Long post alert!
As is patently obvious from this blog and my other work, I’m a big supporter of crowdsourcing and citizen journalism, wikis and collaboration. Not just a cheerleader, but a practitioner. But I’m also a concerned citizen looking beyond the cool factor Digg, and the amazing possibilities of ‘knowledge’ aggregators, and the Twitter stream of consciousness. I am awed by the new trends in journalism such as spot.us, yet I can’t resist picking up a newspaper.
The big question I ask myself, and am asked by others, is if our addiction to instant gratification, and near-ubiquitous access to content is making us more informed, and … more shallow? Is the blogosphere accelerating a trend where consumers grow up on a diet of context-free data, pinging on the walls of interconnected echo-chambers? What’s that Eliot quote? “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
Less than two years ago, Pew Research published findings from a study it conducted to see how crowd-sourced news differs from the news that editors of media organizations put together.
It found that:
- There was a big difference –that “many of the stories users selected did not appear anywhere among the top stories in the mainstream media coverage.”
- 70% of the stories users selected, came from blogs or Web sites such as YouTube and WebMd.
- Recommended stories focused more on “news you can use” (such as advice from the WHO health advice etc)
Most concerning was this. It found that “Despite claims that the Web would internationalize consumers’ news diets, coverage across the three user-news sites focused more on domestic events and less on news from abroad than the mainstream media that week.”
When people do make choices of what news to stay on top of, they found that:
- They seek it form sites that do not focus on ‘news’ per se.
- Most stories they chose had very little follow up, and appeared only once, never to be repeated
- They tended to choose news that was more sensational in nature, with a heavy dose of crime and celebrity
But having said that, citizen-based media is not the end of newspapers –and good journalism– as we know it. A more recent study by Pew (the Project for excellence in Journalism) on the state of the media in 2008 found that citizens are playing a bigger part in news produced by ‘legacy media’ but citizen sites were few. Rather, citizens are being used more as sources than reporters.
What does this all mean? To me it’s not all that discouraging.
- Legacy media is just sampling what it means to empower the hoi polloi to fill the news hole; this tricky experiment is ongoing. Citizen sites are providing the kick in the butt for this trend, even through they aren’t kicking too hard.
- The news we choose may land in our RSS reader, not on our doorstep, but not in the way we can taste it now. Very soon some smart media organization is going to learn how to package legacy content and citizen content, blend the ‘Dugg’ stories with those reported by solid journalists, and deliver both.
- Unless a new type of journalism is taught in schools, the new journalism (content and delivery systems) will be a long time coming. The good news: Digital journalism is being taught in many places. Editors and publishers are taking on issues such as hyperlocal news, free vs fee, the semantic web
Rupert Murdock’s attempt to charge for online content, including content from NewsCorp’s newspapers and TV channels may be a flawed move, but it has woken everyone up.
(Incidentally, that story was also reported by Newser, an “online news service that adds human intelligence to machine-driven aggregation”)