A salient lesson for young reporters has always been to ask the same questions of multiple sources, since the real story often isn't where they agree but where they don't.
So the salient lesson from a young news aggregator — based at the home of one of the nation's best-regarded journalism schools — is the same, except that the interrogation has been turned on the news media itself.
Launched last week (they've been online for longer), Newsy.com crafts tight little videos of today's headlines that intentionally mash-up multiple reports from global media.
"Multi-perspective news is now in great demand as people realize that there is more than one side to a story, and news reporting is increasingly viewed as biased," Jim Spencer, Newsy's founder, is quoted in a press release announcing his baby's partnership with the Missouri School of Journalism.
We're as interested in the partners as we are with the concept; Miller-McCune's editor, John Mecklin, just chatted with new media savant Len Sellers at length about the possibility of "Nonprofit-Funded, University-Based News."
As Mecklin said to (a somewhat skeptical university professor) Sellers, "I think the major journalism schools should actively seek foundation support to create stand-alone public-interest news organizations that hire great journalists to report and edit the news and teach new journalists to do the same. Students would be part of the operation, but only the best would be taken on, and they would have subordinate roles, working with and being supervised by experienced reporters and editors."
Spencer, a Tiger journalism grad himself, is all smiles about the Newsy-Mizzou partnership.
"Columbia is the smartest and most economically viable location for Newsy. The proximity to and collaboration with the Missouri School of Journalism and the Reynolds Journalism Institute are important components to our company's success. The school and institute act as a global magnet to attract talented people from around the world who are interested and invested in the future of journalism."
Yeah, it's press release talk, but it also points out an important advantage Missouri had over Newsy's birthplace in Silicon Valley, an advantage that pencil-sharpening CFOs at major media properties can drool over: Missouri is cheap, especially with the financial bon-bons local government tossed in. Spencer estimated it would have cost "four to five times more" to keep Newsy in the Bay Area.
Now, about the concept and its execution.
The multi-perspective approach is an aggregator that instead of going wide, goes deep — or as deep as you can get in two to three minutes. It brings in sources that are mostly familiar to American audiences, and a few that aren't — I'm talking about you, The Daily Star of Lebanon. Above the viewing window, Newsy provides links back to the sources it draws from, which is helpful because it feels like most Newsy reports so far provide the penumbra of each story but not its core, more like a news tasting than a full meal. Maybe that's the point, to introduce new delights to the palate, but that seems like a way to further push news consumption to the cognoscenti and not the masses.
Each report ends with a call for your opinion or input — "so what do you think?" — which while courteous is also, to be frank, a little annoying. Of course, attaching a social media aspect probably is savvy, if a little cumbersome, if your goal to be informed and not opined at. However, it's welcome that Newsy itself doesn't preach — it just presents.
And there's always the main knock about any aggregator — they rely on the kindness of strangers to stay active. They're not reporting on anything other than the reporting of others. That's fine while there are still others doing the groundwork, but we're seeing retreat on that almost daily.
All in all, it seems a little churlish to be too critical of a sincere effort still in beta, and one that is genuinely courting feedback.
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