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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Newspapers Are Old News -- Take-51,067

I’d like to start this post with a quick thank-you to Simon for sharing this platform with me. I’ve been following his blog ever since I first interviewed with him and have found some of the topics covered here to be very enlightening – so joining him is quite an honour for me. To be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure what direction / topic I plan to focus on but will try and share simple observations and describe what I'm missing in an experience... and ideally connect with some like-minded individuals to start conversations. That’s what blogging is all about after all, isn’t it?

And while I’m already not leading with the ‘hook’ anyhow, may as well spend another 30 seconds giving you the low-down on who I am so you know where I’m coming from. Just a few quick facts; I’m 29 years old, married, have a 2-year old baby girl named Emilia (who is amazing, and that’s a fact), live in a small condo in downtown Toronto, have worked in ecommerce retail for some time, grew in Montreal, and a generally agreeable person.

And so finally we arrive at the observation that pushed me to write my first post for Evolving Shift – something that made me really stop and think this evening. Newspapers! I haven’t read a newspaper in years, at least not the paper kind. This in itself isn’t news – there have been many many discussions about the struggles of print publications over the past decade – but maybe I can offer my own reaction, and suggest a tool I would love to see created. So my first reaction going through the paper is how little it has changed in 20yrs – seriously, reading through this was an entirely nostalgic experience for me. The cover stories completed pages later, the mish-mash of ads vaguely related to the topic, the disorganized jumble of paper slowly building at my feet, and the ‘funnies’ failing to get a single chuckle (sorry Sherman’s Lagoon, it must have been an off week?) My biggest complaint though, and the piece that felt the most archaic to me, was that I had no mechanism to easily find things that I was interested in. I was forced to flip each page dutifully on the off-chance that something I cared about was contained within. It was total anarchy!

Anyhow, my big point is that online newspapers aren’t that much better – though I do frequent them as my primary news source. I get the added benefit of search, and ‘most read’ / ‘most emailed’ popularity rankers… tools to catch up with trending topics and the like, but in all reality the newspaper is a lot more like Twitter than a lot of people realize. Sure they allow their articles to exceed 140 characters, but it’s still an endless stream of information ready at a moments notice if you want to shove your nose in the way but more than happy to stream off endlessly into the ether without caring if anybody is out there reading.

And so here’s where I normally make an impassioned speech for RSS (Google Reader has been the single piece of technology that has most changed my life in the past 5 years) – but I’ll spare you all. I know that this audience is aware that RSS has been around for a long time but still only sees penetration rates barely in the double digit percentage range for online users… not exactly an evolving shift… but let’s be honest, I’ve never seen a digital publisher really give it a go until recently, and I’ve yet to see a newspaper get into it seriously. The few times I have attempted to follow a newspapers RSS feed (even a specific section’s RSS) it left me buried in content without a good way to sift through it or a reason to stay subscribed.

The piece that I really think is missing, is taking that same simple syndication concept and paring it back to meet the needs of a more traditional audience and generate real return visits to a newspapers space – while building a social networking opportunity beyond just really awful comments or hot/not features. I don’t need it to live in my Google Reader, I just need it to work. So here’s what I want:

  • As a reader I would like to have a profile that allows me to follow topics / stories at a granular level so that I can stay informed on a topic when new details are released (eg. The Toronto mayoral election, Toronto Maple Leaf post game summaries, TTC subway expansion, Toronto school news as I plan for my daughter, weather forecasts for the coming week, etc. – more detailed than just ‘business’ or ‘sports’!)
  • As a reader I would like to have a profile that allows me to follow specific authors that write for a paper so that I can focus on voices / opinions that I enjoy
  • As a reader I would like to have a profile that will capture the things I have expressed interest in and save them until I have read them so I do not need to worry about missing anything
  • As a reader I would like to be able to save / clip stories into my profile so I don’t have to go searching for them again later
  • As a reader I would like the search tool to work and not be like trying to find a periodical at a library so that I can better find the articles that answer my questions
  • As a reader I would like the ability to write my own stories or story requests or contribute real information that gets added to the dialogue versus two-cent comments that get buried in a sea of flames
  • As a reader I would like the ability to suggest tags for stories that can then be followed so that I can help group topics together and add value

And as I write this my wife is happily downloading episodes of the Vampire Diaries on demand on her iPad – so I’m going to call that a case-in-point and call it a day. Toronto Star, I’m looking at you!

What do you want out of your news reading experience?

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