Monday, January 25, 2010

The Evolution of News

If you liked my other posts about the evolution of news, Justin Kownacki has more to say about that in his most recent post. Go read that. There's a lot to talk about from it, but here's where I started.

The internet enabled people to get more information faster. The growing desire for this gave birth to the 24-hour cable news channel, which is able to broadcast breaking news almost instantly whenever it happened and is a place for info-junkies to turn.

But to succeed, mass media has always had appeal to the lowest common denominator (ie the media’s role in Spanish-American war, among many other examples).

Thus, the 24-hour news channel now features celebrity gossip and blows coverage out of proportion to achieve ratings and make money; the more sensationalist the story, the more attention, the more money. Print media has been trying to compete on the same level with some success (ie: the Boston Herald), but really can’t keep up.

With so much sensationalism and some widely publicized mistakes as major media move too fast to break a story, however, some people have been looking for alternative sources. And more will as time goes on.

The internet helped out there too by lowering the cost of entry into the journalism business. Now, people can turn to a lot of different sources for immediate coverage AND alternative opinions and in some cases more trustworthy reporting. Think about Twitter: you get hundreds of eyewitness reports in the form of tweets, which are too small for much more than the facts – the who, what, when, where, and why newspapers are supposed to be covering.

Now, people have the challenge, like Justin said, of filtering the tweets (and blog posts etc) from people they already know they agree with, or they know are trustworthy, down to the most interesting commentary or, as Justin says, the most actionable piece of information to save time.

A reporter, then, has the task of finding a field they specialize in; Congressional politics, for example. That reporter spends her time reading Senators’ tweets, pundits’ blogs, and even working her beat to get the raw information. Through networking and diligence, they can build an audience that is interested in what they have to say and eager to include them as they whittle down the places they get their news from dozens to a handful. As long as that reporter (or organization) continues to provide interesting, original, actionable (I like that word), and most importantly relevant information, people will look at her website, see her advertiser’s ads, and even pay content.

And here comes a brilliant analogy:

Think about your car. You might have one or two gas stations you go to for gas because they are convenient; they are on your route to work maybe. But you go to a certain local garage whenever you need to get your oil changed because you trust the mechanics not to overcharge you and to educate you if they see something you need to know about. But maybe you don’t go there for new tires. You go to specialty tire store that has a wider variety in stock and better prices because they have better buying power.

You go a website like Politico that specializes in Congressional news and has a great deal of sway in that industry.

Make sense? Do you agree? Neither?

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