The Internet Never Ends: You Can Deny That Or Embrace It

from the embrace-it dept

Over at NiemanLab, there's a good interview with Tom Standage who runs the Economist's digital efforts, in which he reveals the Economist's general view of how it approaches the internet -- which could be summarized as "deny it exists." Basically, the argument that Standage makes is that people want to feel like they've "completed" something and that they're fully informed, and so the Economist likes to pretend that once you've read it, you're completely informed and you don't have to look elsewhere. This is also why the Economist refuses to link to anyone else, because it would disabuse you of the "illusion" that the Economist provided you everything you needed:
...what we actually sell is what I like to call the feeling of being informed when you get to the very end. So we sell the antidote to information overload — we sell a finite, finishable, very tightly curated bundle of content. And we did that initially as a weekly print product. Then it turns out you can take that same content and deliver it through an app.

The “you’ve got to the end and now you’ve got permission to go do something else” is something you never get. You can never finish the Internet, you can never finish Twitter, and you can never really finish The New York Times, to be honest. So at its heart is that we have this very high density of information, and the promise we make to the reader is that if you trust us to filter and distill the news, and if you give us an hour and a half of your time — which is roughly how long people spend reading The Economist each week — then we’ll tell you what matters in the world and what’s going on. And if you only read one thing, we want to be the desert-island magazine. And our readers, that’s what they say.
And as for links:
Another aspect of it is — and I get all the morning briefings, Sentences, the FT one, and Quartz’s, and the rest of them — is that we don’t do links. The reason that we don’t do links, again, if you want to get links you can get them from other people. You can go on Twitter and get as many as you like. But the idea was everything that you need to know is distilled into this thing that you can get to the end of, and you can get to the end of it without worrying that you should’ve clicked on those links in case there was something interesting. So we’ve clicked on the links already and we’ve decided what’s interesting, and we’ve put it in Espresso.

That’s the same that we do in the weekly as well — we’re not big on linking out. And it’s not because we’re luddites, or not because we don’t want to send traffic to other people. It’s that we don’t want to undermine the reassuring impression that if you want to understand Subject X, here’s an Economist article on it — read it and that’s what you need to know. And it’s not covered in links that invite you to go elsewhere.
Mathew Ingram rightly calls this view of things selling an illusion. He notes that such an illusion can be very powerful -- and even very satisfying and appealing. But it's still an illusion.

To me, it's also a version of denial -- a somewhat hubristic denial that actually says (loudly) that the Economist thinks it's much, much smarter than its readers. That seems like a pretty big mistake in the internet age, where (quite frequently) your readers are much smarter. In many ways, we at Techdirt have always taken the opposite approach. We link aggressively outward to source material, knowing that it will help people explore the subject more deeply. We encourage discussion and conversation in our comments, knowing that many of our readers are more knowledgeable on these subjects than we are.

The Economist is obviously super successful, but as we've stated before, the way people consume the news these days is changing. The kind of people who want to just sit down, consume one thing and feel that they're "informed" are going away. That's just not how people consume news these days, and young people especially don't want to consume news that way. They want to explore and dig and share and discuss. The ability to truly interact with the news, research things yourself, share your thoughts and actually be a part of the effort is what's appealing to so many people.

Maybe the Economist's view of things works for people who are scared of the internet and don't like the endless firehose of information that's available, but I'm betting that's a population that will be progressively shrinking, rather than growing.

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  • icon
    jakerome (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 2:58pm

    Or maybe...

    it works fine for people comfortable with the internet, but want a change of pace from nearly every other site out there.

    Vive la différence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Rapnel (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:57pm

      Re: Or maybe...

      Indeed. I'm going to investigate and see what's up because, to me, this sounds very attractive.

      I wholeheartedly disagree with the premise that "they don't know what the internet is" because, well, internet. It doesn't take a genius to pop a tab and research along side what has piqued your interest.

      I try to maintain a "verify thrice" approach to most things especially anything internet and just because one site doesn't attempt to lead me through my world on their leash for the rest of the hour or day doesn't make their position one of denial, it makes it refreshing, sort of like headphones when my mom is talking at me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 4:38pm

        Re: Re: Or maybe...

