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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

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Friday, August 22nd, 2008

News site from scratch: What are the most important things to include?

Posted by Kevin Anderson

I didn’t ask this question, although I think about it quite frequently. Mohamed Nanabhay, the Head of New Media with Al Jazeera, posed the question on Twitter:

Twitterverse : If you were building a news website from ground up what would be the most important things to include?

It’s a good question, a pressing question. I think that there will be a site with related services that radically disrupts the news industry. Last month, I wrote a post that asked the question of what had prevented newspapers from being successful in the digital age. Steve Yelvington, who has great depth of experience in journalism, digital or otherwise, left a left a great comment and concluded:

This ain’t just another channel. The new players, coming into the game without any frame of reference other than what’s right in front of them, are much more able to recognize that than those of us from legacy media.

What would you do with a blank tablet? What would you do without the legacy business? What do you think would be most important in launching not just a news website but a digital news service with no baggage?

Mohamed started thinking about three guiding principles for visitors: Relevance, discoveribility and depth, and Robin Hamman, of Headshift, suggested wrapping all of this in a social media layer. Lars Plougmann, also with Headshift, suggested “syndication, participation, embeddable content, bridges to the flow on the web, mobile access”.

Mandy De Waal, editor of MoneyWebLife, had several interesting ideas.

  1. Story tracking tool - which stories most popular, searched for etc ala Google, live chat with newsroom at certain times.
  2. Satire… satire… satire! A section showing people how to easily become vloggers, Thought Leader type guest columns, polls.
  3. Live feed of the newsroom in action - (but not close enough to see what they are writing about ;)
  4. Ticker tape of hyper links showing breaking story - this could be a new form or type of content aggregations.

I re-tweeted Mohamed’s question and got some great responses. John Thompson, of says: “Automatic semantic tagging, related links, user-customisable RSS, SEO friendly URLs, Apture-style auto linking, good comments system”.

Paul Bradshaw, Senior Lecturer in Online Journalism and Magazines at Birmingham City University and the man behind the Online Journalism Blog, also had a number of good ideas:

  1. RSS at every juncture - automating all activity so it’s publishable: bookmarking, twittering, blogging, email, browsing.
  2. pingback in all external linking. I’d also move away from one big powerhouse towards a network of little niches.
  3. and I’d set it up so journalists got alerts or digests when people comment on their stories, with time set aside for response

On the last point, I think that commenting systems should have RSS. With Movable Type, I occasionally use CoComment to follow the conversations that I participate in.


And I think Craig McGinty has an excellent bit of advice: “Be as creative in making it pay as editorially.”

We all realise that the business model for newspapers is broken - especially in the United States - and it’s time to consider revenue models and multiple revenue streams. This would be especially critical for an all digital news service. The cost basis of a digital news service could be much lower than a newspaper or broadcast outlet, but the reality is that the revenue is also lower for digital right now.

Businesses need to look at new revenue streams. PaidContent (recently acquired by the folks who pay my wage) has built a successful business not simply by focusing on the digital content vertical but also by building a successful events business. I don’t think the business conferences are the only events-based businesses that content companies could sponsor. And events aren’t the only new revenue stream that a digital business should develop.

Cost basis

Legacy media companies haven’t taken advantage of the disruptive economics of digital technologies. I see a lot of newspaper companies getting into video, but instead of using low-cost digital technologies, they are chasing television and buying high-cost broadcast technology.

Smart companies are leveraging open-source technologies, but many companies suffer from ‘not made here’ syndrome, delivering projects over-budget and behind schedule.

The digital project would also start with a much leaner staff. Jeff Jarvis had this suggestion on the Guardian’s media blog:

But on my blog, I took a hypothetical newsroom staff of 100 as a round number, then cut by 30% - not draconian by today’s precedents - and asked what the priorities should be when the cutbacks come. In my hypothetical newsroom, reporting is the highest priority. The more original journalism that is done, the higher the value of the paper and its web service, the better the opportunity to stand out in links and search. Breaking news is worthwhile, but I come down heavily on the side of beat reporting: journalists who are devoted to watchdogging an area.

The Social Layer

I agree with Robin. The successful site would have a social media layer. The site has to have attention data (most viewed, commented, linked, Dugg, etc), recommendation, rating and several levels of participation.

However, I think the social-ness of the strategy can’t stop with the technology. I think the news site of the future will also have a staff focused on building community around the content. People make technology social. Journalists connected to their communities provide more relevant content to those communities and build deeper relationships with them. Social journalists, comfortable creating social media and facilitating social interaction around that content, will be the core of disruptive digital business coming to a community near you.

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4 Responses to “News site from scratch: What are the most important things to include?”

  1. christophe Says:

    Thanks for using coComment!
    With coComment, you have an RSS feed for the conversation you follow. So you do not need to register to individual feeds, but rather just click on “Track” to add a conversation to your single feed from coComment.
    It also gives you a single way to follow conversations, regardless of the site capabilities (email, rss, …), and a single place to manage it.

  2. links for 2008-09-08 « David Black Says:

    [...] News site from scratch: What are the most important things to include? - Strange Attractor "I didn’t ask this question, although I think about it quite frequently. Mohamed Nanabhay, the Head of New Media with Al Jazeera, posed the question on Twitter - Twitterverse: If you were building a news website from ground up what would be the most important things to include?" (tags: internet newspapers newspapersites news journalism socialmedia innovation redesign) [...]

  3. How would you build a media service? — Vad NU! Says:

    [...] ask because a post on precisely this issue by Kevin Anderson has bugged me for a while. And now I wanted to give it a [...]

  4. Strange Attractor » Blog Archive » Is this “against pretty much every journalistic principle”? Should it be? Says:

    [...] Mohamed Nanabhay of Al Jazeera asked what would be the most important things to include if one was building a news website from scratch. It kicked off a great conversation, largely via Twitter. I think it’s a question that more [...]