News as meat: raw vs. aged prime, ground vs. choice cuts.

Or, to fight commoditization, provide analysis.

I pay to read The New Yorker because its reporters provide a service that is rare in the information marketplace: they not only quote people accurately, they also tell me whether or not that quote is factual.

It’s an added service that requires the writers at The New Yorker to analyze and research the statements they quote. From a business standpoint, it takes a deep and specialized know-how to hire people who can consistently create this added value. (Like manufacturing computers or race cars, fact-checking can be a highly complex process since the people who make inaccurate statements for a living often spend a great deal of time and/or money to cover their tracks.)

The product of such labors is thus what is commonly regarded as “quality.” Because The New Yorker can report both the fact that someone said something as well as the truth of what they said, they have a competitive advantage over those who are only competing to be the first to report the statement.

Unlike so much of the news that is available to consumers today, the news in The New Yorker is not a commodity.

“Speed kills.”

Receiving inaccurate news immediately is less useful than receiving accurate news later on. This is difficult to believe given how much emphasis our market has placed on timeliness since the advent of the afternoon paper, the dedicated news station on radio and later television, or, most recently, the Twitter headline.

But if someone tells you the movie theater is on fire when it’s not, you are not going to be happy towards the person who first made this inaccurate report – nor will you have warm fuzzies for every other person who quoted the first reporter verbatim without corroborating the facts before doing so.

When all the news provides is quotation marks they’re basically putting an asterisk next to the statement they’re reporting. The asterisk says: “This statement might or might not be true. We can’t or won’t say. You decide, right?”

While everyone may want to decide few have the means to do so. They will need to make time and spend money to find, visit and interview the people who can corroborate the quoted statement. Most people want to do other things with their free time and hard-earned money rather than tracking down authoritative sources. (That is, doing the work of journalists.)

Many news services make a half-hearted effort to get at the truth by quoting competing claims and thus contradictory statements. However, few news services actually synthesize these antithetical statements.

So what is the consumer to do when they’re served two contradictory statements. Surely one of those statements is a live one and the other is a decoy? When consumers aren’t sure if the catch they’re being served is a lure, they’re less likely to go with that brand of news.

Alternately, when the consumer is served a story so full of nonsense words that they’re left chewing for hours on cartilage, they’re less likely to want a repeat of that experience.

“It’s ‘prime’ time.”

I believe that if consumers are served different cuts of news (Prime, AAA, AA, A), they will gravitate towards that news that is more useful even if it costs them more – “cost” in terms of their choices, of choosing between content that inspires, energizes and educates them.

The ratings and revenue success of Fox News in prime time as well as of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report in late-night suggest that many consumers do value the news more than other entertainment options when that news is provided with analysis.

Neither Fox News in prime nor the news on Comedy Central are focusing on soft stories* about dancing dogs or celebrity divorces; they’re tackling the “hardest”, life and death news of the moment. (The most recent Daily Show, which featured extensive coverage of the United Nations General Assembly and an interview with the King of Jordan on the Mideast Peace Process, is a good example.)

The fact that Fox News programs in prime and Comedy Central’s late night news shows are hosted, respectively, by clowns and satirists does not mean that providing engaging analysis requires humor. The New Yorker, The Economist and many programs on the BBC Radio provide entertaining news analysis without recourse to the rhetoric of comedy.

Not only can quality news be produced in a variety of formats, consumers across the spectrum have made it clear they are willing to pay for quality with their time and money.

*If anything, you are more likely to see a squirrel water-skiing on the local news than in these prime time news shows. The local news often tries to make a more entertaining product without access to the requisite resources: writers and specialist producers. This trend towards an inferior and thus less competitive product is a result of poor tactical moves – personnel cuts – made instead of the correct trategic shift; hiring the writers and producers needed to produce the product now being requested by consumers.