What the Death of Homepages Means for the Future of News

Derek Thompson:

One theory is that the rise of twin technological forces—the social flood and the age of analytics—will (a) make the news more about readers; and (b) make news organizations more like each other.
 Why should the death of homepages give rise to news that’s more about readers? Because homepages reflect the values of institutions, and Facebook and Twitter reflect the interest of individual readers. These digital grazers have shown again and again that they aren’t interested in hard news, but rather entertainment, self-help, awe, and outrage dressed up news. Digitally native publishers are pretty good at pumping this kind of stuff out. Hence quizzes, hence animals, hence 51 Photos That Show Women Fighting Sexism Awesomely. Even serious publishing companies know that self-help and entertainment often outperform outstanding reporting.
 Second, we should expect—and have already seen—an expedited clustering effect around news tropes, and this clustering is making news organizations more like each other. This goes back to technology. The better publishers can see what audiences are reading, the more they will be inclined to quickly serve up duplicates of the most popular stuff. This is why we have not one BuzzFeed quiz (whose popularity in the pages of a 1950s magazine would have been mysterious) but rather 17,000 quizzes in a matter of weeks from BuzzFeed, Slate, and other publishers. Each quiz’s Facebook Like count, numbering in the tens of thousands, broadcasts to other publishers: I’m popular, make more of me! Even within hard news stories, we see clustering around headline tropes (“You Won’t Believe…”; “… in 1 Graph”; “X-Number Things You Y-Verb”) across many different sites that should ostensibly be serving different audiences. When you know what works, you do it again and again.