“You all have this notion that news comes from reality,” says Rick Stengel, TIME’s managing editor. But like any other product — or any other “artificial thing,” as Stengel put it, “created by people like us for people like you” — news can change drastically depending on who’s producing it.
And with that, Stengel kicked off “Future of News: What’s the Story?,” a 90-minute panel discussion with The New Republic’s Chris Hughes, BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti, Pulse‘s Akshay Kothari, and Lara Setrakian of Syria Deeply, a new web-based news platform covering the Syrian crisis. According to them, the future of news is…
There’s a common perception that, when it comes to consuming news, “mobile phones are only good for Twitter,” says Hughes. But that’s not true. Thanks to the rise of iPhone apps like Kindle and Instapaper, as well as mobile-friendly sites from major media brands, like the New York Times, smartphones are actually expanding the market for engaging, long-form storytelling. “If publishers do a good job,” Hughes continues, “they can let you continue the experience from platform to platform”—starting on a phone, picking it up on a tablet, etc.
Now that anyone with a Facebook account can report what is happening, it’s up to media brands to offer insight. “We need to get back in the knowledge game,” says Setrakian, whose Syria Deeply aims to paint a fuller picture of the Middle East by combining mainstream news with user-generated content. “Then part of our revenue can come from partnering with professional organizations and think tanks,” and actually helping to effect change.
“We don’t have an adversarial relationship with our advertisers,” says BuzzFeed’s Peretti, taking a dig at the so-called wall that’s long separated editorial content from the brands (indirectly) paying to fund it. Instead, BuzzFeed works with companies to create actual posts on its platform, which are subjected to the same success metrics as any in-house editorial—the better the content, the more people they’ll get to see it. That approach, says Peretti, has led to click through rates that are “10x to 20x higher than banner ads.”
Kothari’s Pulse doesn’t produce original content. But with its sleek, intuitive interface — which culls stories from around the web, with permission, based on individual user tastes — the app certainly makes it look worth reading. “We wanted a storytelling platform people would actually engage with,” he says. And they are: to date, the service has more than 15 million users.
Media discovery has come a long way from Google bots trolling headlines. “Thanks to the rise of Facebook and Twitter and StumbleUpon, it’s now possible to have a news site built entirely around sharing,” says Peretti of BuzzFeed. And because humans are much pickier than computers — as Peretti puts it, “they can tell the
difference between a scoop and a rewrite” — the bar for content providers will continue to rise.