Gone are the days of mass media. Today, with massive amounts of news and information available in the media and journalism landscape, people can pick and choose what they will consume and what they can ignore. This raises some important issues for journalists, the creators of news and viewers, the consumers of news and the advertisers who pay to have their name attached to news and content. The most important question is how the personalized and segmented news and information landscape affects the quality of news produced and the intelligence of the news consumer.
Thirty years ago, the news landscape was relatively homogenous. There were publications and magazines devoted to a myriad of topics but the central news gathering source was the traditional newspapers, television and radio news. Accessing fringe information or niche information was a complicated process and most people where content to be informed by the massive traditional media and their monotone message.
The tidal shift away from one message all started to change in 1980 when CNN was founded. That was the genesis of the 24-hour streaming news cycle. CNN smashed the old model of newspapers in the morning and nightly news. Now, information and news was available streaming and at the fingertips to anyone with a television and an interest.
To diagnose the effects and meaning of what is happening, it is important to know exactly what is going on. According to a study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, the amount of news that people consume nowadays is at its highest amount in recent years. I believe this is because news is so personalized and thus more interesting to readers. People spend 70 minutes consuming news every day. The people surveyed got news from a combination of sources. Television news is number one with 32 percent of people getting news there. Another important finding was that people “graze” for news, meaning they pick up news here and there, rather than at specific times. This could lead to more informal news consumption across a variety of sources.
Not surprisingly, the Pew studies showed online sources of news are growing in popularity. RSS feeds and other similar technologies allow users to pull in their news rather than have news networks push it out to you. RSS feeds, or Real Simple Syndication feeds have been around since the late 90s but gained popularity in 2004 to 2005. Today, there are 546,069 feeds serving millions of people.
RSS feeds lead having what you want in one place. Other similar technologies like iGoogle and other personalized homepages accomplish the same thing. They give you all the news you need in one location and consequently ignore news that doesn’t effect you.
There are some case studies to look at to see the success and effects of hyper-personalized news. EveryBlock is a news website that as the name implies gives local information for the block or neighborhood that they are on. Giving the citizens control of news leads personalized news, because that person could be your neighbor. This creates a broader description of what news is. The creator, Adrian Holatvy said in his New York Times interview that “We have a very liberal definition of what is news. We think it’s something that happens in your neighborhood.” This definition encompasses blogs, local citizen journalists and everyone in between. Using sites like EveryBlock or similar sites gives readers a more personal local but also possibly less professional product. This is because there is less editing between the word being written by the journalist and being read by the reader.
Twitter, a social platform originally intended to update friends on the mundane everyday events or thoughts has evolved into a strong news platform. Users choose whom they follow and get updates from so this is the personification of personal news. Its affect was seen during the shootings at UT on September 27th. People followed each other and local outlets to get a more complete view of information than if they would have followed a mass media company like CNN or CBS. In the Pew Study, it showed that over 60 percent of people have gotten news from social networking, so this informal linking of people is an important news conduit.
Blogs provides much of the content for personalized news. In Journalism Next, Mark Briggs describes the process for creating a blog and why it has become so popular for some. He says that a more personal tone and clear topics make blogs succeed. The most important part of a blog is looking at what the readers want. This pull of information rather than the push of information is important. In previous years we got what the news was from the big networks. Now, readers decide what is news and what they will consume.
It is critical to look at the consequences of personalized news. The proliferation of entertainment news is prime consequence of the personalization of news gone wild. Entertainment sites often get more viewers than hard news. The number of searches on Google in the United States for Lady Gaga is more than for Barack Obama according to the Google Hot Trend comparison that I created. The number of news stories regarding the two still favors Obama but looking at the chart shows that the difference is getting smaller over time. This is just one small example, but the trend could be extrapolated to the culture on the whole.
The personalization of news could affect civic journalism. If no one’s personalized feed or news as the city council on it, there might not be money to pay reporters to cover it. This could in turn lead to more politician malfeasance because with no watchdog, those in power could act without consequence. Could Watergate have been uncovered if Woodward and Bernstein did not have the support both financially and professionally to cover the story? Maybe so, but that support for civic journalism could erode as funds for traditional news media diminish and personalized news coverage takes hold.
The United States has never been very interested in international news. Personalized news exacerbates this. A prime example is the Pakistan flood. There was little citizen interest because the disaster is happening so far and away and so little coverage. In the article by Mira Veda, she points that because of this, there has been insufficient aid from the US to help in relief efforts in Pakistan’s flood-hit regions.
On the other side, personalized news can give people more information about topics that the mass media may not think the public wants. This is shown in another Pew Study that showed blogs covering science more than traditional news. Blogs fill in the gaps and give people personalized and niche news that mass sources might miss. This positive side of personalization is echoed in the overall completeness of the news consuming experience. In previous decades, stories could have been missed by the whole and then seen by few. Now, the news landscape allows stories to be forever present and always available.
In the end, it is all about choice. Journalists should not dictate to the viewers what they should read. It should happen in an organic, cyclical process. Quality journalism should stoke interest and action, and interest should promote journalism. Personalized news does not need to be the death of news but rather a reinvention of what news is. With ever expanding information, journalists are in a prime position to capture the public attention and inform.
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