Featured - Written by Mark Drapeau on Thursday, September 3, 2009 9:30 - 3 Comments
Intelligently Filtering Journalists’ (Crowd)Sources
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Mark Drapeau is an adjunct faculty member in the School of Media and Public Affairs of The George Washington University in Washington, DC. He is also a corporate and government advisor, and a contributing writer for Federal Computer Week, Washington Life, and other publications.)
Readily available transparent communications are changing how people form and use social networks in their personal lives. When anyone with a phone can instantly publish every moment of their lives in real-time, flirtations, relationships, and other personal interactions increasingly play out right before our eyes. The “new paparazzi” are amateurs armed with smartphones capable of real-time, transparent reporting on anything they see, anytime, anywhere. Ten years ago, mobile phones were relatively uncommon, yet tweens now demand unlimited texting, mobile maps, and three megapixel cameras. Highly mobile, entirely digital, completely transparent, real-time gonzo reporting isn’t on the average person’s mental radar just yet. But how long will that last?
Emerging new media technology has resulted in an enormous rise in visibility of real (and imagined) niche subject matter experts who draw greater attention to their knowledge than ever before, and hence accumulate audience share in a competitive information marketplace. They are interviewing their friends at private parties, filming television networks filming “reality” shows, and opining on every topic under the sun. And they’re often closer to the disaster scene, premiere event, or other topic of interest than the mainstream media. When the media is outside the exclusive event and Ashton Kutcher is interviewing his friends using Twitter and UStream inside it, who’s the subject-matter expert? Who’s the reporter?Objective, removed experts are increasingly victims of the phenomenon that David Weinberger describes as “transparency becoming the new objectivity.” The notion of objectivity – the journalistic authority with credentials you can trust without looking into matters any further – has been undone in a new virtual world of hyperlinks and microsharing. Now, audiences want to see where authorities’ ideas came from, see the references they link to, and look at their online social networks. Then they’ll decide as a network of readers who is authoritative, objective, biased, smart, and influential – or not. Credentials will continue to be important when building authority and influence in journalism, but they will probably cease to be sufficient.
In a world where transparency is the new objectivity, audiences increasingly want to get information from accessible, authentic, gonzo subject matter experts. In a recent post I coined the term “bantamweight publishing” to describe the Web posting of globally-accessible information in extremely short bursts. Collectively, this is called “citizen journalism.,” but I think tweeting about Derek Jeter eating at Nobu is behaviorally no different than texting my friend about it. Citizen journalists are nothing more than universal sources.
What has changed is that they are free, real-time, locally global sources that everyone in the world has access to. The information these universal sources share with their bantamweight publishing is archived, and therefore accessible, searchable, discoverable, and easily repurposeable. Audiences are increasingly failing to distinguish the differences between universal sources and the “authoritative” journalism trade. In the era of transparency and authenticity, people in the audience are effectively collecting raw data, conducting mental experiments, and drawing conclusions of their own about what is and is not news. However, when planes crash, flu spreads, and protests rage, one thing hardly anyone knows the answer to is: Which raw sources can I trust? Mainstream media can help to answer that question.
Amateur universal sources will only get more talented and prominent with newer technology, experimentation, and practice. So how can mainstream media survive in an environment where universal sources are giving away the milk for free? An enormous emerging market that large media companies can enter is intelligently collating, analyzing, and presenting real-time and right-time information from millions of universal sources for their readers. When transparency is the new objectivity, media brands can gain credibility with, and provide value to, audiences by doing what lone amateurs cannot: providing a combination of massive analysis, high-quality packaging, and authoritative marketing.
It used to be that people would trust the news from Walter Cronkite. In the near future, people may trust the news that CBS distills from a million distributed Walter Cronkite wannabes.
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