News Ecosystem
The News Ecosystem according to Steve Johnson. Click for a larger version.

Steven Johnson, co-founder of outside.in, gave a very good, well thought out, speech at SXSW on the state of the news industry last week. In the transcript on his blog, he shares a slide on how he envisions the future of the news industry.

Steven has a good, albeit simplistic break down of how this new paradigm is working. I'm sure I agree with the flow of the information News → Commentary → Curation → Distribution. Seems to me that you'd have to distribute before you can get comments back, and that you'd need to curate the commentary… Forget it, the the chart is simplistic.

Steven does have the right context for this though:

Now there’s one objection to this ecosystems view of news that I take very seriously. It is far more complicated to navigate this new world than it is to sit down with your morning paper. There are vastly more options to choose from, and of course, there’s more noise now. For every Ars Technica there are a dozen lame rumor sites that just make things up with no accountability whatsoever.

I agree whole heartily with his point and I like the broad strokes of his chart. But, I suggest that this diagram far too simple to describe the new paradigm.

As Steven says, “The implied motto of every paper in the country should be: all the news that’s fit to link.” What his model is missing is the intricacies of linking, how data will be distributed to not only the customer, but among all of those gathering and generating news.

Hypothesizing on the new newsflow

newsflow
Licensed under Creative Commons. Click for a larger version.

Yea… not as easy to understand right? I’ve got arrows going all over the place, and there’s not clear rhyme or reason to the way information flows. My apologies, these relationships are chaotic and often have many nodes. Let me make the key points:

Data is key. As Tim Berners Lee has predicted, the future of the web is “linked data.” This is is something that Steven addresses, but only briefly. As the semantic web becomes reality, displaying and accessing data will become the important role for journalism to fill.

Everything from interactive graphics that can harness user input, to graphics that utilize government databases to inform, to sites that crowdsource their reporting are possible with the semantic web. As we begin to realize this method of information gathering, the way journalists are able to report will drastically change. We live in an information economy, information is the prime resource.

Facebook is hyperlocal. I’m no fan of Facebook. I think it’s a huge time suck for a lot of social information that inundates me with gossip and other useless facts. But, then, I’m anti-social . (Kidding, I just hate gossip, small talk, and kittens.)

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Second Life, etc… have a wealth of personal, relevant, hyperlocal news for customers. Figuring out the best way of getting this highly personalized information to the customer will help to create the ultimate aggregator.

The crowd can do breaking news faster than you. Twitter taught us that one. Nothing beats having a man on the ground …except having all the men on the ground. Breaking news will be brought to you by … you. We’re going to need newsorgs to curate that data and turn it into an easily digestible form for the consumer. That’s going to take the rise of the semantic web to be able to do well. But we’re already starting.

Don’t forget about the original social network. Steven didn’t: “viral word of mouth” was his term for it. When something happens, people talk about it. Nowadays, this includes sharing links on a facebook wall, but you can’t underestimate the need for people to actually talk to each other.

For this reason, we’re still going to need a physical object to show each other. That may be a print product of some kind. More likely, it’s a mobile device like the iphone, kindle, or some yet to be invented mid-size screen that is easier to use than the laptop.

Whatever the product is, newsorgs need to remember to have short, eye-catching content that can be talked about and interacted with in a group.

Newsflow is complex, and not perfect

There are a few flaws with my diagram above (aside from it being hard to understand). It is, clearly, incomplete. There are many sites and new sources out there I either didn’t think of, or didn’t fit.

Of course, the chart doubles some things up. Consumers are all colored orange, but ideally, should be one bubble. Too bad computer screens aren’t 3D (also too bad I’m not good enough in Flash/Maya to pull that off).

Nonetheless, as newsorgs are adapting to this way of distributing information (with special thanks to the letters W, W, and W), they’ll find themselves relying increasingly on their own customers to provide them with the all important piece: data.

Newsflow: How Journalism Is and Will Be Generated

Joey Baker

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I write code most days. Prevously: photojournalist, EMT. Somewhat obsessed with jouralism.