Which way are we going to go?

The future of news and info – defined by us or by someone else?

On a whim and with little prep time, I submitted an info-graphic project I worked on while in Timor-Leste for an international information design competition. Low and behold, my project was selected by the Jury to be one of the selected projects for the IIID Award and it might even be featured in the IIIDaward Book. Even though I wasn’t chosen as one of the winners of the Award, I’m glad I entered the comp and got as far as I did.

This experience and my thoughts from a previous post, made me think about how we currently access news and information and what’s in store for the future. What I found was (not) surprising.

First there was BBC deciding to lay off some of its staff for online ‘Refocusing’ and then I stumbled on this paper from a conference organized by the BBC College of Journalism on the “The Future of Journalism”.

The paper is one of the most insightful reads on the topic I’ve come across… I devoured the 90-page document in a 30-minute train ride to Lausanne. In it, the document highlights 8 topical essays:

  1. The End of Fortress Journalism
  2. Introducing Multimedia to the Newsroom
  3. Multimedia Reporting in the Field
  4. Dealing with User-Generated Content: is it worth it?
  5. Video Games: a new medium for journalism
  6. The audience and the news
  7. Delivering Multiplatform Journalism to the Mainstream
  8. Death of the Story

The two most interesting essays I read were the first and last. They basically explained that the old way of journalism and news reporting have changed – they’ve transitioned to user-generated content, using multimedia and online mediums, and emphasizing that the public has the freedom and accessibility to find the news they want.

An experimental news aggregator

In the End of Fortress Journalism, Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC World Service, says that the public can now flip between different types of news and may never be aware of which “fortress” he/she is getting his/her news from – so they are not dependent on only one source of information. He also says that journalists need to change the way they work, and improve in understanding their audience news habits, blogging, Twitter, and multimedia production. With the public being able to tailor their news habits, it’s probably wise that journalists and communication professionals be able to support these users, rather than organize the world in the way they prefer.

The best essay of the lot is Death of the Story, written by Kevin March, Editor of the BBC College of Journalism, who basically said that the ‘The Story’ which traditional journalism relied on to tell a story is dead.

The web is enabling our former audiences to come to their news in their ways at their times. Our old image of gripping them with our stories is no more.

He’s not predicting the death of narrative, or of telling a story… instead he refers to the journalistic interpretation of ‘the story’, a very formal thing with rules so that ‘journalists’ can teach those rules. According to March, in the world of ‘the story’, news is when journalists say it is. However with the growing use of the internet to access news and information, people are more use to getting what they want, when they want.

Each and every one of our former audiences has their own news cycle. If it’s new to them, it’s new. We don’t know how long a tail the web has it hasn’t been around long enough yet. But it’s long and as long as stuff is there, it’s new to someone… Proximity is the watchword on the web if it’s close to me, I’ll take an interest. If it’s not, who cares? I don’t need to.

Which way are we going to go?
Which way are we going to go?

His final thoughts touches on things relevant for both journalists and communication professionals – to rethink the cycles of information. We need to get used to the idea that multiplying information is more important than filtering it, paring it down, or reducing and selecting to make it fit our story. Deadlines are a thing of the past – news and information is always new for someone. And, more importantly for me, that we need to look at timelines that link events and information; graphics that make sense of big patterns over time; and tools that mine the data out there to understand a more complete picture.

If you want more after reading this conference paper, check out this BBC video of journalists and experts talking about the issue.

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