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Today, I’m trying to see the future.

We could be in a place, in ten years, where every small business just naturally assumes that it has to publish a quality multimedia publication every day simply to remain competitive.

Smiles are overrated.
That world could happen, as far fetched as it may seem now.

Who thought twelve years ago that businesses of all sizes would be blogging just to be found?

We’re already at the point where the content competition isn’t with our nearest niche competitor, it’s with all other pieces of data on the web, for the attention of the eyeballs we need to connect with brains, and hope we can influence that grey matter to fire buying synapses.

The New York Times, AOL & story quality

So when you hear that The New York Times has had a major shift in management, and released/leaked a document about how it is innovating, as a publication that is considered THE benchmark in quality journalism, you read that.

Although before we continue, it should be noted that in 2011, we all got a look at AOL’s publishing plan. It would be an interesting exercise to look at how much of that was relevant – or completely off-base-  in the past few years at Huffington Post.

Remember the things they were told to use to evaluate stories?

  • AOL tells its editors to decide what topics to cover based on four considerations: traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turn-around time.
  • AOL asks its editors to decide whether to produce content based on “the profitability consideration.”
  • The documents reveal that AOL is, when the story calls for it, willing to boost traffic by 5 to 10% with search ads and other “paid media.”
  • AOL site leaders are expected to have eight ideas for packages that could generate at least $1 million in revenue on hand at all times.
  • In-house AOL staffers are expected to write five to 10 stories per day.

Could any of that help clear up how and why some stories are getting traction on the web today automatically, while others must fight to be covered at all?

And fast-forward to today, where we look at the New York Times declining market share and web traffic, flying in the face of the quality vs quantity argument.

At this point in the game, you might think that AOL or at least the Huffington Post is going to win that battle.

Now, you do still need quality to be a factor at some point, or people will not read.

But is there a point at which you must sacrifice quality to attain readership?

I’m not just talking about the quality of the journalism itself.

Or the fact that providing the news used to be considered a public good, a service under the heading of civic duty, rather than a profit center.

And this is the part that we should be completely engrossed with as small businesses becoming publishers:

It was just about the quality of the actual story covered. It’s now about the quality OF stories in general, too.

It’s whether hard core news stories are even covered at all. What happens if no one cares about the news anymore?

The same thing that happens if small business “publishing” turns into a competition to see who can post the most irrelevant kitten meme to their Facebook page.

How much do we determine what gets news coverage?

 

And is there a way to turn news as a profit center to the advantage of all? Do we want to lose news as a public good? Has that ship sailed?

If so, are we the captains?

Nigerians had to start a hashtag about the mass kidnapping and sexual slavery of hundreds of young teenagers, and be echoed through cultural and family members abroad for two weeks, then to celebrities, tech sites like Boing Boing and Mashable, before it was finally covered extensively on the news websites, let alone the actual television news.

Note: Both my parents are Nigerian, so though I was born Stateside, I’m quite sensitive to this event, but I’m not going into a political tangent here or today.

Tragic on the one hand that some of us had to put on our activism hats and pass the story to the mainstream media from social media in order to get it covered.

(Which then got live protests to happen which shamed our Nigerian president into some semblance of action – tell that to the next person who says hashtags don’t matter. If people show they care it makes the news. Period.)

But on the other hand.

What power.

We’re already shaping the news- most of us just don’t know it.

 

You see, that was not a one-hit wonder event.

I’ve been part of movements to force a story from the fringes into the news instead of dying before. It’s one of the things people hire me for – to find the natural point of ingress for a story to go from notable-in-passing to mass-appeal and possible international coverage.

Bringing it back to small business, that’s the flip side of the coin: what are we making newsworthy with our attention?

If news is a profit center, and they are paid by the eyeball, then what we’re willing to read, listen to and watch, is determining what ends up on the news.

Which means, as small publishers, we’ll have to make similar choices about whether to serve a niche of people who like to ponder, as I am doing now, or whether tis nobler to create an inspirational graphic and just go back to sleep.

Speaking of which? I’ll be back with the rest of this in a bit. In it we’ll discuss more about the New York Times document and what it’s proposing, and some issues that brings up for the small business “publisher” of the future.

Flickr image courtesy of Sean Molin 

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