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Want to understand how journalism and social computing will fit together? Imagine life in a medieval village 3/27/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in SocialComputing.
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There’s been a lot of overheated, pseudo-intellectual debate about how journalists will ultimately relate to our now-wired citizens, and it has spawned some pretty silly ideas, including “citizen journalism.” But, it’s really quite simple. Imagine you and your community were “unplugged.” No, I mean really unplugged, going back in time before the steam engine and the industrial revolution. Keep going, until before the printing press was invented. You are sitting in a medieval village. Now ask yourself — where will you get your news?

In your village, news is spread by word of mouth, but some mouths are worth more than others. There are those who are news leaders — who tend to set the news agenda and spread it to the most people. These include those who know things before anyone else, those who are unusually entertaining, those with specific and valuable knowledge, those who spread malicious gossip that we find impossible to resist, and those whose charisma attracts a sub-community. But note that you don’t have to be a news leader to be part of the news — just about everyone is a sender and receiver of news.

Now, fast-forward to today’s New York Times where we learn that a speech made by Obama, largely ignored by mainstream media, spread like wildfire among young people in blogs and social networking sites like Facebook. Suddenly, we’re back in an era where everyone is a sender and receiver of news. More importantly, we are now in an era where everyone can compete for a coveted position as a news leader. This is a serious, if not fatal, problem for an Old Media that insists that the only way to get news is from those with an authoritative, holier-than-thou style, who believe that sensationalism is beneath them, who overstate their ability to deliver truth, and who can’t tell the difference between their center-left bias and a hole in the ground. Would you choose to listen to that insufferable bore, or a singing, colorfully-dressed minstrel? Or to put it another way, Old Media is stuck in the Dark Ages as we enter the Renaissance.

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