Oct 2, 2009

Traffic cops on the information superhighway*

James Rainey landed in the Googleplex (literally and figuratively) to hear talk about the future of journalism and came away educated and emboldened that journalism as he knows it will live on the new mediascape - he seems to embrace the curator model, whereby the experienced newsroom finds and fits together in a coherent package the most important pieces of information from the web:
But amid the celebration of the multiplicities, opportunities and creative chaos of the Web, one Google executive, Bradley Horowitz, also acknowledged that consumers might be drowning in media, e-mail and the "social stream."

"Tools are needed," he declared, "to preserve your most precious asset: your attention."

So maybe, even in the age of Google, consumers are looking for someone to help cut through all the clutter to get at the important facts.

Sounds to me like they're looking for a journalist.
To be sure, the need for web editors will increase, but it's not the kind of work that's going to automatically save many journalism jobs.

There's also an issue of shifting standards and ethics. As new models emerge for delivery and digestion of news, so do new concepts for what constitutes good journalism. Already we have newspaper reporters and editors who happily sell their opinions about issues they cover. Only a few years ago they'd be fired, now they're celebrated for building "brand" identity. Will they crowd out the seemingly boring, unbranded types who want to tell it straight? Because old-school journalism isn't always the thing that attracts the most attention - turn on any television news broadcast if you don't believe me.

Still, the fact that the Internet does not have a finite number of channels or territory that can be bought up and controlled by corporate suits means that readers and writers can experiment. Hopefully many of them will come to the conclusion that watchdog journalism*, done without fear or favor, deserves our attention.

*Updated 10/4: A Pew survey finds the majority of Americans (62 percent) still support the watchdog role of the media - even though only a minority of readers (29 percent) believe the media gets the facts straight. It's no surprise that a more fragmented and opinionated media would lead to low levels of trust - it's a bit like Congress, which is hated nationally even though most incumbents get returned to office. It's as if the media these days represent factions of fact.

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