Genii Weblog

Couldn't on-line news stories be made more dynamic?

Sat 16 Sep 2006, 09:26 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
I was reading a story on CNN today (here, for what it is worth), and I came upon the following paragraphs:
New York is the clearest example. Its cost of living is double the national average, according to data from ACCRA. Put another way, in New York, $200,000 is the new $100,000 paycheck.

But that $200,000 doesn't really mean you can afford the same lifestyle that $100,000 could buy in lower-cost cities like Cleveland or Denver.

Consider inflation. Over the past 12 months through May, overall inflation in New York metropolitan area was 4.8 percent. In Cleveland, the rate was 3 percent. Drilling down, you also see big differences. The cost of having a roof over your head went up 5.6 percent in New York, while in Cleveland it rose just 0.8 percent.
When I read a story such as this, I notice that I pay much more attention when the subject happens to be even peripherally about Cleveland (or Philadelphia or Buffalo, other places I have lived).

So, why not make these stories dynamic?  On the web, it is not hard to tell when someone is in the Cleveland area, so why not use it as the example in cases such as this where the economic data is available for lots of cities.  If you were in Denver, it could use Denver:
The cost of having a roof over your head went up 5.6 percent in New York, while in Denver it rose just 1.2 percent.
If you were in St. Louis, it could use St. Louis:
The cost of having a roof over your head went up 5.6 percent in New York, while in St. Louis it rose just 1.6 percent.
  And, of course, if you were in New York City or one of the "high priced" cities, it could use Cleveland or whatever the default low cost city was.  This wouldn't have to be terribly in your face, and should be done so that it would not matter terribly if they guessed incorrectly.

If that example doesn't seem compelling enough, how about the stories that are something like "Top 10 cities to live in" or other such stories that have lots of data, but only show ten of the hundreds of cities for which data has been collected?  In those stories, it is very frustrating that there is often no link to a full list.  In the absence of the full list though, why not determine whether you are in one of the top ten, and if not, if you are among the other several hundred?  If you are, a sentence could be added that said, "By comparison, Cleveland is number 114, with a cumulative rating of 3324", or whatever.  That level of personalization could only serve to pique people's interests a bit more in what they read, and isn't that what news sources want?

Copyright 2006 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

489.1. Ben Langhinrichs
(09/17/2006 07:41 PM)

Hmm. If anybody would attempt such a thing, it would probably be Google, but I don't think Google News stories change, just which stories are presented. I'd be interested in seeing it done for the stories themselves. I might even be interested in doing it on my blog, except that locale doesn't often play a role in my posts.

489.2. mark
(09/18/2006 06:03 AM)

I've sometimes observed through Google news, that stories do change from some wire services. In fact, sometimes you can catch a "breaking news" story that's obviously in the middle of being edited. Truly an indication of how competitive the news organizations are to get it first (if not always right).

489.3. mark
(09/18/2006 06:04 AM)

but you are right - they don't seem to change by "locale"

489.4. Ben Langhinrichs
(09/18/2006 06:35 AM)

Mark - I agree that there is a separate sense of "dynamic" which Google News seems to be working towards, and it is also important. That is the sense that news stories don't need to be "fully baked" and then left unchanged forever. I have noticed that CNN is starting to get this sense as well. It used to be that a news article never changed, and a follow up story would be written to handle new findings. CNN (and possibly others) seems to have finally learned that updating the original story is sometimes a better idea, especially on breaking stories where it might be more confusing to have a series of slightly changed stories as more information came out.

I wonder if the blogosphere is partly to be credited for that change, as more bloggers have discovered that a post can be altered over time. In any case, it does seema reasonable and natural adaption to the realities of the Internet, which include: a) you can change a story aftre it is published, and b) old stories are more likely to be read since they will show up in search results. The first provides the means and the second provides the motive for updating stories rather than putting out new, slightly changed versions.