The Four Types of News

July 29, 2012

News publications report news in four different ways: through community-building, through local context, through analysis and through data reporting. Each one attracts different audiences and are delivered through four different business models.

The most common type of reporting is contextual, where publications deliver a report and then attempt to relate it to the community consuming the news. This can be as simple as reporting a local mosquito spray schedule – who else would be interested in such a schedule except the people that live and work in the community? Or, it can be more complex, like reporting on how statewide Medicaid cuts will change how local health clinics will change the services they provide.

Contextual reporting is the editorial bread and butter of newspapers, big and small, since they provide “voice”, reinforce the reader’s identification with the publication and helps to differentiate local reporting from wire services. From a business standpoint, this is also the key ingredient of local publications of all types, including local television, since it reinforces the brand and signals to advertisers that this is the best place to reach local audiences.

Analysis reporting contains everything from “big-think” policy analysis to investigative reporting. It requires deep dive work and is almost always long-form. It’s the sort of stuff that wins awards and the kind of reporting that usually results in a government policy change somewhere.

Not coincidentally, analysis reporting is disappearing from metro daily newspapers, because it tends to be expensive and goes unread by general readers since it has little “news you can use.” It continues to thrive, however, in high-end subscription publications like National Journal and Fantastics Insider Football where readers believe that high-end research and analysis are valuable to their business success – or hobby success.

Community building used to be an essential component to newspapers, but except for the smallest communities, it has generally migrated off the Letters To The Editor page and from community columnists to Digg, Reddit and to Facebook groups. For vibrant neighborhood discussion that will likely never return to newspapers, check out Everyblock’s discussions.

Finally, data reporting, the process of gathering, compiling and mining news stories from data piles like police blotters, prep sports scores and real estate transactions has begun to come into its own. Until recently data reporting meant sending a reporter to pick up the police blotter every week, but since Everyblock started scraping and downloading reams of local government data every day, new levels of scale have become possible.

Recognizing what forensic economists and scientists have known for years, newsrooms are now revealing news stories just by positioning columns of related data together. New reporter-programmer teams have added a dimension to once impenetrable piles of data.

But with data collection, analysis and distribution, more is always more and it only seems inevitable until when it will be more economical for news organizations to outsource their data gathering to a white-label company.