        I try to maintain a "verify thrice" approach to most things especially anything internet
        You're in the minority, then. Most people, especially tweenage Twits and the rest of the "average" nethead population, aren't going to check, recheck and check again. The level of willful and defiant ignorance on the internet is staggering. All it takes is a shocking headline and a claim of revealed truth "that 'they' don't want you to know about" to make something "go viral" these days.

        Case in point, the anti-vaxer bull feces that refuses to die. Started by a now-discredited pseudo-medical charlatan, and perpetuated -- at a rate comparable to, well, the parallel epidemic of autism (of which science has yet to pin down a definitive cause but which genetics undoubtedly plays a big role) -- by paranoid mommy-bloggers engaging in militant groupthink. Jenny McCarthy herself is irrelevant in this game now. The blob has taken on a life of its own.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 8:29am

      Re: Or maybe...

      As long as they still link the sources for their articles, fine. If they expect readers to fact check each article Independently, that's where the difference becomes a problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:04pm

    The reason that we don’t do links, again, if you want to get links you can get them from other people.

    Take what we say on faith, or go off and try to research it without our help.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonymousCowHerd, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:24pm

      In defense of The Economist

      If you're reading the Economist, you should be smart enough to do your own Googling. The Economist gives you enough information at the beginning of articles to give you the exact things (because they bother to print in plaintext what their sources are) to send to Google instead of leading with clickbait and burying the facts deep in the article.

      The Economist is about good writing first and foremost. Highlighting and right clicking on a phrase and hit "search Google for..." is not bloody hard, is it?

      The "Gawkerization" of the Internet needs to be pulled back a bit, and not like a foreskin.

      Of the things to get bent about on TD, this molehill is about a full millimeter high.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:32pm

        Re: In defense of The Economist

        Search results change with time and differing sources may make opposing statements. It's nice to know the original sources a news article used in some circumstances so that people don't have to guess at where or how a particular outlet got its information.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:37pm

        Re: In defense of The Economist

        (because they bother to print in plaintext what their sources are)

        Requiring their readers to search Google as you say is easy, but you then have to identify and click the link in the results that lead to the relevant resource. Inserting links to primary sources, is treating your readers with respect, while emulating a print newspaper, by avoiding actual links, is throwing away the advantage of the Internet.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:58pm

        Re: In defense of The Economist

        Tom says in the article "We’ll link to background, and we’ll link to things like white papers or scientific papers and stuff like that".

        I don't read the Economist much, so I don't know exactly how well they do it—but the principle seems OK: link to things of real value. Some sites go a bit overboard with linking (e.g. linking to a site where they found out about some scientific paper, or linking to stock tickers for every company mentioned) and it's hard to tell which links are worth following. And then I close the tab and wonder why I'm looking at some 3-month-old article about a press release about a paper that seems like it could be vaguely related to something I read in the last 10 minutes, but what?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 7:07pm

        Re: In defense of The Economist

        The Economist is about good writing first and foremost.

        BS. They're selling a point of view, and hoping to make money doing it, just like everybody else who tries to do the same thing.
        The "Gawkerization" of the Internet needs to be pulled back a bit, and not like a foreskin.

        WTF was that about?!? Are you trying to sell an agenda, just like Economist et al are doing? I'm not getting it, whatever it is. Think more with your big head. The little one isn't equipped with a brain, ya know.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 4:40pm

        Re: In defense of The Economist

        If you're reading the Economist, you should be smart enough to do your own Googling.
        Pssht. I also read Wired and am therefore smart enough to do my own IxQuicking.

        A pox on the pedestrian NSA honeypot that is Google.

        /s

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Danny Mittleman, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:16pm

    a Victorian attitude toward the Internet

    I've been a great admirer of Tom Standage for a number of years--and highly recommend his book _The Victorian Internet_ that describes parallels between the head-in-the-ground reactions to the invention and growth of the telegraph during the mid-19th century to that of the Internet in the late 20th century.

    I have to think Standage recognizes the dissonance of his remarks, but finds himself in the role of corporate spokesperson for a magazine whose editors don't quite get the irony yet.

    Of course the policies of the Economist only serve to hurt the Economist. (Don't they have an SEO consultant on staff?). And to say "we aren't going to do X because everyone else does X" is bullshit. What they are really saying is "you can get quality elsewhere; our product is for the consumer who doesn't want quality."

