OFF THE GRID

The New News: I Can Say Anything You Can Say Shorter

Apr 5, 10 | 7:47 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Let me say it again: News used to be a scarce commodity; but then the Internet turned it into a vast surplus, too great for anybody to consume in what still remains only 24 hours. Except information can’t just be ignored: The reader has to cram more news into the same amount of time to stay informed.

A critical added value then for online news is efficiency. A digital news provider is defined by the kind of stories it chooses to link to from among tens of thousands of surplus stories. Such links not only save time but have made headlines the main form of news—few people take the second step to the actual story. One of our innovations at Newser is to offer with the headline a summary. In a best journalistic practice—shorter is better; summarizing is the essence of the craft—we’ve developed an approach that can radically compress any story without losing its key facts.

Not surprisingly, the traditional providers with their dwindling market share—exemplified by Rupert Murdoch—insist they deserve rules and regulations that would continue to support their methods.

Sharon Waxman, a former New York Times reporter who now edits the Wrap—a low-traffic news site about the movie business—is having indigestion because Newser shortens her stories (she says that we don’t link to her—but is really just sour that Newser readers don’t find a need to click the link under the BIG RED SOURCE BOX that would take them to her longer story). Sounding more like a self-righteous New York Times veteran than a new news entrepreneur, she is of the opinion that the online news marketplace should be structured to best provide her with a living. "We’re talking about survival here,” she declares. In other words, the rules should favor her business, rather than the efficiency that the consumer is looking for.

Waxman and Murdoch are hiding behind a curious conceit of value and originality—as though they own the news. The foundation of news, I am happy to instruct, has always been the rewrite desk. My first job in journalism, in another age, was to collect all the newspapers in New York as they came off their respective presses and rush them back to rewrite at the New York Times.

The facts are the facts—resorted, rewritten, republished as soon as they are known. The value is the style and efficiency with which they are presented.

Murdoch’s facts (Murdoch runs the world’s greatest rewrite empire—it’s a key tabloid skill) tend to come in a package arguably less suited to the online world and more suited to another, quainter, newsprint era. Waxman’s facts (she admits that a big part of her site comes from other sources) are rendered, to my mind, in a maddeningly loquacious, New York Times-y feature-section tone and manner. They just can’t shut up at the Wrap.

Anyway, we took Waxman’s 804-word diatribe against us, and, in Newser style, reduced it to 133 words—see if that’s enough for you.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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