In an important post earlier this month, Adrian argued that news organizations need to move away from the “story-centric worldview.”
Instead of grinding information they collect into unstructured stories, he said, news sites should build operations that collect structured data and repurpose it in as many useful ways as possible.
He’s exactly right, and I’d add one point: Publishing
structured, community data is good for business.
Data? Good for business?
In cases where it’s the best way to consume information about a community, absolutely.
Think about how newspapers used to make money: Their articles were the best sources of information about their communities. That meant community members had to read the paper and businesses had to advertise in the paper. A paper’s business was built on its status as the best source of information in the community.
Today articles are not always the best sources of information.
Consider standardized testing results. If you’re a parent looking into local schools, you care about test results. But you don’t want to read an article summarizing results from across your county –- you just want to see the raw results in your town. Same goes for many other forms of data –- crime reports, campaign finance data, election results, census data, etc.
To remain the best source of information in their communities –- to protect the foundation of their businesses -- news organizations need to publish data as easily as they publish articles.
Collecting and publishing data the way
Structuring and cleaning data is a lot of work. If your operation collects clean, structured data and takes advantage of that data, upstart publishers will have a tough time competing with you. Brad Burnham explained the idea of data as a defensive tool on the Union Square Ventures blog.
These sites all run articles, but none of them are designed with a singular focus on articles. They’re all built with the understanding that users want information that comes in many forms –- charts, showtimes, prices, video, you-name-it. Data is so important to The Times that it just bought a company that provides data for its movies section.
The community news sites that grow into successful businesses will be the ones that follow this model –- the ones that invest in data and publish information in the most useful formats possible.