The media forgets it is in the being useful business

A lot of media entities — and the journalists who work for them — think they are in the news business and all of their strategies and initiatives are wrapped around that concept.

But despite the much-burnished reputation of the Fourth Estate and the unchallengeable value of a Free Press, that’s not the business they are in — not at all. Media companies are in the business of being useful, useful with information that people consider news at precisely the moment they want to know it

This collective lapse of memory of what it is traditional media enterprises do may explain why the Drudge Report is one of the top news sites, why Google News is the bogeyman man, and why Wikipedia is the first place many people go to find the latest news on a specific topic, person or thing.

Instead of doing journalism as a means to be useful, journalism is being done because it can.

Being useful means both speed (having the information when I want it) and content (having the information I want). On the Web, having well-organized links to the information is having the information readers or users want.

As I write this, two of top three stories on the knoxnews/govoslxtra sites are simply links to external content, a roundup of blogger react to the VP debate and what ‘s being written about the Tennessee football team.

I would suggest part of the reason for the popularity of these two stories vs the thousands of others on the sites is that they are found to be useful right now.

Here’s a look from a different vantage point. The top referring domains to the sites in the last 30 days are: Google, Legacy (where our obits are posted), Yahoo, Drudge Report, and PajamasMedia (Instapundit). All five are sites that are focused on providing useful information. The two giant search engines are dependent on complex algorithmic search results. Drudge Report and Instapundit rely on the skill of humans to find the news we will find useful to know — rather quickly.

On Monday, Alan Mutter wrote:

As I scrambled from website to website this morning for the latest news while my retirement melted away, the place that consistently had the most complete, convenient and up-to-date information was the Drudge Report.

For all the millions of dollars and thousands of people employed at the mainstream newspapers, broadcast networks and cable channels, Drudge had assembled the perfect mix of salient links and real-time information …

Scott Karp had some thoughts a few weeks ago about what makes Drudge successful that dovetail with Mutter’s comments

If you don’t think your business is being useful to your users/readers/viewers (some more crass businesses would call them customers), then I would suggest your journalism is failing.