Ancient river of news

earlypaper1.jpgContemplating the Guardian’s 50,000th edition, it occurs to Charlie Beckett that early newspapers were a lot like RSS:

It has the same level plane which allows the reader to decide what is the most important story, simply assembling news on separate pages which you have to filter and organise for yourself.

In that sense it highlights how online functionality is in some ways still behind the old technology. As I discovered trying to read the new one-section Independent on Sunday, newspapers are brilliant for flicking through until you find something you want to read. Unfortunately, the Sindy has nothing I wanted to read and so I quickly returned to my PDA and my Netvibes RSS aggregator page….

Online journalism has many advantages over its paper version, but it still needs to work much harder at usability. Newspapers took a century to work up the ultra user friendly objects we now have. News websites and blogs will have to work a bit quicker than that if they are to celebrate 50,000 editions.

I like the analogy to RSS but I’m not sure I agree that it’s a regression not a progression. Dave Winer has been begging for news organizations to just give him a river of news that he’ll judge. That says that RSS is an advance in the form. We can debate whether the news is overpackaged or whether online is underpackaged and I’ll say both views are right: One-size-fits-all news cannot possibly give me just what I need and the idea that editors can feed us what they say we should eat is hubris born out of the limitations of the medium of paper. But I also want some more functionality on top of my beloved RSS feeds to help me sift better. That may be technology. It’s more likely people and technology together.

: LATER: Charlie says I misstated. He’s right. I should have put it more in the context of where RSS is in its evolution. From the comments:

I didn’t actually say that RSS was a ‘regression’ – quite the opposite. I don’t know anyone who would defend a century-old format over online journalism!
As I wrote, I would choose the variety of RSS feeds over any newspaper. But what I concluded, however, was that newspapers have had a long time to get their format right for their audience. Now online news sites and blogs need to work even harder at finding the right reader and helping the reader find the right stories.

  • http://www.charliebeckett.org Charlie Beckett

    Hi Jeff,
    I didn’t actually say that RSS was a ‘regression’ – quite the opposite. I don’t know anyone who would defend a century-old format over online journalism!
    As I wrote, I would choose the variety of RSS feeds over any newspaper. But what I concluded, however, was that newspapers have had a long time to get their format right for their audience. Now online news sites and blogs need to work even harder at finding the right reader and helping the reader find the right stories.
    cheers
    Charlie

  • http://www.exacteditions.com Adam Hodgkin

    But have you noticed the way newspapers are emulating the web? Their page layout is increasingly aspiring to look like a web page. The borrowing goes in both directions. This is what struck me when I flipped through the Guardian’s 50 front pages. The big web-like changes started in about 96 (when the WWW first hit the mainstream)
    http://exacteditions.blogspot.com/2007/06/guardians-50000th-issue.html

  • http://andycarvin.com andy carvin

    And let’s not forget Publick Occurences. Published in Boston in 1690, it was the first multi-page newspaper in the US. Granted, its lifespan was very brief, and the articles were extraordinarily biased, but one thing I find fascinating about it is how the publisher used page 4 of the paper. He left it intentionally blank. His logic was that there would be limited numbers of copies printed, and people would pass them along from one person to the next. By leaving a blank page, each person could jot down their own news and make their thoughts available to the next reader. Who knew that networked journalism literally began with the advent of US print journalism.

  • http://scribblesheet.co.uk/interviews/?p=5 A Charlie Beckett Interview

    An interview with Charlie Beckett

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