The Importance of Old, Well-Written Articles

...we overvalue new writing, almost absurdly so, and we undervalue older writing. I feel this market failure keenly each day when I recommend a fine piece of writing that deserves to be read for years to come and yet will have at most two days in the sun.

You never hear anybody say, “I’m not going to listen to that record because it was released last year,” or, “I’m not going to watch that film because it came out last month.” Why are we so much less interested in journalism that’s a month or a year old?

The answer is that we have been on the receiving end of decades of salesmanship from the newspaper industry, telling us that today’s newspaper is essential but yesterday’s newspaper is worthless.

That distinction has been increasingly bogus since newspapers lost their news-breaking role to faster media 50 years ago, and began filling their pages with more and more timeless writing.

While consumers had to rely on print media, the distinction between old and new could be sustained by availability: today’s newspaper was everywhere, yesterday’s newspaper was nowhere, except perhaps in the cat litter.

Online, that distinction disappears – or it should. You can call up a year-old piece as easily as you can call up a day-old piece. And yet we hardly ever do so, because we are so hardly ever prompted to do so. Which condemns tens if not hundreds of thousands of perfectly serviceable articles to sleep in writers’ and publishers’ archives, written off, never to be seen again.

Why do even big publishing groups with the resources to do so (the New Yorker is an honourable exception) make so little attempt to organise, prioritise and monetise their archives?

The best explanation I can suggest comes from an analogy given to me by George Brock, a former managing editor of The Times, who is now professor of journalism at City University in London. Think of a newspaper or magazine as a mountain of data, he says, to which a thin new layer of topsoil gets added each day or each week. Everybody sees the new soil. But what’s underneath gets covered up and forgotten. Even the people who own the mountain don’t know what’s in the lower layers.

They might try to find out but that demands a whole new set of tools. And, besides, they are too busy adding the new layer of topsoil each day.

I suspect that the wisest new hire for any long-established newspaper or magazine would be a smart, disruptive archive editor. Why just sit on a mountain of classic content, when you could be digging into it and finding buried treasure?


If 99% of new content on the Web is worthless, how do we surface the old content for new eyes?

Folksonomies: writing reading pertinence new

/home and garden/gardening and landscaping/landscaping (0.511346)
/home and garden (0.509336)
/food and drink/food/grains and pasta (0.455489)

perfectly serviceable articles (0.954690 (negative:-0.318351)), new layer (0.934611 (negative:-0.076549)), big publishing groups (0.928432 (negative:-0.445679)), wisest new hire (0.927390 (neutral:0.000000)), disruptive archive editor (0.922396 (negative:-0.624899)), newspaper (0.806057 (negative:-0.094892)), new writing (0.792787 (neutral:0.000000)), new eyes (0.792502 (neutral:0.000000)), new content (0.789732 (neutral:0.000000)), Well-Written Articles (0.784300 (neutral:0.000000)), market failure (0.769568 (positive:0.698176)), older writing (0.766297 (negative:-0.283199)), fine piece (0.764870 (positive:0.698176)), old content (0.763282 (neutral:0.000000)), newspaper industry (0.757734 (positive:0.266696)), New Yorker (0.757678 (neutral:0.000000)), day-old piece (0.752214 (positive:0.410264)), honourable exception (0.751294 (neutral:0.000000)), new soil (0.750058 (positive:0.244819)), news-breaking role (0.749180 (negative:-0.423446)), timeless writing (0.747881 (positive:0.283648)), long-established newspaper (0.746332 (neutral:0.000000)), year-old piece (0.745949 (positive:0.410264)), cat litter (0.744982 (negative:-0.718660)), new set (0.744025 (positive:0.530652)), faster media (0.742201 (negative:-0.423446)), print media (0.739080 (neutral:0.000000)), George Brock (0.734621 (neutral:0.000000)), best explanation (0.731987 (neutral:0.000000)), little attempt (0.731485 (negative:-0.423351))

New Yorker:FieldTerminology (0.699476 (neutral:0.000000)), George Brock:Person (0.676509 (neutral:0.000000)), editor:JobTitle (0.661439 (negative:-0.624899)), print media:FieldTerminology (0.541112 (neutral:0.000000)), professor of journalism:JobTitle (0.526983 (neutral:0.000000)), managing editor:JobTitle (0.503640 (neutral:0.000000)), City University:Organization (0.489306 (neutral:0.000000)), London:City (0.456092 (neutral:0.000000)), The Times:PrintMedia (0.342689 (neutral:0.000000)), 50 years:Quantity (0.342689 (neutral:0.000000)), two days:Quantity (0.342689 (neutral:0.000000)), 99%:Quantity (0.342689 (neutral:0.000000))

Newspaper (0.953334): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Editing (0.737326): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Journalism (0.729410): dbpedia | freebase
The New Yorker (0.649983): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago
Mass media (0.537976): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Printing (0.509744): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Layer (0.442668): dbpedia

 Net Wisdom
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Cottrell, Robert (February 15, 2013), Net Wisdom, Financial Times, Retrieved on 2016-06-22
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: writing reading news


    22 JUN 2016

     Relevance of New Writing/Current Events

    The Importance of Old, Well-Written Articles > Comparison > Mainstream News is Irrelevant
    Folksonomies: relevance current events
    Folksonomies: relevance current events