The Future of News

Ryan Thornburg

Posts Tagged ‘NPR

Breaking News Emails: An Under-Appreciated Art

I have a tumultuous relationship with breaking news e-mails. One day we have a strong relationship that I value. And the next thing I know they get all high-maintenance on me. Sheesh.

So today I unsubscribed from breaking news e-mail alerts from CNN and NPR. I kept the alert from the New York Times for two reasons:

  • because it does a better job than CNN of bothering me when I want to be bothered and leaving me alone when I want to be left alone. The Times’ news judgment is closer to my own than CNN’s news judgment.
  • because it is meatier than either the CNN or NPR alerts. All three tell me what happened. But only the NYTimes also tells me “So What?” without a click to its site. That’s especially great when I’m reading on my iPod touch and away from WiFi.
  • I perceived no difference in speed among the three providers. OK, so maybe one will beat the others sometimes by a few minutes. And unless it’s about an asteroid falling on my head, I just don’t care.
  • After thinning the herd on the national news, I planned to dump my alerts from either the News & Observer or WRAL. But when I went to do it, I just couldn’t choose. Looking over the past six months of alerts, their news judgment seems to be radically different. It’s almost as if one news organization will not send an alert if the other organization already has. So in order to get a complete range of local news alerts, I need both. But the downside to that arrangement is that probably 50 percent of the local alerts from either provider do I consider important enough to merit an interruption in my inbox.

    So now what strikes me is how little time I spend talking with students about “good” news judgment and writing style for e-mail alerts. And how difficult it is to teach a technique that seems to have no consistent application among professionals. This is the perfect example where we in the classroom need to document the editorial processes around writing and distributing breaking news alerts in various newsrooms. In each newsroom, what do the journalists say are the goals of the alerts? Is there internal or external agreement on those goals? And then we in the classroom need to develop quantitative research that can help the professionals know which news judgment and writing styles best meet those goals. And then we in the classroom need to develop experimental editorial products that do a better job meeting the goals — maybe change the way news judgment and style could be tailored to the needs of individual users based on their demographics, location or behavior.

    In the end, the common email alert seems to be a great example of a place where academics and industry could work together to build a better product and foster a more information society.

    Written by Ryan Thornburg

    December 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm

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