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By Thomas Baekdal - August 2013

Who's on first?

There has been a change in the political landscape in the country I live in. We now have a minor reshuffling of ministers. And, as always, the newspapers 'competed' over who broke the news first.

Being first doesn't really mean much these days. Today, it's a game of seconds. When asked how long it took for the others to catch up, the answer was:

The other media broke the same stories after a few seconds. It seemed like they were on our tail, or it could be that they have good sources. But it's funny that they came seconds after us.


Of course, we do the same thing in the digital world when we say: "hey look, we learned about it first on Twitter".

Consider this:

It doesn't matter

It doesn't really matter who's first when we are talking about 'seconds'. It might have been a big deal in the old days where being first sometimes meant that the competition couldn't print it until the very next day ... which could make a huge difference in what newspaper you bought that morning. But because the difference happens within seconds, it's no longer a competitive advantage.

Instead, it's all about where people noticed it first. For instance, I didn't see it the newspaper who broke. I noticed via an entirely different source ... almost 10 hours after the story broke.

'Need to know' vs 'for your information'

This particular type of story is about a decision that has already been made. It doesn't matter who reported it first because, by the time the reader learns about it, it's too late to do anything about anyway.

This is a FYI ... a 'For Your Information'.

The reason I mention this is that in the past, providing information and creating awareness was considered the same thing. But in the connected world, these are different things completely.

In the connected world, 'Awareness' is the type of services we have on our mobile devices. For instance, it's alerts that divert us from getting stuck in traffic, vital information about that meeting we have in 20 minutes and many other things. Information, on the other hand, is something we catch up on whenever we have time.

Newspapers still approach these as the same thing, but it could be much more valuable if they separated them into two entirely different publishing strategies. The former needs to be instant and live streamed (it's need-to-know-now), the other needs to be much more reflective, analyzed and studied (it's for-your-information).

Stories like a change in ministers have little value as 'breaking news', but what every reader needs is to get a sensible analysis of what this change might mean for them.

See the difference?

Everyone is copying everyone

A sad fact about news media is that once somebody writes a story, every other news media is going to copy it (pretending that they got it too).

But that's not all, in the digital world, politicians are also increasingly going direct. And this very story was posted for everyone to see not only be the Government on their website, but also directly via several politicians' personal blogs and profiles.

When you combine this with the connected world, we end up with news is a commodity.

There is no competitive advantage in reporting it because everyone else is bringing exactly the same story. It could just as easily be done by automated algorithms.

This leads to what I wrote about in "News as Data and the Future of Newspapers" (26-page report). There is no competitive value in being the bringers of news that everyone else is bringing as well. But when we look at the newspaper industry today, they still spend 80 to 90% on just that.

Who's first is not that interesting when we don't need to know now, when the difference is mere seconds, and when the news itself has become a commodity.

And, in any case, who's on first has always been a topic of confusion :)


Have a great weekend!


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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