A news­pa­per can hap­pily sup­port a few reporters and an ad guy if it gives up the paper, the offices and the rest of the trappings.

Too often, we look at the new thing and demand to know how it sup­ports the old thing. Perhaps, though, the ques­tion is, how does the new thing allow us to think skinnier.

Seth Godin — Skinnier.

The key word, I think, is spir­i­tual. Mythological brands make a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion with the user, deliv­er­ing some­thing that we can’t find on our own… or, at the very least, giv­ing us a slate we can use to write our own spir­i­tu­al­ity on.

People use a Dell. They are an Apple.

Seth Godin — Just a myth.

A librarian for news

I was read­ing this ter­rific post by Seth Godin a few nights ago. One par­tic­u­lar pas­sage stood out. He writes that:

The librar­ian isn’t a clerk who hap­pens to work at a library. A librar­ian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librar­ian is the inter­face between reams of data and the untrained but moti­vated user.

It got me think­ing a lot about news and the infor­ma­tion busi­ness. Who is the librar­ian in a news orga­ni­za­tion? Do we even have such a role?

A news orga­ni­za­tion is not unlike a library in many ways. It is an infor­ma­tion fun house. The sheer quan­tity and qual­ity of infor­ma­tion con­tained in the archives of a major news orga­ni­za­tion is stag­ger­ing. What’s miss­ing, though, is a guide who can help us nav­i­gate all of this data.

In a way, the best method a news orga­ni­za­tion has for cre­at­ing a pay­ing, busi­ness class of cus­tomers is to include librarian-like ser­vices. In this sit­u­a­tion there is a dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of walk­ing in and ask­ing for help with your project.

Perhaps it resem­bles the con­cept of a news­room as café. Regardless, this news librar­ian is approach­able, friendly, and community-focused. The librar­ian gauges the needs of cus­tomers and helps them make the most of the news prod­uct to which they subscribe.

The news librar­ian is one who can help the moti­vated but intim­i­dated cus­tomer find the infor­ma­tion they are look­ing for. More than that, though, they can help train them in the skills to get the most of their news prod­uct. They can teach dif­fer­ent infor­ma­tion gath­er­ing tech­niques and sources avail­able to their cus­tomers. This serves two purposes.

First, the librar­ian has to abil­ity to clar­ify what a customer’s sub­scrip­tion is giv­ing them access to. By under­stand­ing the value of a prod­uct the cus­tomer is then bet­ter able to gauge whether that $15 a month is worth it to them.

Second, by hav­ing an approach­able librar­ian who edu­cates cus­tomers in infor­ma­tion tech­niques the news orga­ni­za­tion cre­ates an inher­ent value within their com­mu­nity. The more your com­mu­nity mem­bers know about your prod­uct the more likely they are to com­mu­ni­cate that value to oth­ers. A pas­sion­ate and edu­cated com­mu­nity can do won­ders for your prod­uct purely through word of mouth.

It’s likely a lot to accom­plish, but if done cor­rectly I think a librarian-like role would have a tremen­dous impact on the abil­ity of a news orga­ni­za­tion to become a sus­tain­able busi­ness and com­mu­nity. It’s one small step toward a greater move to chang­ing how we think about news.