On becoming a news buyer

Benedict Evans is thinking of buying a daily newspaper. Here he explains the thinking behind this revolutionary act.

So how do I know what news to read? Google News (a bogeymen of newspaper proprietors even though hardly anyone actually uses it) indexes 4500 ‘English language news sources’ and tells me what they’re writing about. But Google’s algorithm thinks that ‘Wales Online’ is my first source for news on the UK budget – it knows what the stories are, but not where I should read them. I don’t need someone to tell me what stories are important, but rather where they are being written about with insight and judgment. For that Google is even counter-productive – the effect of SEO on editorial sites is to make them hard to read and harder to understand. This is why iPad apps, which can dispense with SEO, are easier to use than their associated websites, and it is why Apple launched ‘Reader’ in the new version of Safari.

What I want is something curated. After 15 years of gorging on news online, I would rather like to step back, slow down and outsource my news. I would like a sophisticated and intelligent person to choose what stories I ought to read today. I’d like coverage of major UK and international news by people who understand it and aren’t just rewriting wire content and press releases. In other words, I want a newspaper, not news.

I might even pay.

I have heard a great deal about how news is a commodity, and about how a newspaper that goes ‘pay’ is doomed because all the content is available for free elsewhere. I’m not sure that I agree. Google does indeed have 4,500 English language ‘news sources’, but how many of them will say anything worth reading about George Osborne’s emergency budget later this week? How may will cover the mayoral race in London? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel might (or might not) be a fine paper with admirable SEO, but it leads today on lobbying shenanigans in Wisconsin. On the news that matters to me there are surprisingly few good news sources…

Actually, his point about curation is spot on. It’s why people like me pay quite a lot for subscriptions to the Economist, the New Yorker, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. And why I buy the Guardian (disclosure: I write for the Observer, which is owned by it). It’s because I’m busy and value the editorial sieve that these publications have.