Newspapers as social networks
I'm feeling like the guy shouting on the stern of the Titanic. On Friday, when I was supposed to be finishing a column, I was furiously...
Seattle Times staff columnist
I'm feeling like the guy shouting on the stern of the Titanic.
On Friday, when I was supposed to be finishing a column, I was furiously pounding the keyboard in response to Mark Anderson's latest newsletter.
The Friday Harbor technology pundit and consultant said he's depressed by the news from papers, television and NPR.
Anderson went on to write an early obituary for newspapers. He predicted "news" will increasingly be seen as the activities of friends and others in your Web-linked groups (read: MySpace and Facebook).
" 'The news' is now being redefined as 'What have our/my group members done today?' and "How can I help them achieve their goals?' " he wrote.
Anderson wasn't just predicting the future, he was also pitching a premium news service he offers to technology executives.
He's also not the only one fed up with today's news business, but I think he exaggerates its demise.
Especially now. With the election and the Olympics, old media is showing off how far it has come online with blogging, real-time reports and interactivity.
We're also desperately seeking news and insights as the economy withers and wars in the Middle East are overshadowed by China and Russia strutting their power.
If they can figure out how to survive with fewer classified ads, newspapers should prosper.
For one thing, they already do what Anderson's talking about. They're a local network that's getting more social, using the Web to encourage conversations.
Consider social networking. Teens subscribed to MySpace to keep in touch with friends, college students spawned Facebook, and business people use LinkedIn to maintain contacts.
What do people subscribe to when they want to keep track of the people and place where they live?
News is being open-sourced. You can get it free or you can subscribe to a service.
It's hard to find time for news, especially if you have a job and family. That's why millions still pay for a concise daily report of what's happening locally and globally and in sports, business and the arts.
It's hard for media companies to talk up their service, though, when quality varies so much. It also seems dull compared with new tools for gathering your own news.
Another problem is the distorting effect of search and blogs. A former editor used to tell us to zig when others zag. That's great advice for reporters, unless they're joining blog circles and chasing Web rankings that reward pack journalism.
Anderson asked who really decides what is news nowadays. At newspapers, a group of people with different perspectives and backgrounds meets in the morning and the afternoon to discuss, debate and choose the most important stories to pursue and present.
We'll see if that approach continues as papers move online. There will probably be less vetting since talk is expensive, time-consuming and not based on metrics. Decisions could be automated, based on real-time Web statistics. Story placement could be done by contractors in an office a thousand miles away, the way commercial radio stations are now programmed.
But I shouldn't be holier-than-thou, since we've got to figure out a way to survive. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to post something about Paris Hilton sex scandals.
Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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