The fucking news

I finally finished the last episodes of The Newsroom recently, and it got me thinking and worrying about the future of journalism. I know a lot of old guard organizations that did great work are dying a slow death into irrelevance, and that’s sad. I see hope in a lot of new organizations popping up doing great journalism in a digital age (Vice and Salon come to mind), but I can’t help but feel like we’re still seeing a net loss. Although new tools make the barrier to getting into doing journalism a lot smaller, we are losing the quality of journalism that comes from great big organizations with a lot of resources to do great news for us. 
 
But man, for an industry that needs all the money it can get, I am amazed at the sheer awfulness of the news products these companies are putting out. The experience is so user-hostile.
 
  • I don’t want to have to visit your web site and check the news from there every day; I want to aggregate it.
  • I don’t want to need to use your mobile app to read the news.
  • I don’t want your article pages to be magazine-like with painstaking layouts and typography. Good writing suits me just fine. If you do want do do those things, keep the design clean.
  • I don’t want my news pages littered with ads. In fact, I don’t want any ads at all.
  • I don’t want articles cluttered with links to other things I “might be interested in,” half of which are actually ads posing as real content, and many of which have carefully constructed clickbait titles. And i sure as hell don’t want these links inserted into the article content.
  • I don’t want to make comments on your site or participate in any sort of community with the other readers, and the only people who seem to aren’t exactly generating positive discourse.
  • I don’t want the articles I’m reading to be paginated. I know how to scroll.
  • I don’t want a toolbar at the bottom with a call to action for me to share that thing to a bunch of social networks. If I want to share the article, I know how to copy a link.
  • I don’t want to pay over $100/year to support the site. News companies are pricing these as though I get all my news from one source, when I’m reading from dozens of sources in a given week.
  • I don’t want to see user generated content on my news site. There are other sites where I look at user generated content, like Twitter, or Instagram, or Vine, or YouTube, or Facebook, or one of the dozens of other places.
  • I don’t want to read articles that managed somehow to extract four paragraphs of filler from a single tweet. I’d rather just look at the tweet.
  • I don’t want my news site to have a social presence, trying to push things to me to read there.
  • I don’t want my news site to be incentivized to get me to click on their articles.
  • I don’t want a video at the top of the articles I’m reading, and I sure as hell don’t want it to auto-play.
 
I want:
  • Well-written articles that are rigorously fact-checked and well contextualized
    • Bonus points if you happened to capture some photos of the event. If you didn’t, that’s okay, you don’t need to show me a stock photo of something related to it.
  • A full-article RSS feed that lets me do all my reading from my RSS reader.
  • A way to easily pay you a fair price for the above two things, and ensure that you’re beholden to me, and not your parent company, not advertisers, not some bullshit KPIs somebody wants you to hit. 
  • the ability to share links to nice clean versions of articles with my friends and followers
  • The news org to be independent from corporate owners. If I’m paying you, I want you working for me.
  • For news like this to be available to me at the local, regional, national, and international levels (and I don’t mind paying separately for each)
 
In short, I want to read the fucking news.
 
Sometimes i like to listen to the news, and I think podcasts (which, like Dan Benjamin, I like to just refer to as internet radio) are the future of audio news updates. I also like weekly shows like Last Week Tonight (which admittedly pushes the limits of being able to call itself a legitimate news show but they’re doing good work). And I’m willing to pay more for podcasts and video formatted news shows. But ultimately the core experience I demand as a news consumer is to read the news. 
 
That’s really all I want. I’m happy to pay something like $50 a year from multiple organizations for news like this. And this format doesn’t have to be just for news news. I would love to see The Onion offer something like this (especially The Onion; their sponsored content is getting obnoxious). Ars Technica Premier offers something very much like this. 
 
Being able to pay $50 a year for news is a privilege, though, and I agree that those who can’t spend that kind of money should still have access to the news. I can’t name a specific model for non-paying users that would be successful. Maybe free users would see tasteful, non-obtrusive banner ads (though I really hate the idea of a reader’s eyeballs being treated as currency), and the free RSS feed would not have full articles. 
 
Maybe I’m just an old geezer who is still clinging onto RSS, but it truly is the best tool for those who want to keep up with news from many sources. RSS respects you as a reader. It puts you in control of what you see. It doesn’t let you be tracked with cookies. It is super flexible. 

AT&T’s real problem

ATT-logo.png

Everywhere you read about technology, the chief complaint about AT&T seems to be its dropped calls in big cities.  And while that’s a very valid complaint and all, AT&T has a much bigger problem on their hands.

It’s their coverage map.

Ask any AT&T rep about their 3G coverage, and one who is well-versed in bull-shittery will quickly point out that AT&T’s 3G network reaches 75-80% of the US population.  Wow, you think.  That’s pretty reasonable.

Unfortunately, that’s just a really flattering interpretation of a pretty lousy 3G footprint.  Much of the US is crammed into some super densely populated areas, so you can reach 75% of the US population without covering much land.  And maybe if you live in a large city that is blanketed in AT&T 3G, it’s not a big deal to you that 3G isn’t available out of your bubble.

However, when you pay your inflated wireless bill, you’re paying for a nationwide wireless network.  You’re paying for a promise that you can go out to these far out places and have some coverage.  You’re paying for a promise that you can be traveling down a highway in a place you don’t know and call up a friend for directions because you’re lost.

But that’s not really something you can do with AT&T, because they just don’t put forth the effort.

I live in the Madison area, and I often travel to Iowa via 151, which is a four lane highway all the way into Iowa.  If I made a phone call starting when I got on the highway and tried maintaining a call all the way into Iowa, my call will drop several times, because the towers are spaced too far apart.

But to AT&T, this is acceptable.  After all, why put the money into an area that isn’t very densely populated?  After all, it doesn’t give you much of a return, so why bother having it there for customers to use?

Again, it all comes back to the promise of a nationwide network.  When you’re paying your bill, you’re not just paying for infrastructure in the area your billing address is.  You are paying for a network to be there when you happen to be on this random road and you break down.  You’re paying to have service to make calls when you’re staying at a friend’s house in some podunk town.

For sure, AT&T needs to address the issues in its big cities.  And they can afford to do so, because they have a lot of subscribers per square mile.  But they also need to start taking more rural areas seriously.  Even EDGE coverage is acceptable here (though they could put up 3G towers and make a handsome profit selling internet service to people out in the country), but there needs to be some coverage.  Verizon has AT&T beat by a long shot, and their network is 3G across the board. And if AT&T wants to keep customers like me, they’re going to have to put forth the infrastructure, or I’m leaving in 2012 when Verizon LTE iPhones are available.