What do our customers think?


This interview is part of a series of conversations with news consumers. All of the interviews are compiled here. Want to be interviewed? Sign up here. Have a question to suggest that I should be asking the interviewees? Tweet me. Have comments or questions for me or anyone I’ve talked to? I welcome your comments on this or any other interview in the series.

This week’s news consumer is Stephen L. Harlow, 66 years old. He lives in what I assume is lovely Brea, California. After all, how can it not be? It’s in Orange County, it looks spotless and Stephen is quite fond of sketching it on his iPad.

But I digress…

On to the questions. As always, they are in bold with the responses appearing directly below and any linking is mine.

Stephen answered the first three questions in one passage.

How have your news consumption habits changed over the years or have they stayed about the same?

Where do you usually get your news from on a daily basis? Specify print, online or otherwise for each source you list.

What are the things you are most interested in reading about? Are those needs being met by what’s available to you?

In the ’50s I was a kid and a young teenager, turning 13 in 1957. News for me was the weekly delivery of Life magazine. The photo journalism, Arts coverage and lifestyle features shaped my world view. A few Edward R. Murrow TV pieces were the extent of the hard news media I was tuned into, until the Kennedy campaign, which I participated in, priming myself for high school debates by reading the LA Times, the Nation and the National Review, giving consideration to thevarguments of Kennedy opponents.

In the 60’s, my news consumption became more narrow with independent papers, like Berkeley Barb & Ramparts replacing Life & The Nation and National Review unseen by me. Pacifica Radio became my daily news source.

The ’70s I kept Pacifica Radio as a general news source, but began to focus my periodical reading in my special field of interest, which happens to be Art.

In the ’80s I switched from Pacifica radio to NPR, keeping my habit of listening to news, rather than reading it. I had little interest in reading journalism other than Art coverage.

90s, I picked up the habit of reading a daily newspaper, in my case, the San Francisco Chronical. Since I continued to get an overview of the general news stories from NPR, I went first to the features in the newspaper: comics, local columnist, arts & entertainment reviews.

By the end of the ’90s, my focus was on news and information coming thru email discussion lists and the sites linked to by trusted sources..

The 00s brought RSS feeds, podcasts and on-demand media. Still listening to the NPR general news, I switched to receiving NPR over an Internet connection rather broadcasts. This allows me to time shift programs by listening to streaming radio from other time zones. At this time, I listen exclusively to podcasts. The subjects I follow are more Tech and Science than politics.

I’ve never been much of a TV watcher because it takes too much attention, I prefer to listen while I do something else with my eyes, like art work, domestic chores or commuting (by transit or walking — I don’t drive). The same for reading, it takes too much attention, I want to be making art.

I have my first Kindle book half-read on my iPhone for over a year. I’ve never opened the iBooks app on my iPad. I read headlines of blog posts in feeds, go to articles if a trusted source links to them in social media (Twitter, Facebook, Buzz) and I prefer summaries to the articles.

What is your number one complaint about the news media? This can be general or really specific.

Do you currently pay for any news content online? If yes, describe what type of content it is. If no, would you be willing to pay any amount for news content online?

I’ve yet to see a reason to view anything behind a paywalll. I subscribe to no periodicals, but I have a basic Netflix account I use the Internet connection thru my local Cable service, I have no TV, radio or disc recording player. I watch some streaming video, like Netflix, YouTube and the ABC app on iPad.

I expect media to be distributed free by the producer and be subsidized by advertisers. I do patronize sponsors of my favorite podcasts.



I want an improvement of the social graph applications, so I can more easily follow and discuss the discoveries of trusted sources  i’d like more refinement of the sharing functions on media.

This is where things got really interesting. I asked Stephen to elaborate on what he meant by improvements in the social graph. What he told me in response was fascinating.



I want my browser(s) to know compiled social graph, from all my Social Media accounts and my email & phone contacts.

I want to be able to know which of my friends have read an article that I find from search and what their comments or gestures (ie; like) [I would also love this function. Is anyone building anything like this? I hope so.] 

When consuming a piece of media, text, audio, video, in addition to knowing how my trusted circle has reacted to it, I want to know if any of my circle is there live, if they are, I want the option to live chat. [Is anyone other than me salivating at the prospect of such tools? Can any of you tech geniuses tell me if they are anywhere on the horizon?]

I want to be able to leave a response gesture, a comment and or engage in discussion that goes beyond that moment and the page which hosts the media. I want sent alerts from the media page to selected subsets of my social graph or to individuals. [In a sense, this is what blogs do now when you comment on them and then choose to be informed of all further comments. But what Stephen is talking about is much more involved, much more personalized and thus, much more useful.] 


I want to easily send links, quotes and embedded media to selective subsets of my social graph with my comments. I want them and I to see the results of compiled responses of my friends with comparisons of their reactions with those of the total audience.


I want credit for referring audience to media sources and if purchases are made from direct links to vendors, I want my slice, small tho it might be, credited to my account. [All I can say is: GENIUS. I could make a nice little side income if this was implemented.]


I want to choose the service who maintains my identity and to have that ID recognized globally. I want to have access to all services I have agreements with and to be protected from unauthorized access of my data.  I’m primarily interested in being known by those I interact with and for me to know who they are. However, anonymous communications may continue in open areas of the internet

Most of these social functions do exist in primitive ways, all the functions I envision are possible as a layer on top of existing platforms. The single sign exists thru Oauth, Facebook Connect and Google profiles. Thru expansion of these services, the social layers may be built to facilitate community around all.

Everyone is potentially both a consumer and a publisher.


Anyone else’s mind blown? I realize that others have probably made similar wish lists, but for me it was interesting to see it come from someone who’s not a digital native. The lesson we can draw here is that the desire for better technology can come from any user of it. The lesson for publishers might be to remember your entire audience, not just the 18-49 year olds or whatever that coveted demographic is.

The other lesson comes from Stephen’s continued use of “trusted source” as a term to describe people and/or organizations he favors when choosing where to get his news and information from. Whether you are a large news organization, an individual reporter or even perhaps a marketer, you should be striving to be a trusted source. People might not always articulate it as Stephen has done, but everyone has trusted sources which in analog terms might be translated to mean “reader loyalty.” You want loyal readers don’t you? Become a trusted source.


  1. Stephen L. Harlow July 23, 2010

    Thanks, A na — that was fun.

  2. Stephen L. Harlow July 23, 2010

    I know three noisy, but insightful podcasts covering aspects of what I’m calling the Social Layer: Tummelvision http://tummelvision.tv/
    Gillmor Gang http://gillmorgang.techcrunch.com/
    This Week In Google http://twit.tv/twig

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