A defense of personalized news

By Steve Outing

Jay Small, a new-media and newspaper veteran for whom I have great respect, has responded to my recent blog post about individuated news: “Individuate Me!.” In it, he challenges the wisdom of making personalized news a priority. Here’s my response:

First, Jay noted that “the conference title muddles the theme: personal news. (Really, isn’t ‘Global Individuated’ somewhat like ‘Jumbo Shrimp’?)” That’s my fault, actually; I mangled the conference name in my original blog post (since corrected). The actual name is “Global Conference on the Individuated Newspaper.” Sorry about that!

Here’s Small’s view:

“I have consistently held an alternative view about investing to personalize news on the level of an individual news site. Unless you’re CNN, it isn’t worth it. Every shred of user research I have conducted, observed or studied tells me consumers do want a personal Web experience — but not just for news, not just for one news Web site at a time, and not always based on the same selection criteria.”

Actually, a few minutes ago I fired off my June Editor & Publisher Online column to my editors; it will probably be published either later today or Monday. That piece will go far in explaining why I think personalized news is important (though the column isn’t on personalized news, per se).

The short version is that I believe newspapers need to go well outside their staffs and become much better at pulling in new content and new people from the community. Add that to the traditional news reporting, and follow a strategy of using professional journalists to filter and enhance content from those exterior sources, and you end up with a big mass of content that begs to be delivered on a personalized basis; in fact, there’s no other way to do it.

If we expand our notion of the local news report to include not just newspaper reporters’ output, but also a wide mix of content from all segments of the community — and add data as news, a la Everyblock.com — then consumption requires good personal filtering services.

The other thing that sways me — and this point was made in one of the presentations at the conference yesterday — is the behavior of young people. I see this in my own household. I’d say 90% of my daughters’ media consumption is “individuated.” That is, they watch TV shows on their schedule via TiVo; music is via iPod/iTunes/LimeWire, with only occasional FM radio in the car (with incessant channel changing); movies are Netflix and Amazon Unbox, with occasional trips to a Blockbuster store; news consumption (very little) is online. For kids today, non-individuated media is outside the norm.

Ergo, I don’t believe as today’s young generation gets older that they will accept anything less than personalized, individuated news.

And to quickly address the age-old argument about personalized news, I think that most news consumers will receive and want both a “Daily Me” and a “Daily We,” where the latter is news and information that everyone wants and needs to know to live in this society.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!