June 6th, 2012

Reinventing Journalism, Starring Quora

Tech publications have been writing posts based on interesting Quora threads for a while – it’s great, cheap content that can be repurposed enough to be fashioned into an original story, and there’s usually a primary source involved.

But only recently has it become apparent (to me, at least) that Quora has in some ways inverted parts of the journalistic process and concocted a new kind of reporting entirely. It’s news that is different from the “social news” of years past and complements the existing status quo rather than disrupt it.

Let me be clear – I do not at all think that Quora will displace journalists/bloggers/your-term-of-choice. Instead, the site has carved out a sort of long-tail, peer-to-peer journalism that can satisfy niche audiences in an economical and scalable way that traditional journalism cannot.

Most journalists have a beat or audience that they cover, and it is their job to pick and choose stories that this audience will appreciate at scale. There is an unspoken but very real pressure to drive pageviews to these stories, as the pageviews provide revenue which is then used to pay the journalist.

By taking revenue out of the equation, the niche interests/stories now have a convenient home. It doesn’t matter if a question gets 10,000 pageviews or 10. Additionally, the most excellent thing Quora has done is create a community with the expectation that in order to consume, you must contribute.

For example, I am interested in the evolution of Javascript and the opinions of technical thought leaders about emerging trends (Meteor, Node, etc.). Not exactly a click-worthy topic for most people, but extremely easy to find several relevant answers on Quora. They have created perhaps the best soapbox on the web for piecing together interesting, thoughtful, and well-sourced stories around ultra-niche topics. Perhaps it is due to the Q+A format – instead of a journalist asking the questions, it’s the readers, so it’s already baked-in that the answer will be of interest to the reader.

As the site grows outside of technology (and I am pretty bullish that it will), I think we’ll see this peer-to-peer journalism evolve into an interesting and commendable force within the world of news as we know it.

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