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Jonathan Stray: In 2011, news orgs will finally start to move past the borders of their own content

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Today, our predictor is Jonathan Stray, interactive technology editor for the Associated Press and a familiar byline here at the Lab. His subject: the building of new multi-source information products, and whether it’ll be news organizations that do the building.

2011 will be the year that news organizations finally start talking about integrated products designed to serve the complete information needs of consumers, but it won’t be the year that they ship them.

News used to be more or less whatever news organizations published and broadcast. With so many other ways to find out about the world, this is no longer the case. Professional journalism has sometimes displayed an antagonistic streak towards blogs, Wikipedia, and social media of all types, but it’s no longer possible to deny that non-journalism sources of news are exciting and useful to people.

Unencumbered by such tribalism — and lacking content creation behemoths of their own — the information technology industry has long understood the value of curating multiple sources, including traditional news content. Google web search was the first truly widespread digital public information system. RSS allowed readers to assemble their own news feeds. Mid-decade, Wikipedia exploded into the one of the top ten sites on the web, used as much for news as for reference. The business practices of news aggregators angered publishers, but there’s no getting around the fact that they are tremendously useful tools. The most recent change in information distribution is social. Twitter has become an entirely new form of news network, while Facebook wants media organizations to use their social infrastructure to reach users.

But as of yet, there are few integrated products. Flipboard comes closest with its slick integration of socially filtered news, and now they’ve announced collaborations with several news organizations for seamless delivery of professional content — the user no longer has to open a link in the browser to read an article from, say, The Washington Post. Flipboard aims to be the starting point for my exploration of the news, whereas a news product that refuses to provide me with high-quality filtering and curation of the rest of the world’s information will only ever be an endpoint, a place I might arrive rather than the place I start from.

In 2011, news organizations will finally start to realize that they need to be in the business of serving the consumer’s information needs, not just producing content, and any tool that allows them to serve those needs is fair game. There’s no getting around the fact that integrated products are beloved by users; this is part of the appeal of Google’s and Apple’s offerings. And being loved by users is essential, regardless of whether your revenue strategy is advertising, subscriptions, or philanthropy.

This is also about being multi-platform. One of the great things about Facebook is that I can access it fluidly on any device; Facebook isn’t a website, it’s a product. So far, no news organization really offers a seamless experience across platforms. Several are aiming for it, CNN is pretty good at it, and the Huffington Post and The New York Times are not far behind. But I suspect that the industry will slowly discover that multi-platform will not be enough to compete with multi-platform and multi-source. I expect to eventually to see much more incorporation of search and social content, and many more syndication deals.

This is a discussion that I expect will enter into the mainstream of the journalism business by the year’s end. But I don’t think the news industry will release any truly competitive integrated products in 2011. Flipboard and other startups will pick up most of that slack, and it will be a few more years before most news organizations complete the organizational and philosophical changes they need to compete successfully.

                                   
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Joseph Lichterman    April 22, 2014
Four-year-old startup Benzinga is growing thanks to a free consumer site, a paid news wire, and online financial service marketplace.