What’s happening to the news and what will it become?

May 19, 2009

You have to be living under a rock to not be aware that we are living in one of the largest shifts in media, public information and news. The speed of the transition is probably unprecedented. Will newspapers go away forever? Will radio, cable tv and local television news survive; if they do, in what form? The Economist this week has an article called “The Rebirth of News.” While the headline is far more optimistic than the content of the article would warrant, there are some very significant aspects of the change that are revealed.

– As major papers like the Seattle PI and San Francisco Chronicle go under, “people under 30 won’t even notice.”

– Young people (18-24) according to Pew reporting they got any news the previous day dropped from 34% ten years ago to 25% today. Does this mean young people aren’t getting news and don’t care what is going on? I doubt it. But I would guess than the “news” or relevant information they get is being mediated now not so much by major news outlets but through the complex network of social interactions that this group has through social media tools. Watching fast breaking stories roll through Twitter is revealing.

– Major news outlets still have not figured out a new business model that will sustain them as the old print and broadcast products go away. Wall Street Journal may be closest by offering the flashy, general info free but charging a premium for more specific, high interest categories.

– Mircopayments, now being explored on many fronts, may offer some hope.

– Enhanced mobile devices optimized for reading such as new iphones and Amazon’s Kindle may breathe some life into traditional journalism (but I doubt a whole lot)

Overall, I think the Economist downplayed the most significant thing happening in news–the democratization of journalism. While many decry it and it has some very significant downsides as lack of accountability, but there are some significant upsides as well. We have seen in active blog and wikipedia that when a broadbase group gets involved, the truth will emerge from the process. Maybe like making sausage but while the process may be ugly, I happen to really like sausage–the result is quite good.

Another point missed here is that a new form of professional journalist has emerged. There are now more than 400,000 people in the US making a living as bloggers. Those are 400,000 new paid “journalists” — not only that but there are millions of new news or information outlets. It is segmentation of the media to the extreme.

While the outlines of the shift are becoming more clear, what is not is what it really means for all of us. How is this affecting who we are and how we interact with each other? Do these changes work to bring us closer into community or do they work to divide us further? How does the new way we get our news impact our opinions and decision making about political choices, consumer choices and lifestyle choices? These are the interesting questions to me but I haven’t seen a lot of prognostication or analysis about it–yet. Any thoughts?

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