More bang for your buck: aggregation and context
When he embarked on his project, Steve Perry recognized the need—and the potential—to do more with less on the web. Using the Chi-Town Daily News as a model, and following the lead of Cursor—a well-established, locally produced non-profit website with national readership—he figured he could run The Daily Mole with a meager staff of four or five and a budget of just $300,000 to $400,000 a year (compared to more than $1 million at MinnPost). While Perry’s plan never came to fruition, and he was ultimately forced to do less with even less, The Daily Mole certainly highlighted the evolving role of the online journalist/editor: With the proliferation of choices on the web and so much information at our disposal, Perry didn’t aim to create still more information, but to capitali
ze instead on existing web stories—weeding out the important ones and offering context, commentary, and analysis.
While this may seem like a novel approach, Mike Tronnes and Rob Levine figured it out more than ten years ago when they founded Cursor. (Such is the nature of the web: Some things take a while to catch on, and the originators seldom get proper credit.) While Cursor puts the news into context, mostly on a national scale, and brings together an exceptional listing of links/sources, it has grown unwieldy; unfortunately, the lack of easy-to-scan headlines makes it cumbersome for the average (or even above-average) reader to process. Cursor’s backbone, however, certainly offers a viable point of departure.
“We don’t need journalists to cover minutiae, to spend so much time on things they don’t need to be doing, like sports scores, and press releases, and acting as a ‘middle man’ between a source and their audience,” Jane Singer, the chair in digital journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, observed in a 2007 article in the U.K.’s Press Gazette. “We need journalists to put information into context, to do it without fear and favour.”
Without fear and favor certainly sounds like a solid description of Perry’s attempted editorial mission at The Daily Mole. While Kramer borrowed the model for his content-with-gravity approach from traditional journalism, Perry tried to balance his substance with a liberal dose of style and attitude. Fighting a current of short attention spans, online information overload, the Britney-ization of mass media, and what he referred to as “a lack of common culture,” he hoped to foster community interaction and embrace irreverence. “I think that spawning a critical sensibility that is playful, with a sense of humor and satire, is what works now,” he said, just a couple of weeks before announcing that he was shelving (temporarily, at least) The Daily Mole.
Pushing the drug: community and engagement
MNSpeak has gone some way toward creating the community Perry aimed for. Dubbed a “community blog” by some and a forum for commentary on local media by others, MNSpeak was developed by Rex Sorgatz in April 2005 and is now owned by the Bartel family (publishers of The Rake). At its core, MNSpeak is an aggregator: a portal to an eclectic range of outside news sources and an easy way to weed through headlines and zero in on the most provocative, useful, or relevant stories. It adds value in the frequently lively discussions that take off in the wake of those stories it links to, some of which are chosen by the site’s moderator, and others by regular visitors. Those user-generated discussions are MNSpeak’s original content; regulars visit repeatedly each day to see what new comments their own have inspired. (Another universal perception the internet has only reinforced: There is little people love more than the sound of their own voices.)
“When it comes down to it, good media is actually pretty simple: It’s conversation,” said Sorgatz. “When it’s good, it means writing about stuff that people are talking about; when great, it means creating original things that people talk about.” But engaging people online isn’t simple at all. No one wants to be the first one out on an empty dance floor. As a news site, MNSpeak’s challenge is not only to get people talking, but to make them stay awhile, especially since its primary offering is links to other places.
Who’s Viewin’ Who?
We asked a bevy of local online media
folks where they go on the web for news. The sites they named are
ordered below roughly from most- to least-mentioned—or, if you will,
from the usual suspects to some intriguing lesser-knowns.
The Daily Mole
Politics in Minnesota
Talking Points Memo
The Sky Blue Waters Report
Truth v. The Machine
Nihilist in Golf Pants
Liberal Media Elite
Across the Great Divide