News meets Wikipedia meets Buzzfeed

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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A newly launched US news site has been hailed by some as “a new, smarter version of Wikipedia”, by others as “the bastard child of BuzzFeed and Wikipedia”.

Called, the startup’s founders – Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell from the Washington Post and Matt Yglesias from Slate – hope to compile a “vast repository of information that will make it possible for us to explain the news in real time”.

The idea behind this “work in progress” is to create layers of information under the news and feature stories, in the form of clickable “cards”, which provide “deeper explanations of key concepts”, and “stacks”, which collects all that background “into detailed — and continuously updated — guides to ongoing news stories”.

If these sound a little baffling, don’t worry – the editors, too, say in an introductory post that “we’re just starting to learn how to use them”.

In the New York Times, Leslie Kaufman says the enterprise “takes melding of journalism and technology to a new level”, while AdAge reckons the card/stack model offers some promising opportunities to attract advertisers.

The site, which is primarily but not exclusively focused on American news, is off to a promising start, says Greg Marx at the Columbia Journalism Review.

if it’s still early to draw conclusions about the execution, one thing about Vox seems already clear: It’s going to be, basically, what you’d expect if you’ve been following Klein’s critique of the industry—which is that journalism turns off news consumers by focusing too much on what’s new, and so makes it hard to understand why it matters, or what the big picture is.

At Pando Daily, Nathaniel Mott – responsible for the Buzzfeed-Wikipedia-bastard line – sizes up the early offerings.

The site’s launch topics range from Obamacare to “Game of Thrones” and feature an eclectic mix of longer articles and listicles meant to help stories that normally appeal to insiders and experts find a wider audience. The site was founded with the hopes of serving the “vegetables” of journalism — stories about important but often difficult-to-understand topics – in a more appealing manner, and it’s already on its way to meeting that goal. Consider these yams candied …

But the whole thing appeared “a bit undercooked”, adds Mott.

Let’s hope that a little more time in the oven lets move beyond mere slideshows and Q and A’s. Its initial offerings aren’t bad, but if the best in explanatory journalism looks like BuzzFeed written by a college professor, perhaps the category won’t be as huge as Bell, Klein, Yglesias, and Bankoff think.

If the depth and richness of information is at the essence of the Vox approach, however, the most-read story on its site over the last week delivers a warning. Headlined “How politics makes us stupid” and addressing the “More Information Hypothesis”, it advises: “Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.”

See also: Goldmine or gutter? The debate over online comments

Ten of the best opening lines in news reports

Ten of the funniest newspaper corrections

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