Wednesday, May 10, 2006

FUTURE: Wall Street Journal reports on innovative reader ideas for newspapers' future

Posted May 10, 2006

The Perfect News Site, 2016: Readers Want More Context, New Ways to View
And Filter News Plus, More Telegenic Reporters

The Wall Street Journal

Readers want more context and background included in news reporting. They want new ways to receive their news, on next-generation handheld devices, for instance, rather than simply on a Web page. They want fewer ads -- especially the kind that animate or show up in popup windows. It turns out that they also want more-telegenic news reporters.

These are among the things readers expect from the news site of the future. In connection with's 10th anniversary, we asked readers to look ahead and describe for us the perfect news site, circa 2016. Some comments focused on; many were about news sites in general. Here is a sampling.

Filtered News

People are awash in news and information. What they really need is highly edited coverage that makes the best use of their time. "I would like to receive only news that is news to me, not news that I have already read or heard," wrote one. Said another: "Some days I think we were all blessed when we had [just] an evening newspaper and the 6:30 network news." One solution: a site that is adaptable "to filter, prioritize and effectively size the amount of news to my needs. I may want to know that a shooting has occurred in Lower Phoenix, but not want the 20 different eyewitness statements."

Not Just a Web Page

The perfect news Web site won't be just a Web site. "It will literally be in the palm of our hand," wrote one reader. Today, millions of people retrieve news over cellphones or Blackberry devices, but that's just the start. The next generation would have a hard drive, a bigger screen and a better "input device." Another reader foresees news sites morphed into directories of information: "Instead of clicking on pages, there will be a hierarchy of news by section (world, national, regional, business, sports, lifestyle)."

Still another idea would make news sites portable -- with content moved easily, by the user, onto other sites, such as those of brokerage firms. "Instead of having to duplicate my holdings all over the Web so I can get customized news from various sources, I would login to my secure [brokerage] account and there I would find, alongside my portfolio, links to WSJ news and articles." Another reader sees perfection in a "completely voice-activated" site.

Another Way to Pay the Bills

One of the most frequent requests was to rein in advertising. Sure, it pays the bills for Web publishers, but some readers won't hear of it. "Ads take up screen real estate and are distracting and annoying," wrote one. He suggested that sites offer subscriptions to special advertising-free versions of their overage -- or versions with just tiny ads at the bottom of each page. Another reader made the point that sites should choose one revenue stream and stick to it. His point: The perfect news site wouldn't sell ads, require subscription fees and charge for extra features, such as archived articles. In this regard, to him, is some distance from perfection.

Let the Readers Pitch In

Much has been made lately of citizen journalism and the perfect site of the future would build on that. "Editors will be a thing of the past. Instead, users will vote content to the front page. Fact checkers will be the only staff left as they verify and comment on the information posted be the community of readers. In the next decade the broadcaster and the reader will merge into one." Wrote another: "Instead of traditional news bureaus, a sophisticated network of freelancers, some with no journalistic experience, will act as correspondents, filing stories from computers inside their homes from around the world. The news will be more in depth, and news will be covered much faster."

Note to journalism students: Consider a double major.

Drilling Down

Readers want context and depth in news reporting on the Web. "When you report quarterly profits for a corporation (Exxon, for example) that are unusually large, allow me to see a 'popup' of the profits for the last eight quarters so I can understand what is large," wrote one. Another idea: "Your reporters ÿÿ find out all sorts of things when writing an article or cover a business, but these don't always fit into the form of a news article. They should be dumped into an encyclopedia."

Worth a Thousand Words

In 10 years, Web news will migrate away from text and toward audio and video. "I see a large selection of live streaming video, for example, being offered to you once you log in based on your interests. Codes embedded in the video will allow search engines to find video on warehouse fires, for example, and push them to you," wrote one reader. "The perfect Web site will be a mix of print news, video and audio news. News Web sites will also compete with 24-hour cable news and major networks by offering prime-time news programming on the Web," said another.

There's just one thing: If news sites are going to turn increasingly to video, they are going to have to pay attention to appearances. "By 2016 we will doubtless see more 'pretty faces' in the pressroom than we do today. I predict that Dow Jones & Co. will be adding cosmetic surgery to the roster of employee benefits."

Write to Dave Pettit at


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