From My News to digital butlers: An in-depth look at the different flavors of personalization
This in-depth report appeared Aug. 2, 2001, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site. It was republished in the Law Library Resource Xchange. An earlier version was commissioned for inclusion in an online journalism textbook by McGraw-Hill.
For a look at the latest developments in personalization at media outlets, see the companion column, The second coming of personalized news.
No trend threatens the guardians of old media more than personalization. The very notion challenges the philosophical underpinnings of traditional media: We, the gatekeepers, gather the news and tell you what’s important. Under this chiseled-in-stone setup, editors sort through and rank the news, controlling everything from the assignment of stories to their tone, slant and prominence on the page.
Personalized news reduces the role of editors in the news equation. The reporter writes the story, the copy editor (if there is one) edits it, another person indexes it for easy retrieval, and the user decides what’s important.
Personalized news tips the balance of power toward the news consumer. If I have breast cancer, I may want to read not only your medical writer’s story on new research developments but reports from other news services, too. If I’m a walnut farmer, I want access to all the agricultural news from the wire services that doesn’t make it into my hometown paper or onto its Web site. If I’m a restaurateur, a competitor’s plans to open a business down the street is major news to me, far more important than the latest doings inside the Washington Beltway.