WWGD: The news API

A throwaway line I used in a post the other day keeps repeating on me like pepperoni pizza: If you want to be big in media in the future, make yourself into an API.

I’ve been wondering what it would mean for a news organization to turn itself into an API — that is, a programming interface that lets the public use and remix and also contribute information. Or put the question another way: What would Google do (WWGD) if it ran a news organization? And I don’t mean GoogleNew but any of the reporting organizations it could afford to buy (though I’m not sure why it would): The New York Times, the LA Times, CBS News, CNN. Or, for that matter, what would YouTube do? Or Firefox? What would it mean to open up the news? I’ll start with a few answers of my own. Please add yours:

* Let people — no, encourage — people to distribute your stuff for you. You can no longer spend a huge marketing budget to get people to come to you. So go to where the people are, with the people’s help. That’s what got YouTube seen: letting people put players in their own space, which in turn drove people to discover and dive into YouTube.

* Think distributed in your business, too. That is how Google makes much of its fortune: by taking its ads to where the people are and sharing just a bit of that wealth.

* Let people — no, encourage — people to remix your stuff. They’re doing it anyway. They’re taking a paragraph from here and a quote from there — or video from here and audio from there — to tell the story from their perspective. Stop thinking of that as theft and start thinking of it as a compliment. If you’re not being remixed, you’re not part of the conversation. And the conversation is the platform of the today. So feel free to set some rules — it’s only polite to attribute and link — but then open the doors and let people create more great stuff on not only your finished product but also your raw material (your quotes, your data, your cutting-room floor). Look at the great things people have built on top of Google, YouTube, and Firefox. You want to be part of that construction project. The BBC has started down this path. So should others.

* So be a platform for news. Enable people to use you to make connections to people and information. Provide the means for them to record those school-board meetings and share the fruits. Give people tools and training to accomplish what they want to accomplish. Create networked reporting tools that let the people join together in acts of journalism (see: NewAssignment.net).

* Experiment. Start labs for news and let the people in to create and criticize alongside you. Don’t be afraid of betas and don’t be afraid of failure. You can’t be perfect. You never could.

  • http://squaringtheglobe.blogspot.com Harry Forbes

    Websites that publish or have APIs (Google, YouTube) are providing a utility-like service through their API. Google, for example, has APIs for search, maps, blogging, etc. These are web equivalents of the old news wire services. News products, on the other hand, go through a further series of processes (aggregation, editing, layout, distribution), which are media and product-dependent. And besides creating the product itself, all news products are branded, so the brand must be managed and promoted.

    The genius of creations like YouTube is that the API pretty much encompasses and defines the product. With great insight, you can create an API encompassing products like YouTube. I don’t believe the same is true for products like the Guardian.

    NPR maybe, but not the Guardian. : – )

  • http://mghiemstra.com/ Michael Hiemstra

    An API for news… an interesting idea. “Be a platform for news” is the idea I’m taking away from this post. Sure, news sites already have RSS/Atom on their side to “dish out” their articles and stories, but a platform could provide much more. Imagine a system that allows journalists, reporters, and citizens to contribute their stories, reports, comments, graphs, pictures, video, audio (or whatever) in a way that makes it easy for the submitter to slice up the information to make remixing easier. For instance, highlight a quote in some text and enter some meta data (who said what, when, where and why?). You could do the same for a snippet of audio within an inteview. Tag submissions (or portions of submissions) with geographic data (what’s the address of that store that had a break-in?). What’s the mood of a story? What are the sources used? Who funded the story? Adding this type of meta data and then providing feeds (or an API if you will) for each bit of meta data would make for an interesting news platform.

  • http://www.newscloud.com Jeff

    This is partly why I sent you a link to our announcement last week about the NewsCloud Platform API.

    Not just the journalists but the news platforms should be open, able to be integrated and accessible. I spent most of my time on our API building an easy to use PHP class for developers to be able to take advantage of our service with very basic coding skills. We’ve also built fifteen examples.

    I hope you’ll check out the NewsCloud Web Services Documentation and Examples

  • http://www.ryansholin.com Ryan

    When I read the first graf of this post, I thought you were saying that I, as an individual, should become an API.

    And I thought to myself, “Well, yeah, that actually sort of happened today when I sat in a meeting and heard a different set of reporters and editors express a familiar set of concerns about building a stronger online presence.”

    Now I know what it’s like to do the “blogboy dance” with multiple partners…

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  • http://nilhan.wordpress.com Nilhan Jayasinghe

    A great idea – one that may seem obvious some time soon, but radical for now. If we take this to it’s ultimiate conclusion, should the crouds be able to collaborate to the point of dictating the stories covered and direct the journalist to the stories that interest us. Afterall, the little guy doesn’t have the same access as the BBC.

  • conserned midwesterner

    Supporters start chanting “all praise to Allah” during Ellisons victory speech in Minneapolis, during the fox 9 news report @ 9. Ellison will be the first Muslim congressman ever.

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