Journalism: Filtering, interpretation, context

It’s a long read, but there’s a thoughtful piece in the Columbia Journalism Review about what newspapers should be doing to not just survive but prosper in the current media environment, and if you’re interested in that kind of thing I highly recommend it. It isn’t the usual obituary, with details about newspaper layoffs and so on — instead, it makes the argument that the essential duty of any kind of quality media publication right now is to help people filter the vast amounts of information that they are exposed to every day, and to interpret it, provide context, etc.

The central thesis, as I see it, is that there are already enough sources of instantaneous information, whether it’s Perez Hilton and TMZ or the Drudge Report (which 37signals recently posted a nice analysis of). Competing on that basis, the author says, isn’t the way to add long-term value or to create a successful new media industry, nor is simply scrambling for as many eyeballs as possible in order to sell them to advertisers. Instead, media outlets should be trying to find ways of adding more context, analysis and tools that help readers make sense of the information around them.

“The greatest hope for a healthy news media rests as much on their ability to filter and interpret information as it does on their ability to gather and disseminate it. If they make snippets and sound bites the priority, they will fail. Attention—our most precious resource—is in increasingly short supply. To win the war for our attention, news organizations must make themselves indispensable by producing journalism that helps make sense of the flood of information that inundates us all.”

Towards the end of the article, the author quotes Michael X. Delli Carpini, the dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, saying: “I think in some ways, we need a better metaphor. The gatekeeping metaphor worked pretty well in the twentieth century, but maybe what news organizations should be now is not gatekeepers so much as guides. You don’t want gatekeepers that can say you can get this and you can’t get that. You want people who can guide you through all this stuff.”

Read the whole article.

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