evolving product, rather than a static one. If other folks want to buy your background information and continue the reporting, fine. It would make a single article a much richer artifact. It would be really cool to track an article from idea, through groundwork, through revisions, to capstone. I bet there would be a hopping trade in tightly controlled access to before-they-are published bits of reporting.

Local news, I suspect, would be ripe for this sort of thing. School-board reporting and zoning reporting get people all riled up.

In a small way, Yahoo did this years ago with the Full Coverage section of Yahoo News; Google News is somewhat similar though less effective. But outside aggregators do not have access to the background information, and the authors do. It might be hard to charge for the article, but I bet it would be far easier to charge for the cloud.

This would make news reporting online fundamentally different from what can be done in newsprint; this is what the newspaper industry is struggling with.

Yes, there are lots of details to making something like this work. Certainly, work on a expose would be have to be protected. But be honest, what percentage of reporting is really a scoop? And reporters are creating this array of information anyway — why not sell it? The article itself is only the tip of the iceberg.

Sell seats to the sausage making.

Sell the process of creating the article. I bet you could make some money. Which seems a good idea right about now for newspapers, yes?

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