The news business has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, since the days of pioneer TV news broadcaster Edward Murrow, who delivered his segments with cigarette in hand and opened and closed his newscasts with his signature phrases: "This is CBS" and "Goodnight and good luck." In this smoking, black and white episode of Vator Box, we bring you back to those days (well, at least we try). And, who better to be our guest host than Chris Tolles, outspoken CEO of Topix, a local news site whose content is 85% user-generated with 125,000 comments posted daily. John Shinal, veteran journalist and Vator managing editor also joined us. Get two guys passionate about the imploding news business and you get a lot of fireworks and sideswipes.
In this episode we look at two companies - Intense Debate and NowPublic - changing the news paradigm, not so much for the companies themselves, but for their participating in ushering in those changes. Both companies are shaping the way individuals and society are interacting with one another and interpreting the world.
The comment generation
We started with Intense Debate. Why? We think comments or the business of aggregating comments is a big deal and a game-changer in the news business. Talk about a heated discussion on Vator Box! Clearly, it's a busy sector. Both John and Chris lashed out about the competitive landscape, pointing out that it was unclear exactly what this company was doing differently than Disqus and coComment. Chris questioned the business model. If Intense Debate was powering a bunch of small blog sites, "it's not going to be powering enough pageviews," said Chris. Ezra Roizen, Vator Box regular, asked: "Is this a site to help publishers? Or, is this a site to pull people off and put them on their own sites?"
To the credit of Intense Debate, it is helping to usher in a significant trend, which John pointed out. "There is a broad trend toward putting comments on equal footing as blog posts," John said. Essentially, bloggers were a response to mainstream media. Now, the readers of bloggers are responding to the bloggers. As John said, "Their (bloggers) own readers are becoming supplemental to bloggers."
We all agreed that comments are increasingly the place where the action is. Who's commenting is more interesting than the piece itself! The question is: Will smart and chatty people gravitate toward a great piece of content? Or, will they go to sites where they think other smart and chatty people hang out?
Crowd-sourcing and citizen journalism
We then turn our attention to NowPublic, a crowd-sourcing news site based in Canada. Founder and CEO Leonard Brody calls NowPublic the "largest citizen journalist network in the world," in his video pitch. John threw a zinger at Chris, saying that he thought Topix was. Chris responds in an upstanding way, but then rips into the NowPublic model. "Their big problem is distribution," he said. "I think the challenge is getting to a critical mass of the audience... They say they have 130,000 contributors... is that regularly or once... You got to look at regular usage."
As a veteran journalist, John is shaking in his boots. "The idea of first, on-the-scene reporting is a huge trend," he said, referring to the China earthquake, which was first reported on Twitter.
Ezra raised a challenge for NowPublic, which is matching first-hand reporting about stuff with an audience. "People Twittering about China, that's a broadly interesting piece of content," he said. "If someone is Twittering about should gas stations sell beer past 10... or something very local, that's incredibly local content that only a small audience is interested in."
Chris concurs, adding that it's hard to get an audience in a five-block vicinity.
The three have a lot more advice, and opinions - as this was the most opinionated Vator Box yet. So, I won't give it all away. You'll just have to watch. Oh, and please don't be shy about sharing your opinions and commenting. Whoever points out the exact time when a shirt almost catches on fire, gets a prize.