What’s Newser?

One of my students, Sally, alerted our JTP class to this site, Newser, which is a customisable “front page” that collates stories for you. It automates the selection process, which has good and bad aspects to it. But does it make us lazy?

I think Sally aised some interesting points, so I’ve cross-posted her comments.

Newser is an apparently quite successful combination of “human intelligence and machine-driven aggregation”. It abandons the traditional hierarchy of the front page – the “basic news metaphor” which relates nicely to Martin’s idea about the dialectic of the front page as the key metaphor for the conflict at the heart of news journalism. Newser’s top stories are presented in a grid style akin to the “matrix” template discussed in the article, and are loosely ranked according to chronology – quite literally, the newest stories are the news-est.

The next most noteworthy feature is the ‘news preference slider’, also discussed in the article, which allows you to sort your own  browsing experience depending on how ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ you want your news. The question must be asked: how are stories tagged in order to determine where they are aligned on this slider? The editorial team running the site must at some stage pass judgment on the relative value of the stories they select and assign them some kind of Goldilocks value: Hard? Soft? Or just right?

Newser is still applying this traditional set of values to news… even as it abandons the old inverted pyramid news hierarchy, it persists in viewing some news stories as more worthy than others. Can we afford to continue judging news stories in this way? Or is this in fact our fundamental job as journalists: to decide what people should care about? Otherwise as Wolff says, private life risks replacing public life, ie. Facebook news feeds could soon surpass politics or world news in their ‘newsiness’ (to steal a semantic trick from Stephen Colbert). And the effect of this trend on the continued functioning of our democracy doesn’t bear thinking about.

Newser provides a list of the top-ten most-read stories on its site (a must-have for most news websites now) and perhaps most interestingly, something called ‘Newser points leaders’ which seems to encourage readers to accrue points by reading and posting on Newser as much as possible. Wolff seems very concerned about the ageing audience of traditional news media and the complete failure of the younger generation to care about, let alone to consume news… is this points leader-board idea some kind of bid to make reading the news ‘cool’?  Is Newser offering a certain brand of web-fame in return for optimum consumption of their content? I find it a very weird feature, somewhat at odds with what Wolff et al are attempting to do. Surely this points system encourages readers not to properly read and understand news, but only to view it as a commodity to be skimmed over for the purposes of competition?

Newser currently aggregates and links to news stories on other sites from all over the world (although mostly from the US). If these outlets eventually go out of business as Wolff predicts, what would happen to Newser? Does it have a limited shelf-life? Will it eventually just link to “a million solipsistic blogs”?

Is “the Amazon or Google of news ” the “holy grail” of news on the internet? For whom? And is Newser a successful contender for the post?

2 Responses to What’s Newser?

  1. Mark Hayes says:

    I agree with your student’s expressed ambivalence about these kinds of news aggregators, with some rather sophisticated data mining and audience info gathering going on behind the screens. Using these things, it seems entirely possible to tunnel into your very own news ghetto or bunker, ONLY exposing yourself to the stories which reinforce your own prejudices or interests, and allowing the rest of the world entirely pass you by. I have students who only seem to take account of the sports or fashion news which interests them, and some even resent my polite prodding of them to expand their news horizons. Of course, I’m not arguing for a return to the Reithian patronising elitism such that an Editor knows what’s right and proper for their audiences to know about. I think I AM arguing for ever escalating critical media literacy, where a well informed audience is equipped with the needed conceptual and critical skills of discernment to make their own informed judgements about how and why they consume the news they do. Used cleverly and intelligently, news aggregators can assist this process given the tsunami of options and outlets now readily available. Students like Sally give me some hope this is still occurring.

  2. jason brown says:

    Fond chuckles, I remember the quaint old days of what was once called “cyberjournalism” – cute huh! In around 2,000 this included lessons on how to extract maximum benefit from various sources online, with outputs still mostly aimed at trad media. Thinking back, I think there is a need to revisit this early euphemism. Not just because its user friendly, but because it describes a new need in journalism debated above. It’s not enough to leave news selection to whizz bang IT toys, sorry, software, like Google or Newser. Traditional, mainstream media in Oceania need to take a real-time approach to processing the flood of blog based information, a flood barely imagined at the turn of the millennium. They need special cyberjournalism sections to ferret out consistent, independent information sources, not neccesarily balanced, and lend their mainstream media credibility to quality links offering quality information, news, views, etc, ad nauseam. A lot of mainstream media in this region feature blogs, but carry few reports from other blog sources – not even as a news blog! I’d be most interested in what one cyberjournalism pioneer Pieter Wessels feels about the subject now , )

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