Real-time news is neither

The closer you get to the event itself, the more it costs to find out what's going on. A week or a month or a year after the fact, the truth (or as close as we can get) is nearly free. Finding out that same truth mere seconds after it happens is costly indeed.

Want to know what the crime rate in Scarsdale was like on January 1? You can look that up instantly. Want to know what it was three seconds ago? A lot more difficult.

Mike Bloomberg became the richest man in New York by selling traders just fifteen seconds head start on the data they needed. Fifteen seconds costs thousands of dollars a month per trader. But in most cases, what we get online is not actually in real-time and it's not news, either.

Getting ever closer to the first moment is expensive in other ways. It might cost you in boredom, because watching an entire event just to see the good parts takes time, particularly if there's no guarantee that there will even be good parts.

It might cost you in filtering, because the less you're willing to wait, the more likely it is that you'll see news that's incorrect, out of context or not nearly as valuable as it appears.

When journalists, analysts and pundits are all racing to bring you the 'news' first, you get less actual news and more reflexive noise. Go watch an hour of cable news from a year ago... what were they yelling about that we actually care about today?

And, it turns out, the five minute head start you got from watching that news live has no real value to make up for all the costs that go with it.

On the other hand, if you can figure out how to bring actual, interesting, useful breaking 'news' to those that will pay for it, you can provide quite a profitable and beloved service.

In the last ten years we've redefined breaking news from "happened yesterday" to "happened less than fifteen seconds ago." The next order of magnitude will be prohibitively expensive and (most of the time) not particularly useful. Better, I think, to hustle in the other direction and figure out how to benefit from well-understood truth instead of fast and fresh rumor.

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