Critical Thinking: Do You Think a ‘Spotify for the News’ Business Model Will Help Newspapers?

CriticalThinking-Web-May-2018

 

Kyla Smith-BrownKyla Smith-Brown, 21, junior, Bloomsburg (Pa.) University

Smith-Brown is a journalism major, who currently serves as special projects editor and entertainment editor for Bunow.com, Bloomsburg University’s online news site.

Media conglomerates are constantly in search of new ways to capture the dwindling attention spans of their audience. One option that has been proposed is to create a news service similar to Spotify, but for news. This service would be short, fast-paced news stories that people could flip through in the same way they can flip through audio content on Spotify.

Spotify is one of the leading audio streaming subscription services in the world with 71 million subscribers. This service allows customers to choose what they’d like to listen to. From those choices, the service recommends similar audio content that its algorithm determines the listener may like.

Newspapers creating their version of Spotify could help them reach their audience. This is proven by the success of podcasts. Their popularity is at an all-time high, which proves listeners are broadening their horizons in terms of audio. It makes sense to attempt to replicate this success with newspaper stories.

Although this service has an audience, it is not without flaws. To get people on board with this service, it would have to personalize the content for each subscriber in the same way that Spotify does. What people love about streaming services, in comparison to a general radio broadcast, is the personalized content.

However, personalized news consumption could potentially be dangerous, as users might find themselves in a news bubble. If you only get the news you want, you may not get the news you need.

For example, a girl who is sick of seeing news about school shootings may go on to this site and say “I want news, but nothing about shootings.” If a shooting happened in the person’s neighborhood, and this service is her only source of news, she would miss out on crucial information that could impact her life or the lives of the people around her.

Although a Spotify for news is something that I and many other millennials might buy into, it may not be the best thing for society. News is essential, and over-personalization of essential information could create vastly uninformed citizens.

 

Eric Larsen, 37, news director, Fort Collins Coloradoan

During his 15-year career, Larsen has held a variety of leadership roles at the Coloradoan and Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho.

First, a statement in full transparency: The Coloradoan is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK, aka Gannett, which in late February became an investor in Scroll, the so-called “Spotify for news” service. It’s safe to say that my company’s leadership is bullish on Scroll’s potential to deliver casual readers an enticing experience.

I’d have to agree—and that’s not just the corporate line talking. For more than 140 years, the Coloradoan has been a curated list of the most important news that we could toss on a doorstep each morning. That daily list has been gathered from a variety of sources—reporting by local staff, freelance writers and items from wire and external news sources.

While we’ve used multiple tools at our disposal to meet readers’ varying expectations, our differentiator has always been providing a local report not available anywhere else. We don’t pretend to compete locally with the Capitol Hill reporting of the Washington Post, or even the statehouse reporting of the Denver Post.

In an internet age, readers can and do access information from numerous sources. Think of your own daily reading list, and then think of that list consolidated into a more user-friendly, streamlined experience.

If readers find that the Coloradoan’s offerings on such a service meets most of their information needs, I’d be over the moon. But I’d also be glad to know that diehard Packers fans in our area can support the work of my colleague Robert Zizzo and his team at the Green Bay Press Gazette through a shared service.

Reader interests stretch well beyond the coverage areas established by print delivery zones. If our industry can offer one place for casual readers to explore the buffet we offer on a regular basis—and if we can share in the proceeds from their nibbling or even feasting—a service like Scroll could become another useful tool in building our future sustainability.

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Published: May 16, 2018

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