Thursday, 14 July 2011

Time for the news

With either very neat timing, or just missing a small crucial addition to the subject (viz. Murdoch's trials), The Economist has a very good special edition on the future of news. It has a couple of takes on the idea that "news" is actually "returning" to the more socially-oriented media from which it originated, and the mould for current mass-media news could be seen as just a "a phase" rather than a truly established method. The special report also looks at the "Foxification" of news – ie introducing, or re-introducing, opinionated news. (Here, in an otherwise interesting piece, it does seem momentarily to get lost between introducing opinion but combined with "fairness". But I'm not sure how "fair" and opinionated piece can be!)

Of course, social media is justifiably central to the coverage of the report. But I do think there is a slight sense of "scrambling" in general in analysis of news to get at what is and isn't relevant about social media to news. The section uses the social media reports around the death of Osama bin Laden. Yet the guy who tweeted the events as they happened did so accidentally (he didn't know what was going on and only his followers would have been aware that anything was happening even if not knowing what) and so the "news" aspect of the tweets was retrospective. And as Obama scheduled a presentation to the nation, twitterers wondered if it was to announce the death/capture of Ghaddafi or bin Laden. Hardly "news", it seems to me, just speculation before the news happened.

Not that I want to deny the impact of social- and new media in news – here in Japan after the tsunami, I got my news about radiation from sources all over the web, being unable to rely on old media, and got updates on others' status, reports and well-being via Facebook. (But many a tweet seemed too insignificant when I read them with a retrospective eye – not actually being an immediate follower of anyone. And the lauded Quakebook, for example – quickly assembled, first-person accounts of the quake from mostly non-professional writers – just isn't a good read however good its cause.)

It's just that I think credit is due social media in the news where it is due – random speculation about what Obama may be going to say in an hour's time surely can't be called news, while behind-the-lines mobile-phone videos and tweeted reports during, say, the Arab spring uprisings most definitely can.

But those are just thoughts on reading a coherent and worthwhile section. (Available online, though without its "special section" feel, of course.)

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