S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 24 February 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 

Breaking News

 

[It's an Image, actually.]

Grassroots community is all well

and good, but when it comes to

actually getting things done,

top-down beats bottom-up to the

deadline every time. In the real

world, beyond the net's endless

closed loops of self-reference

and schoolyard bullying

disguised as consensus building,

highways get built, mail gets

delivered, and the news is on

the step every morning.

 

[An Image Featuring TWA]

When it comes to fast-breaking

information of import, you're

still more likely to find what

you need on your doormat than

your desktop. Yes, earthquakes

and bombings can ripple through

IRC and Usenet before the local

network affiliates establish

their uplinks, but turning to

these dubious hangouts when

something blows up only

guarantees that it'll get blown out of

proportion. In the a la carte

restaurant of media consumption,

not only do we not want the guy

next to us practicing his

flambé, we prefer our

medium both rare and well-done.

 

These days, content websites are

trying to be either

"experience-based" or a "daily

habit." In the latter category,

beyond caffeine and nicotine,

the only thing that will really

bring repeat business is repeat

content. That means daily - nay,

hourly - updates. That means

news. In many cases, sites turn

to regurgitated Reuters feeds

and repurposed Business Wire

press releases, all invariably

custom-filtered with

semi-intelligent agents, human

or non. But are they

experienced?

 

Still, there's only so much wire

copy to go around, and unless

you're in a very vertical niche,

original reporting is expensive

and exhausting. The only way to

compete with the big boys is to

convince everyone that you're

inventing the future of news

with on-the-ground reporting,

attitude, context, value-added

yadda yadda yadda. You have to

stay fiercely on message and

position yourself as a credible

alternative. On the tube, MSNBC

goes with a quirky time slot -

9 p.m. - and sells it as

"definitely not your father's

news hour," which is true. Dad

got home from work at six.

 

[This is an Image Featured On News.com]

Other online upstarts try to

place themselves in a class

apart, claiming more context,

more point of view. But the more

context you add, the more news

you take away. And no matter how

madly you add value and spin to

advance the "real" story to your

audience, news only exists for a

fleeting moment in time. If

you're not out of the gate with

the rest, you're galloping

straight to the glue factory.

 

[This is an Image That Illustrates A Point In This Article, We Stole It From Another Site]

Nowhere is this all-or-nothing

panic more desperate online than

in the computer trades, where

news arrives on the fax tray

from Silicon Valley publicity

departments. The battle for

so-called scoops in this

hypersaturated niche resembles

the Wild Kingdom episodes set in

the savannah dry season, where

the muddy water hole just keeps

getting smaller and smaller. But

the animals keep coming. Even

the most mundane product or

merger announcement, datelined

Cupertino, Mountain View, or

Redmond, is a curried advance,

broken embargo, or negotiated

exclusive, dressed up with a

10-minute clip-art metaphor.

Every last Unix patch and

browser upgrade is top-story

grist, if only for a few hours.

 

Real general-interest reporting

is harder to sell and harder

still to pull off, given the

ground occupied by the Merc and

the other big dailies. The

scrappy complaints about the

mediasaurus now seem more dated

than ever - when you want

original reporting online, old

media "get it," as in, the

story. It's why, outside of

porn, it's the only thing out

there worth paying for.

 

What boosters call reinventing

reporting, we call constant,

repeating self-absorption, with

few reference points available

to denote what really matters,

and why. Liberated from the

physical restraints of time and

paper, the only daily habit in

evidence is an unending circle

jerk, where one reports on

another, who returns the favor while

accepting a yank from his

neighbor. News flash: Self-abuse

is free, and our bets are that

it always will be.

 
 
 
courtesy of Dan Rathernot

 
 
 

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The Fish

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The Barrel

        

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The Gun

Fish Teaser

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Fresh Fish