    That approach never works in the long term.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Ciaran Norris, 6 Apr 2015 @ 4:30pm

      Re: a Victorian attitude toward the Internet

      Hurt The Economist? Unlike pretty much every other publishing company out there, their business has soared over the last decade or so.

      Because, despite what hundreds of self proclaimed experts on what the internet 'means' or what people 'want', it turns out that a lot of people really do value The Economist's product, whether in print, online or, most recently, in the form of a daily mobile update.

      I've advised publishers and journalists to use links, if they benefit the story/product. The Economist have made a call that in their instance they don't, and I would suggest that the data of their P&L bears this out - as can I, as a focus group of one who is a big fan of links with a reason, but who also finds Espresso to be an absolutely essential product.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:32pm

    Economist = dead end

    When a site doesn't link anywhere, I read what I want then leave. I'm much more likely to come back to a site if it leads me somewhere interesting.

    That the Economist leads nowhere is is like a dead end road. Once you've been down that road, there's little reason to return.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:49pm

      Re: Economist = dead end

      The Economist wants to be the dead end -- the dead end that all roads lead to. They want to be the link destination, not a page flying by in the link mobius strip.

      But in order to do that, you've got to be generating the content, not distilling it. If you distill something, you need to reference where the sources are, or you lose your authority.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:49pm

    Ad blocking

    I thought this quote was interesting:
    My daughter has ad block and she goes around infecting every machine she gets to.
    This is strange to me. In my view ads are an infection. I'm amazed anyone can browse (or watch TV, etc.) without an ad-blocker. It's like I'm being constantly assaulted even if just watching someone else browse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:58pm

      Re: Ad blocking

      You don't get malware from tv commercials, unlike some of the internet ads. Since advertisers refuse to check ads to make sure they are clean I too will not trust a single ad nor will I view one. Every machine that hits the internet in this household will have ad blockers. It's a security matter.

      Notice that when a malware comes through, the ad companies do not bother with offering an uninstaller to remove the problem. Nor will they offer to have someone come right on over and remove it from your computer. The hours it takes to run down that malware and fix it are your problem. If the fix is my problem, so is the cure.

      This is why there will never be an ad shown on my computers while I have a choice in the matter and I will actively seek what it takes to ensure this remains.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 7:43pm

        Re: Re: Ad blocking

        You don't get malware from tv commercials
        Not yet, not that we know of. But how secure do you think TVs' MPEG parsers are? Eventually someone will fuzz those and things will get interesting, especially for the ones with microphones and Wi-Fi.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 8:34pm

          Re: Re: Re: Ad blocking

          You don't get malware from tv commercials

          Eventually someone will fuzz those and things will get interesting ...

          "Eta nas meh!" I just zoned on Serenity from that.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 3:54pm

    I am sure that the Economist hasn't gotten the word yet that the public for the most part no longer trusts a single source of news. I've seen so many examples of bias and factually false items ran as news, I want other sources to check those ideas and often I want them from someone with a bias opposed to the original I read. Failure to do that, leaves you with a very one sided view of a topic.

    Then too, I've learned that the US news is very influenced by US propaganda. Because of that and realizing the bias from both sites I may well go to the Russian English site, just to get the opposing view point who will be sure to let you have both barrels of counter straight up front. I may follow those two with what I hope is a much less bias site from a country with no stake in the matter. That's what it takes to be informed in today's commercial world where everyone has an angle.

    I will never buy into the Economist idea of them being the sole source. That's been ruined long before now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 9:41pm

      Re:

      Agreed, and this shows up in sites linking back to their own articles. Unfortunately Techdirt does this often. When I look at links, I am looking for source material, not yet another quote from the same source. Linking back to oneself is not necessarily bad, but using oneself as the whole source does not make for compelling, interesting, believable material.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 8:28am

        Re: Re:

        If you refuse to link, then by definition you're not linking to the sources for thin my experience, TD only link back to articles where they're making the assertion commented upon. New claims will link to the external sources for those claims. The older internal articles link to the external sources upon which the claims are based. This is fine to my mind, though I agree it can lead to a bit of a long trail when following long-running arguments. That's infinitely easier than linking every previous source in every article on every issue, however.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jake, 3 Apr 2015 @ 3:44am

    Validating the smug cultural superiority of intellectual snobs is always going to be a steady source of revenue, I guess.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Casey, 3 Apr 2015 @ 6:28am

    I read the Economist. I like it for the writing. They do provide their sources the material, just doesn't link to them. Big fucking deal. They aren't hiding the source. I know how to do a search if I want to find out more.

