News organizations need to find new ways to provide value

Shifting from a content-production frame to a service-provider mindset.

Updated March 15, 2017
2 min read

Journalists tend to believe that their jobs are about creating and distributing content. However, Jeff Jarvis, director of CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, suggests that journalists and news media companies are actually in the service provision business, instead of the content creation business. What kind of service do they provide? They help  individuals — and society as a whole — stay informed. Creating and distributing content are just means by which they provide this service.

Jarvis argues that the internet and technology have made it possible for journalists to think way beyond the traditional article and explore a much broader range of possibilities. Some newsrooms are starting to adopt this mindset by identifying users’ information needs and experimenting with solutions to meet them.

Quartz for example has created a platform called Atlas targeted at reporters, analysts and academics. Atlas not only displays all of Quartz’s charts and data, but also gives users access to Chartbuilder, a software that lets them create their own charts. That’s a service.

For parents in Texas who are worried about the best school choice for their children, The Texas Tribune has developed a search engine that allows them to easily explore and compare Texas’s state districts and public schools, with data on demographics, academic performance, college readiness and average teacher salaries for each one. The service is making it easier for Texans to make an informed choice.

For people that want to know only breaking news but don’t want to be interrupted by anything else, The New York Times has a customizable push alert system for breaking news. Alerts are not a content stream. They arrive when there is something the user should know. That’s a service.

Other publishers are starting to adopt this mindset too. Wirecutter provides users an informed opinion on which gadget to buy, while ProPublica has not only created a group that allows patients who have been harmed by medical practitioners to share their experiences but has also built a database that tells you how many of the surgeries your doctor performed ended in complications.

Ben Thompson explains that the internet has brought about the end of the average. While newspapers, television stations and radio channels had captive audiences, it was sufficient for them to simply deliver the news. In the age of the internet however, when people have access to thousands of sources of news, just covering national and international developments is not enough. News organizations need to find ways to deliver value to people, and be relevant to their lives, or they will find it very hard to survive in this climate of vanishing ad dollars and enormous competition.

Key quotes

Well then, if we are not in the content business, what business are we in? Consider journalism as a service. Content is that which fills something. Service is that which accomplishes something. To be a service, news must be concerned with outcomes rather than products.

Most of what I read is the best there is to read on any given subject. The trash is few and far between, and the average equally rare. This, of course, is made possible by the Internet. No longer are my reading choices constrained by time and especially place. Why should I pick up the Wisconsin State Journal – or the Taipei Times – when I can read Nate Silver, Ezra Klein, Bill Simmons, and the myriad other links served up by Twitter? I, and everyone else interested in news, politics, or sports, can read the best with less effort – and cost – than it ever took to read the merely average just a few short years ago.

Other examples of services by news organizations

WNYC | Shed Light on DHS

WNYC Shed light on DHS Shed light on DHS

A tool for constituents to contact their state representatives to question the Department of Homeland Security about its policies related to the rights and treatment of American citizens at airports and border ports of entry.

The Guardian | The Counted

The Counted The Counted

A platform to collect, portray and keep track of the people killed by U.S. law enforcement agencies since 2015.

ProPublica | Documenting Hate

ProPublica Documenting Hate Documenting Hate

ProPublica is building a national database of hate crimes and incidents of bias in the United States. The news organization is gathering and verifying victims' and witnesses’ stories for use by journalists, researchers, and human rights organizations.

People to follow

  • Jeff Jarvis thumbnail
    Jeff Jarvis is the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.
  • Nieman Lab
    Nieman Lab reports on the various ways news organizations are delivering value to consumers in the digital age.
  • ProPublica
    ProPublica is a non-profit organization that is constantly seeking new ways to serve the public.
  • Quartz
    Quartz is a news organization that is rethinking the traditional journalism model.

Maria Jose Lavandera

Maria has a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences from the University of Buenos Aires. She has a passion for the cultural aspects of journalism and its flirtatious, yet conflicting relationship with technology.