U2’s Bono Sings the Battle Cry for Online News

“You didn’t come all the way out here to watch TV, now didya!?”

Standing in the outfield of a giant baseball stadium under the glow of more than 40 video walls and monitors, the lead singer of the rock group U2 aimed his remote up at the screens and flipped from station to station while tens of thousands of concert-goers screamed and cheered. It was the fall of 1992. CNN had just made history with the first live video coverage of a war, and somewhere in a computer lab at the University of Illinois – in a town that could have comfortably fit its entire population in the sports stadium – researchers were about six months away from launching the first graphical Web browser.

The hundreds of channels on cable TV were about to be dwarfed by millions of Web pages. The mass media that was able to send one message to an entire planet all at the same time and had defined a shared American experience for more than a half century was about to be replaced by communication technology that would blend the telephone with the television and the postal service and the printing press to form a decentralized network of news and information that would allow every – or everyone with a computer and Internet access – to talk to everyone else all at the same time.

The online news audience doesn’t spend an average of 35 minutes every day because they need another glowing box. News organizations that aren’t committed to giving their audience something fundamentally different should quit throwing money at their Web site and start re-investing in legacy media.

They didn’t come all the way out here to watch TV. Stop giving them a news product. Let them visit news experience. They’ll pay for that.

Online journalism is fundamentally different from other forms of media. The technology that forms its backbone is different. The time, manner and place that people use it is different. And its capabilities to make stories more relevant and more memorable to your audience are different.

Part of the power of the Internet is its ability to cheaply distribute text, audio and images to millions of people all at the same time. Relative to the cost of setting up your own television station, posting a video to the Internet is incredibly cheap — even when you take in to account the costs of the video camera, the editing software, the computer and the Internet access. And relative to the cost of printing all the newspapers you might need to make your story available to everyone in your town, the cost of reaching each additional reader online is almost nothing.

Those innovations alone give online journalism the potential to revolutionize the world, but they aren’t the most significant differences between the Internet and traditional media like television and newspapers.

As an online journalist, you can take advantage of three techniques that were impossible in older media. These three things make reporting, producing and distributing your stories via the Internet fundamentally different from all other forms of media:

1.    Multimedia. Journalists have more choices about how to combine different storytelling techniques to convey different elements of a single story.
2.    Interactivity. Sources, journalists and members of the audience all take part in the creation of a common story.
3.    On-Demand Delivery. The audience has unprecedented control over the time, place and subject matter of the news they consume.

These are the three pillars of online journalism.

The good news? Each pillar directly supports a traditional news value — prominence, impact, proximity, currency, magnitude, conflict, oddity, emotional impact — and each matches up with the five news elements — who, what, when, where, why and how.

Journalists have the task of picking the right technique for the story, and not using the Twitter or Facebook or Flash or blog hammer to smack every story like a box of undifferentiated nails.

Put together, these pillars create an experience, not just a good or a service. In their book, “The Experience Economy,” Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, write that an experience is engaging. It’s value is realized over time because it is memorable. And it personal — it changes and affects each visitor differently.

So, stop debating whether you should charge people to read your newspaper online. The only sensible thing to do is charge for it or stop putting it online. Then start thinking about how you can take your legacy news product and sell it as part of the news experience you create on the Web. And then you can charge for your Web site. Or not. Heck if I know…

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1 thought on “U2’s Bono Sings the Battle Cry for Online News”

  1. Excellent context and juxtaposition, Ryan. One other thing the Web can provide, of course, is historical depth to answer more of those “why” and “how” questions. Is that something news sites should leave to whichever readers are curious enough to leap to their search engines? Sometimes yes, sometimes no?

    Here are a few links:

    CNN Gulf War I: https://tinyurl.com/ldezhj
    U2’s ZooTV in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5omeaIIcbc
    U2 ZooTV Transcript:
    https://homepage.mac.com/darekpro1/u2/Dublin_transcript.html

    I wonder how long those links will last. Ironically, CNN’s links to its own .mov files of the 1991 videos are now “404.” I’ll ask a friend there for new links.

    Come to think of it, U2’s fans DID “come all the way out here to watch TV” — but to watch it in a new way, as those huge walls of video, as part of an immediate “now” experience including irony, artistry, politics, idealism and rock ‘n’ roll… which also supports your comments on choosing among multimedia/interactive Web tools, facing the “experience economy,” and all.

    interactively yrs,

    Bob

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