Navigating the news

By Felix Salmon
November 19, 2009
Abnormal Returns has a smart post up on aggregation:

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The indispensable Abnormal Returns has a smart post up on aggregation:

Aggregators, investment or otherwise, are not the cause of the downfall of traditional news gatherers like newspapers. They are simply a sign that people are hungry for information and analysis presented in an efficient manner. For better or worse, that instinct to seek out order in an increasingly complex world is here to stay.

Of course, the news media has been trying to present information and analysis in an efficient manner for centuries: there’s nothing new there. The difference today is that the internet has brought thousands of different news sources just one click away, and so there’s demand for a new layer of editing. Newspapers have always needed editing to put the focus on the most important news, but different readers want different kinds of news and no one editor can be all things to all people.

On the internet there are thousands of people sifting news through their own particular filters, and some of them, like Abnormal Returns, prove to be extremely popular. That’s partly because they’re simply very good editors, and partly because they’re not artificially constrained in the way that newspaper editors are: they can link to anything they like, not just the product of one news shop; and they can ignore important-but-boring stories in favor of the ones that people actually want to read.

It’s almost impossible for newspaper editors and publishers to compete with that — which is exactly the reason why they should instead be embracing it. Either you can encourage people to read your news, or you can discourage them. Everybody needs some degree of help navigating the vast ocean of news and commentary which is produced every day, and no sensible publisher will come to the conclusion that cracking down on invaluable navigators is a good idea. Instead, they should be encouraging them as much as possible. As the late Sy Syms might have said, an educated news consumer is any publisher’s best customer.

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