Wednesday, July 01, 2015

RIP Circa, provider of bite-sized news

RIP Circa... per this analysis by investor Jason Calacanis.
I think calacanis is sort of right that straightforward truth made the product bland. it was certainly bland. the question is, was that accurate because the wold is bland? or was that accurate because it didn't have an opinionated, ambitious, and honest take on news? tha'ts my feeling... look at VICE as a counterexample... interesting that he scoffs at the listicles of buzzfeed et al but doesn't mention VICE. apples and oranges, certainly, but maybe that's part of the problem!
i think there is a philosophical mistake that aggregators make that assumes the trending stories are trending because they deserve to be, or have some deep relevance. sometimes that's true, of course, but often a story -- or a hashtag like #whoisburningblackchurces -- is something that was created and driven by someone who want3ed to *change* or at least affect what's trending. in other words, i think there are many parallel universes where different stories are trending, and there's no good reason to stick so dutifully to those that are trending in this universe.
take a story like this interview with a stabbing victim:
this story is deeply meaningful to me, compelling, shocking, and motivating. it calls into question the assumptions about the role of police that conservative advocates of police point to in their defense: that they protect the public against the inconvenient, but real, forces of evil. it casts them as a sort of Post Office with guns, prone to self-serving inaction and dangerous to trust with anything important.
what if the new york times and the post ran this interview, and follow up stories where they grill the NYPD brass and quote critics of police inaction and training, extensively? it plays into a very hot set of topics and would get picked up and argued about quite a lot, i think. but Circa wouldn't pick up a story like this -- it hasn't proven its widespread relevance yet, and it would seem like they are inserting their opinion.
part of what's going on is that Circa traffics in summaries, not really stories -- and that's also part of the problem. we think in stories; the front page of the times is all big topics distilled through the lens of some protagonist. if you rewrite that story to take out the personal story, it's not a story anymore.
another part is a simple lack of perspective. as i've pointed out before, Circa stories often present some fact or status with no reference to the rate of change involved. "A Greek exit from the Eurozone would not be catastrophic, assures Merkel" or something gives me no sense of whether the gist is that european leaders are suddenly and shockingly reversing course on whether they could imagine an exit, or if this is just the latest manifestation of a slowly growing trend, etc. "Europe promised to keep Greece; suddenly, they shrug" or something would help me much more. i think there is a bias towards inoffensiveness and newspaper-speak that works ok when you have a whole story behind your headline, but not when the headline and first paragraph essentially *are* the story.
Twitter and rss work best for me as news sources because they allow stories with great meaning to bubble up, even if they don't penetrate the mainstream. I don't want to use any aggregator that omits a story like the stabbing victim one!

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