One of the themes of this year has been the wearisome regularity with which the “news” comes up as a topic of conversation at conferences and fora. It seems that every audience contains a voice, half-defensive, half angry, asking why people have a down on newspapers, claiming that they will always be needed, and indicating that they have changed and are adapting wonderfully to the networked world. I am not the only one with a wonky view of reality.  So I am writing today to those who still appear to think, as one UK national newspaper proprietor once said to me, “that we must expect a time when everyone gets over this digital fascination”. And my message is simple: all print and broadcast news media will survive for as long as their idea of periodicity equates with the demands of their users. When they get out of step in terms of time, the end is nigh.

One of the greatest drivers of news used to be what was happening in the financial markets. The day has long passed when you could read that over your breakfast and then react, but lets go over and see what is happening in the fast lane. Selerity (www.seleritycorp.com) is a wonderful case study. Here ex Thomson Reuters people are building an actionable news service using what they undramatically call “low latency event data”. In other words they take Quantitative News from corporate announcements, retailers’ sales performance statements, or car sales releases and they squeeze it down the network in micro seconds so that when it hits pre-progammed, rule-based automated equity trading systems instant decisions can be made and actioned. My guess is that machine readable news will soon dominate the financial markets where that news can be reduced to market data, and that over time it will be possible to add more and more “sentiment ” into this news-stream, and react to that within the algorithmic trading approach.

Over at Alacra they are well down this track in one sense, since their PulsePro technology (http://pulse.alacra.com/pulse-solutions), with some 3000 sources, reads and scores the blogs and commentaries of pundits, traders, journalists (but hopefully not me) in order to create programmatic trading based on a sentiment score. Slower of course, but still a way of generating news and applying it to decisions before any of the existing players are awake. And this type of feed will have its echo in other walks of life. Monitoring blogs, where Factiva was a pioneer in its headier days, has morphed into Corporate Reputation Management. The argument is that by the time the bloggers have finished with a topic and it reaches the media, it is too late to put things right, so the successors of the PR agencies are into pre-emptive monitoring ( do they even read those carefully automated news clipping files – except to put them into the client report!). In truth, news has moved upstream, and companies like www.infegy.com are beginning to build news businesses there.

And when we get really clever we will use the technology to write the news as well as reading and reacting to them. Over, then, to StatSheet, a start-up player in the fielsd of sports reporting. In the statistics fest which is US college football and basketball, this company has built a niche called StatSheet Network which in turn creates a newsite for each team (currently 345 NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball teams). This adds in all the latest game statistics from each team, and then provides narratives and analysis  as a form of robotic news development. For smaller teams with little infrastructure, this is clearly a godsend (http://statsheet.com/#websites).

Some newspapers may re-invent themselves online, and sometimes (as with the UK’s MailOnline, its online presence will take on a life of its own and become very distinct from its real world form and meaning. A few years back I was more confident of this. Now I wonder. It seemed to me then that it would be non-trivial but possible to create micro-news publishing and re-invent the local press. Now I feel that the format and business model of the newspaper world make it impossible for those immersed in that world to see enough of what is going on around them to start again in a new place. Only new players with unclouded minds can do that. If you can analyse need and come up with solutions that do not necessarily need journalists, or sub-editors, or even feature writers then you are beginning to think again. I see little evidence that our press are doing that.

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