Breaking News and Milk

Part I

Breaking News

Some poeple will tell you that the term “Breaking News” came from before the internet. When we still used the print press, breaking news was important enough to “break” the already set type to accommodate the story:

Before the internet, the final draft of the newspaper would be fixed in a case for printing. Casing was only done once the news was finalized yet under rare circumstances when some changes were to be for some special news, made casing would be broken.

As far as I can tell, this is inaccurate, and I haven’t found any sources online that substantiate this claim. Although, it’s a great story.

According to the oxford dictionary breaking news is:

Newly received information about an event that is currently occurring or developing.

The Newspaper Economy

Graph showing value of a newspaper issue over time

Newspapers sell information. Often information is presented in longform writing where all the facts are presented for the readers perusal. In turn, information is consumed by the reader. When newspapers are able to get information that is more current or presented in a more palatable manner, more readers are attracted to it. Do thsi consistently, and you have an audience.

Newspapers primary income comes from their advertisers. Newspapers don’t exist in the same formfactor as they used to. Now we consume our news through news apps, social media and websites. The principles are still the same:

Write good stuff → People read it → Advertisers get eyeballs on their stuff → Newspaper gets paid.

The model existed in this for before the internet, now they biggest change is that newspapers employ ‘outrage’ to get more readers onto their stories.

Advertisers want to know two things before they advertise in an new publication:

  1. How many eyeballs can you get on my ad?
  2. Are they the right eyeballs? Who are they?

News publications primarily rely on social media, the internet and outrage to make money. Back in the day of the paper, it was basically impossible to report how many people had seen an ad, or how effective it was. That’s different now. We can report on Demographics like age, gender, political leaning and geolocation. We can also report on conversions. This means: of the total readers, how many clicked on the ad? 100 readers, but only 3 clicks is a 3% conversion rate.

Newspapers need to attract readers because readers attract advertisers. You see, having lots of readers is the newspaper equivalent to being the guy with the nicest car in high school. There are two primary methods that newspapers can use to attract readers:

  1. Be the craftsman – Write about current events with skilled writing and investigative journalism.
  2. Be the loud hailer – release news as quickly as possible to create the impression of being a superior informer, hyper informers.

Before the internet, it was necessary to be the craftsman. Papers would come out 1 to 2 times a day. This gave the journalists and editors ample time to check facts and craft good stories. I am not saying they got it right 100% of the time. But, they did a good job of it.

The advent of the internet, and later, social media has perpetuated “The Loud Hailer”. Now, to be effective news companies need to report on stuff as it happens. Breaking News.

The biggest issue with breaking news is that it possess the inate quality of being incomplete. Often times news publications will report on “breaking news” and share inccurate information. But this is fine to them because the situation is unfolding. It’s entirely acceptable to report inaccurately because the sitation has not fully developed yet, and everyone else is doing it.

We’re partly to blame for this phenomenon. We have this desire to be consantly informed. Breaking news aside, we gobble up instagram stories, facebook posts and tweets. All in an effort to remain “informed”. Being informed is an illusion. This is a discussion that I’d like to cover in another post at some stage.

Part II – Full Circle

There will always be a demand for “breaking news”, that is, news that is hot off the press. But we have witnessed a shift from “breaking news” back to “Craft“. Many journalists have started writing on this very platform, Substack, and others like it. They’re no longer working for news publications but are interacting directly with their fans. They don’t feel the need to generate clicks like newspaper websites have to. They can be genuine and focus on their Craft.

We will see a shift again in the future. We already are. Publications that started as small publications, focussing on craft, shift towards being hyper informers.

Why? Like S&P 500 companies that are beholden to their shareholders larger publications are beholden to their advertisers.

Being beholden to advertisers is not good for anyone, like large companies being beholden to shareholders is not good for anyone except the shareholders. This is likely why we are seeing a shift from advertiser based publications to subscription based publications. The subscription economy.

We have just witnessed a shift (still happening) from hyper informers to craftsmen. This shift will change the way we consume news. I think many news companies will also change their model from hyper informers to craftsmen again. This is a good thing, but it’ll go full circle.

Have questions? Comments? Let me know below!

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