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The future of news takes a curious turn, returning us to practices from the Middle Ages. News outlets as news minstrels? 8/30/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Uncategorized.

A Wall Street Journal piece suggests something unprecedented is going on that is making it hard for news outlets to know exactly what to do to stem their declines. Fewer and fewer people seem to care about what these outlets have to say, or whether they even survive. BBC’s Jeremy Paxman is quoted saying, “we’ve gone from three channels to hundreds..the truth is this: the more television there is, the less any of it matters.” It’s worse than that. With millions and millions of news choices online, they matter even less.

MinstrelActually, this is not at all unprecedented — you just have to go back in time. WAY back, to the Middle Ages. People lived in contained villages and they could easily get, by word-of-mouth, the news that mattered to them most — news that directly affected them personally. They did not need journalists, who did not yet exist, or printing presses, which had not yet been invented. It was hard for even Kings to get a word-in edgewise. The best they could do was send special messengers who captured the public’s attention by making spectacles of themselves. These included colorfully-garbed minstrels who delivered the news to the assembled masses through poetry and song.

Soon, we will all be technologically-empowered word-of-mouth villagers. Independently, we will be able to get all the news we want, which will largely be about ourselves, friends, families, and our hyperlocal communities. We will consume news that reflects our own worldviews, aggregated by editors we trust. News outlets will turn to minstrel-hood, increasingly making spectacles of themselves to catch our attention with flashy multimedia, exclusive stories, and tales of hideous tragedies and the personal catastrophes of the rich and famous. The future of news may not be what we were expecting or hoping for. But for better or worse, we will soon be at its Renaissance.


1. Isaac van Deelen - 8/31/07

hopefully not! The argument misses two aspects, one, that we are living in a global society with global interdependencies even on the very personal level – so we need aggregated news anyway. And two, your painting in black and white, while there is any kind of grey in between, if not colours. Even if numerous newsfeeds would fade away, some (necessary, qualified, relliable … ) will survive. That’s the upcoming shake out now.

2. Steve Boriss - 8/31/07

Isaac, I agree that there will be global interdependencies. When I referred to “technologically-empowered word-of-mouth villagers,” I was factoring in that individuals would also be in contact with those around the globe who were meaningful to them, and know about stories that impacted them from there. And, there will also always be a need for news that does not directly affect individuals’ lives. It will just take up a smaller share of our news consumption. As far as these news feeds being “qualified, reliable,” I am envisioning a world of raw sources and trusted editors. See my piece “The Future of News” in the Permanent Articles in the top right of my home page.

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