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News is a network

Jeff Jarvis has a terrific, provocative post about the narcissism of newspapers in which he discusses a number of myths. The discussion afterwards is also really inte)resting. Here’s the comment I posted there (with a minor edit or two, all of which can really be reduced to the title of this post:

Terrific post and discussion. Thanks, Jeff.

May I add one more, related, myth to your collection, Jeff? Here goes: That it’s possible to cover the day’s events.

This is just a different way of putting your formulation “One man’s [sic] noise is another man’s news.” But I think it’s worth calling out since the promise of sufficiency is a big part of traditional newspapers’ promise of value to us: “Read us once in the morning, and after going through our pages, you will know everything you need to know.” (Do radio stations still make the ridicule-worthy “Give us 8 minutes and we’ll give you the world?” claim.) Yeah, no newspaper would ever maintain that claim seriously if challenged — they know better than their readers (or at least they used to) what they’re leaving out — but it’s at the base of the idea that reading a paper is a civic duty. The paper doesn’t give us everything but it gives us enough that reading one every day makes us well-informed citizens.

The notion that newspapers give you your daily requirement of global news — which works out to wondering, along with Howard, if there is such a thing as “news” — seems to me to be as vulnerable as the old idea of objectivity. Like objectivity: (1) It’s presented as one of the basic reasons to read a newspaper; (2) it hides the fact that it’s based on cultural values; and (3) it doesn’t scale well in the age of the Net.

Ultimately, this myth is enabled – as so many of the myths of news and knowledge are — by paper. Take away the paper and the newspaper doesn’t become a paperless newspaper. It becomes a network. That’s what’s happening now, IMO. From object to network … and networks are far far harder to “monetize” (giving myself a yech here) than objects.

(By the way, this is what I was trying to ask in the question I horribly botched at PDF. Sigh.)

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4 Responses to “News is a network”

  1. Great and essential question. It’s the rug and you’re pulling it.

    And you didn’t botch bupkis at PDF. You were great.

  2. Related, but from a different viewpoint, you may enjoy my recent column:

    “Far too often, new media serves up popularity without accuracy”

    “There’s an old joke: in heaven the police are British, the mechanics German, the cooks French, the lovers Italian, and the Swiss organise it. In hell the police are German, the mechanics French, the cooks British, the lovers Swiss, and the Italians organise it. An internet version might be: in theory, topic experts would supply our information, social networks would connect us for common humanity, and Google would organise it for authority. In practice, we get our information from the most attention-driven sites, social networks bundle us for marketing, and Google organises it for ad sales.”

  3. A prosaic point, fwiw: as much as the diagnoses of narcissism and paperiety are relevant to print news orgs these days, in fairness let it be said that at one time these orgs were at the cutting edge of technology that transmitted news across large swatches of space. It was a long time ago, admittedly, but the ingenuity that allowed information (of interest to merchants, mostly) to move rapidly and without corruption through space involved ink and paper.

    So at one time, long ago, in a galaxy etc., it was literally true that you could read the paper and be set for the day. As set as anyone except perhaps Cosimo de’Medici could be.

    If news print folks still think this way, it might not be a matter of (merely) narcissism, but, like the impermeable image that parents have of their offspring as young innocent creatures – an image that persists long beyond it’s referential validity – they simply have failed to notice the news about themselves.

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