August 2, 2001

The second coming of personalized news

Online news media’s new mantra: building user loyalty

This column appeared Aug. 2, 2001, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.

For an in-depth backgrounder on personalized news services and a look at the industry’s rocky track record, see the companion article, The Promise of the Daily Me.

By J.D. Lasica

Personalized news — a dream that has greatly exceeded online media’s grasp over the past five years — is getting a second look at major news organizations.

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times unveiled ambitious new customized news features during the past two months. CBS SportsLine has introduced a slick set of personalization tools. The New York Times and Better Homes & Gardens are planning significant personalization projects this fall. The Wall Street Journal Online plans to overhaul its Personal Journal with a revamped personalized news site early next year. And an inventive new Web-based news site called the FeedRoom is basing its business model on users’ thirst for news they can choose.

Personalized news and information services have been around since the mid-1990s. Remember PointCast’s spectacular flameout? Following close on its heels, My Yahoo, My Excite and the other portals launched handsome “My” services beginning in 1996. Today, Amazon sets the gold standard for personalization services in the Web retailing sector with its collaborative-filtering recommendation technology. But, with a few exceptions like the Christian Science Monitor or CNN.com — which ditched its extensive personalization service last week (see below) — online news sites have done little in the way of personalizing their content, other than a nod toward so-called “pick-and-click” personalization: cookie-cutter local weather, stock prices, horoscopes and local news from affiliates or partners.

Until now.

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August 2, 2001

The Promise of the Daily Me

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.

By J.D. Lasica

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.

The horror.

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.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 UnportedThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

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