    I also read and like Techdirt, which links to their sources.
    Does that make me smarter than the normal Economist readers?

    I'm quite capable of liking both models. It's not a zero sum game.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 9:50am

    Control

    Any time someone wants to be your sole source of information, they are trying to control you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jlaprise (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 10:57am

    Economist Advanatge

    I have to disagree with many of the commenters here. The Economist is selling a valuable product but are not ignoring the Internet at all. They simply have a different strategy.

    "So we sell the antidote to information overload — we sell a finite, finishable, very tightly curated bundle of content." -Tom Standage

    Absolutely. The Economist is under no illusion that people won't go elsewhere.

    For those of you who are unfamiliar with the magazine, it does not publish under author names, it is organized into a series of well defined sections with well researched, well sourced, cogent writing. It does have a point of view but takes pains to present other points of view.

    It takes a solid 3 hours (for me) of focused reading to get through a weekly edition. It's dense.

    As a curated news source, I'm quite happy with it and have subscribed for many years. One big reason is that it inspires me to look outside many of the news sources I generally go to online. While half of the stories in a regional section "Asia" or "The Americas" might have hit my news feed, the other half probably have not but that makes them no less news worthy. It's not a dead end, but rather a road map pointing out sights I might have missed.

    The Economist's practice of avoiding links is good. While linking can be helpful in terms of convenience (speed), searching for information yourself is thinking critically.

    Reading it weekly is a useful exercise in thinking globally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 2:32pm

    with the Entertainment Industries doing they damnedest to create the environment they want on the internet, ie, that only they can use it scot free and have the right to say who else can, under what circumstances, for how much, for how long and doing doing what, the title needs a bit of rethinking, i think. they refuse to deny it, they refuse to embrace it but they are doing everything they can get done by bribery and corruption of politicians and law makers so that everyone else have to lose the internet as well! and that makes sense? i dont think so! but even now, no one is going against them and putting up a serious fight. like everything else that's worth having, it isn't realised until it's too late!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 4:31pm

    The problem is that the internet allows literally anyone with a keyboard, a broadband connection, and a Tumbler account to spew opinionated nonsense and present it as fact. Not saying that's not happening with cable, NYT, etc., but at least those are somewhat curated even though they're biased.

    But the internet allows populist bullhockey like anti-vaxxers and Birtherism to spread like stage 4 cancer. Heck, ISIS and its offshoots are recruiting via Twitter spreading violent religious nonsense to vulnerable, possibly mentally unstable people who buy into their message of hatred. The Boston bomber had issues of Al Qaeda's magazine on his hard drive. If it wasn't for the Internet, they'd still be scrawling on caves and not publishing an online magazine that's as polished as the New Yorker.

    I think the Internet has revealed the worst devils of our nature (literally in the case of, e.g., ISIS, Westboro and the other god-bothering radicals). The fact that it never ends really pulls back the curtain on the sheer infinite depths of human depravity and ignorance that exist within our species. Bad ideas have always been with us. The only difference now is that they're not concentrated among a select group of gatekeepers and are now free for the taking -- and the giving -- by any idiot who can sufficiently pass himself off as an "expert" or a "friend of the people."

    I know the Catholic Church balked about the printing press. Now we know in retrospect that while they were nothing but a bunch of child-raping crooks deluded about their own greatness, the huddled masses of community publication aren't of much greater merit either. We're all a bunch of monkeys flinging poo at the walls thinking we've got the knack to produce the great works of Shakespeare.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2015 @ 8:10am

      Re:

      Freedom of speech isn't a problem. It's a feature. It.sounds like you are only for free speech as a right as long as only a select few have the ability to exercise it. It doesn't work that way. The bad ideas that have always been with us weren't more concentrated before. It was just easier to pretend they didn't exist. It's much better for them to be out in the sunlight where they can summarily be dealt with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2015 @ 1:56am

        Re: Re:

        Just because they're out in the sunlight doesn't mean they're being dealt with. They're not - free speech is the banner lunatics rally under, giving them the licence to tar and feather anyone they don't agree with.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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