Thursday, March 17, 2011

An end to self-contained news?

I was inspired by Felix Salmon's recent comparison of blog writing to traditional journalism to consider whether the shift is aiding or hindering our ability to stay informed about the news.
From Salmon's blog:
Traditional media outlets, by contrast [to blogs], generally have an incomprehensible love affair with Microsoft Word... It’s generally more difficult to insert links, especially when I’m dealing with people who edit for print first and who then just put that edited copy up online. The pieces have to be much more self-contained, and you have to be much more careful about assuming any kind of expertise on the part of your readers: if they’re reading your stuff on paper, then it’s much harder for them to Google anything they don’t understand.
Increasingly we're seeing the major news outlets embrace the blogger approach to the news, using social media tools to harness. The most recent example is today's New York Times decision to structure its pay wall so that shared links on Facebook and Twitter will still be accessible. One of my favorite mainstream uses of social media is the BBC World Service which uses its Have your Say forum as a way to get first-person accounts of global events and varying political and religious opinions which it then sites and uses in its news, radio and television coverage. It's a modern extension of a news tip hotline but due to the global nature of its audience has an amazing reach that spans its 24-hour news cycle. A third example of just how ubiquitous social media and blogs have become to news reporting is the launch of Google Realtime and the search engine's use of blog posts and Twitter feeds next to larger media sources.

Do we give anything up by using a mass of often anonymous or unveiled sources to get the latest information? Though I have heard several arguments against crowd-sourcing its benefits outweigh any concerns of misinformation or libel. Namely this is because in addition to the ability of accessing ongoing updates to any issue from all over the globe, the depth of any story or issue that becomes available is phenomenal. As Salmon points out on the web one can instantly search for more information or explore related links.

Today's social media world is a bit like Orwell's Animal Farm,
all sources are equal but some are more equal than others. Big publishing names, trusted bloggers and the recommended links from your friends are the the winning sources.

So what's next for social news reporting? So if news sites are now custom serving content, using anonymous web sources and choosing their headliners based on what's most popular - where do we go from here in terms of crowd-sourcing? More importantly, when it comes to information is it ok to give the people only what they want? There's arguably a 10:1 ratio of Charlie Sheen articles to those on sustainable agriculture. How do we maintain the balance between interesting information and useful information? In the future will every story come with a litany of opinion, reaction, re-reaction and YouTube parodies?

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