About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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April 19, 2009


J.A. Ginsburg

Well put! I edit a small aggregator - http://TrackerNews.net - that focuses on health issues, humanitarian work and technology that supports both. It is a little unusual in that content is grouped for contextual relevance rather than by category and links include research, websites, even twitter "#" feeds, along with news stories. It's not as deadline-driven as most aggregators. In fact, TrackerNews doesn't cover breaking news terribly well at all, so links to sites that do it better are provided during major events. TrackerNews regularly recieves "thanks" from both sides: those whose stories and sites have been featured and those reading them. the value-added is the research that goes into putting these groups together. A Google search can get you started, but it often takes a lot more to ferret out the good stuff. TrackerNews is still very much an experiment-in-progress; the aggregator itself is part of a larger concept about cross-disciplinary awareness.

Also, one more point about packaging. I personally have a long deep love of newspapers. Years ago I curated an exhibit called "The Art of the Message" about the evolution of the modern newspaper as a graphic medium, using an rare rag edition archive of the Chicago Tribune as a case study. http://tinyurl.com/6bvm2x

Among many other features, including its aggregate experience, the printed paper offers a rare degree of privacy in this age of every-keystroke-analyzed. What may be seen as an advertising weakness, also has an intrinsic value. As far as I can tell, there has been no attempt to try to figure out how to monetize the packaging...

Charles Batchelor

Mark, I'm seeing several media firms moving in this direction. I've said for years adding context adds real value. (I even own the domain name AddContext, and I, oh, nevermind....)

I would add that each local newspaper has several different worthwhile markets that require different packages. But, heh! And each can attract different ads. For example, I'm working on creating a new park in my community right now. News articles on these efforts are of interest to 1) contractors, 2) area real estate investors, 2) the neighbors of the park, 3) other community-minded types, 4) government pros, 5) government anti-spending, 6) parents, 7) sports leagues, 8) people who want the money for something else, 9) etc. Same story, eight-plus packages. Some are low value. Others, very high value.

What I saw worthwhile coming out of the November NAA "crisis" meeting was the idea of media firms creating a portfolio of different products, or to use your term, a bunch of packages. A network. Maybe it's hard to get super-excited about offering a service such as WuduPlz to target ads to the parents of teens and pre-teens, but add a service such as that with 25 others packages (often using the same news) and, marketed around the brand of a respected core product, a media firm can dominate the high-value sectors of the local market.

But, yeah, most news will never be iTunes. Even my mother never saved any of the articles I wrote.


When it's so easy to find free news all over the Web, the advantage may be in bringing it together in an efficient, attractive, easy-to-digest form, suiting the readers' needs and desires, to create something of value that they might even want to, gasp, pay for...

Mark, are you not describing a mobile phone app here..?

The Editorialiste


Great post. The kind of post one would pay for, no? (Your point is the very basis for consulting as a paid profession -- you curate advice for a specific audience.)

I agree completely. One is either the first or the last on a story, so why bother? Skip the rat race, consider analysis and make your site a destination, rather than a stopover.

(Oddly, newsweeklies haven't learned this lesson as quickly as one would think.)

We always have been curators. We don't own the news. The source always had it first, and now there's little stopping them from breaking it themselves -- so curating is even more important with consideration to the Internet.

And hey, a little design and PR to brand the whole thing won't hurt, either. How come journalists never look at ROI?

The Editorialiste.

Jeff K

Very very true. I've often thought that the Nytimes.com web site is a much better product than the paper itself. First of all, it emails me the stories every day that match my pre-configured interests. It even lets me choose authors that I like and sends me an email when the post a new story. That sort of packaging adds tremendous value to my news reading experience. One other thing you might think about is this: Instead of just hyper local or micro blogging, why not have an aggregator be just super-personal, like Amazon or Tivo? Why not have it digest the news that YOU seem to like to read or give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down and then present you with stories that match your interests? THAT would be the ultimate in value. Kind of like how Starbucks allows you to order a Grande 2% 3-pump Vanilla Decaf Latte.

David Eedle


This whole issue of context and packaging is a theme I've started to push with a number of people. We used to run a large subscription only niche content site network. A large portion of our content was not unique, it was readily available through other sources. People paid our subscription fees for:

Context - we placed individual items into an overall picture.

Convenience - we delivered in the format they wanted, when they wanted

Personalisation - we let them filter to suit their needs.

It led to very loyal subscribers (now heading towards 9+ years) and consequently a successful business.

David Eedle


Excellent post! With the tons of information available online, it can get daunting. It really is all about personalization. Thanks!


I couldn't agree with you more, Mark. At Newsbytes, we sold subscriptions based on the ability to keyword select your newsfeed from over 100 stories a day. From a Bulletin Board Service. We moved to the web in 1996. Subscribers paid because they got a great service that they could change on the fly, the content was good and delivered timely. Flash forward to today and many publishers think their content is so good it should be behind a wall. Not really. It's the combination of what makes the pub unique? Why does someone need to read/view/interact with you? And like another commenter mentioned, how many audiences do you need to reach? The task for those who work in paid content is to price it right. Yes the web wants to be free but my staff needs to eat!
Val Voci

Gab Goldenberg

Speaking of packaging - this was a fascinating read ... but it
a) buried the lead
b) rambled.

IMHO, people will pay for quality news.

I wouldn't pay for the P.o.S. newspaper handed to me free in the subway bc the content is all wire stories + ads, and the wire content reads like it was written by a soulless monkey. It's 100% generic.

My family still subscribes to a print newspaper, and I get much greater satisfaction reading it than the metro paper. It's the difference between a full meal and swallowing a Hershey's kiss.

You can't just say "it's the package" without emphasizing that the usability of it all needs to be seamless. You need to consider that carefully. La Presse is trying to get people subscribing for $ to an online pseudo-PDF version of the print paper. The functionality blows, my mom couldn't figure it out, and she said she'd prefer to just have the paper.

IMHO, the path to saving newspapers is more journalism, not less. More soul, less wire crap. More research, less rehash.

p.s. If you'd like, I'd be interested in guest-posting here [free] on the topic.


Sure, I might pay an aggregator ("editor" in the old speak), but he has to have something to aggregate. Who pays the journalist who writes the story to which the aggregator links?

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