Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The inverted pyramid: News aggregators take the very best part of the content

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 8, 2006

Quoting myself through others quoting me [it's this Alice in Wonderland inside-out world we live-in these days :-)]

From Corante's Media Hub posted by Hylton Jolliffe:

Tom Abate: "During dinner Friday, blogger Tom (SiliconValleyWatcher) Foremski offered me the best reason why news writers can't easily charge for content -- because they load the essence of every story into the headline and first paragraph. Journalism is skewered by its inverted pyramid..."

Google News and the other news aggregators take the best part of the news and leave behind the least valuable. They take the distillation of the news--it's most valuable essence.

Let me explain: As journalists we are taught to write in the inverted pyramid style (esp. in the UK.) This means you try and tell the entire news story in the first paragraph.

One of my editors would say, "You are on the platform of a train station and your mother is on the train and you have to tell her the news story as the train rapidly pulls away. You have no more than 34 words."

The 34 word limit varies according to the newspapers but the principle remains the same because copy editors cut news stories  from the back to fill holes in the newspaper. So you have to make sure your news story can survive a drastic cut to just one paragraph, if necessary.

So when Google News, or any other news aggregators take and publish the headline and the first paragraph, sometime the second para too--they are taking the very best part of the news--and leaving the second best a click-away. And most readers get enough from the headline and first paragraph and don't click through to the original story and site of origin.

The essence of news stories is copied and whisked away by the spiderbots, which offer the promise of return traffic. But that is not a fair exchange, imho.

The news aggregators should display one of those cobbled together "summaries" they do during normal searches, then the user of a news aggregator could go directly to see all of the meat of the story at the originating site. Something like that would be a lot fairer to the newspapers and news sites.

 

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