Paradigm Shift: News is Community

newspaper (noun) (pl. -apers): a community website, with articles as the objects people interact around.

Is blogging journalism? Is it ruining journalism? What do the “professionals” do with the “audience” when every member of that audience can broadcast themselves to each other – without us?

You could ask: what’s the point in having journalists at all, in that situation?

And many people are.

But I think that’s missing the point. Blogging is a symptom of a massively connected public. And that public’s nature necessitates a fundamental change in the way news org’s behave, whether print or broadcast. (The distinction is little more than a historical curio at this point, anyhow).

Adam Tinworth got it right when he said that blogging isn’t a publishing process: it’s a community strategy. Blogging isn’t about getting on a hilltop and blasting your view out over the plebs. Not successful blogging, anyhow. That sort of narcissistic stuff tends to die quick, leaving little in its wake except a bad name for blogs.

Good blogs, on the other hand, are conversations – reactions, counter-arguments, rebuttals, fields of links and connections to other people’s thoughts – all parts of an interdependent communal thought process.

The internet is good at community. You could say that’s what the internet does: it connects people to each other in a rich way. As Adam points out, the reason Flickr is so successful isn’t because it’s a photo site. It’s a community site, with photos as the objects people interact around. Ditto eBay – the site’s whole success is predicated upon the creation of a trusted community of buyers and sellers. Community is built into these sites, and that’s why they’re so successful.

Community is what the internet does.

The internet enables networked communication: the many talking to the many. Just look at alexa’s list of the world’s top 100 websites.  The top 10 are Yahoo!, Google, YouTube, Windows Live (Hotmail), MSN, Myspace, Wikipedia, Facebook, Yahoo Japan, and Blogger.

Notice that all these are about connecting to other people?

Even Google gets part of its popularity from gmail, and increasingly from shared tools like calendar and documents that enable collaboration and communication.

This is in contrast to broadcasting/publishing, in which the few can talk to the many, but the many don’t really get to add anthing.

Well, now we can take it farther.

News itself, in a networked world, doesn’t have to be a publishing process.

News can be a community.

You don’t have to run a community alongside a news organisation. In a networked world, running a news organisation is running a community. News is a community, with news items (articles, video, etc.) as the objects people gather around. Some of those can be supplied by pros, some supplied by the wider community.

But those wider community members will be participating because the news organisation has created an attractor for them: a place where people congregate.

You could see news organisations defining themselves in this way. They’re already social networks, in a way. Talk to anyone in the UK and they’ll tell you what a ‘Sun reader’ or a ‘Guardian reader’ or an ‘Independent reader’ is like. Even how they’re likely to vote.

Other newspapers are communities with identities, too – often, but not neccessarily, geographically defined. The Birmingham Post says: “Nobody knows Birmingham like we know Birmingham. Come here to find out what the buzz is in this city.”

The New Yorker is a geography and social status community, saying “This is what’s going on in the mind of the cultured, the swanky and the sophisticated in New York City. Come here if you want to find out all that’s happening in that sphere.”

Fox News and BBC News are both saying that they see the world in a partuiclar way, inviting like-minded people to join them – and now, to join actively in that community.

Journalists do have a place in that community, because they do nothing but harvest and curate information, and this gives them context and perspective. But they are by no means the best-informed members of that community, especially when it comes to specific stories. The people actually involved will tend to know more than the journalists covering it (that’s why we interview people a lot).

Which goes back to Jeff Jarvis’ maxim: do what you do best, link to the rest.

In the past, journalists weren’t good community members. But they did provide fuel for community interactions (Roy Greenslade):

we spent our lives dominating conversations. No, that’s wrong of course. We did not converse at all. We lectured. We provided the information that people feasted on in order to hold their own conversations.

All this conversational activity happened out outside the sphere, and usually outside the knowledge, of the  journalists who fuelled it.

That’s all gone – obsolete as a town crier reading a Royal Proclamation. Now we can provide places for people to have particular kinds of conversations. In the same place, we can give them the information they’ll need to have an informed discussion, with all the facts at hand.

[Thanks to Kevin for the 1337 linkage that inspired this one. ]

UPDATE: In the US, the NPR’s Bryant Park Project seems to have been doing exactly this – building a community, using current affairs as a focus. It was killed recently, due to internal politics probably quite similar to those described here. Strange Attractor has posted several comments by NPR listeners lamenting the loss of the Bryant Park Project – it makes for interesting reading.

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2 thoughts on “Paradigm Shift: News is Community

  1. Pingback: links for 2008-06-30 « Joanna Geary

  2. Pingback: peteashtondotcom » Paradigm Shift: News is Community

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