Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reading news for confirmation

We are all experiencing a new world of news were we on our own, or within our communities, search for news using new interactive techologies. We are no longer fed news by some institution (commercial or public). Interactivity makes this "search and find" not only a possibility but a prefered way of getting news. It is fast, easy, and we get only the stuff we alreay know we are looking for and from sources we already trust and like. News becomes a personal confirmation system. I was reminded about this discussion by an article in an article in the New York Times today.

This is a case of a technological development where the technological development, experienced as positive small steps ahead, are seen as great and promising, but where we one day we may be asking ourselves "how did we end up here".

One of the most thoughtful books I have read about the relation between the new world of communities and news and information, is Cass Sunstein's book "the republic.com" and the new edition ("the republic.com 2.0"). Usually I am not pessimistic when it comes to technology, but when it comes to the topic of news, how news will be formed and delivered in the future, how we will "use" news, I am actually quite pessimistic. I am not sure that community technology is moving us in a good direction, but I hope I am wrong.

9 comments:

Christian Briggs said...

for those interested in this topic, there is a vigorous dialogue/debate between Cass Sunstein and Yochai Benkler from 2008 at http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/575

Arvind said...

Erik,
Really interesting article. Was surprised when I finished it and realized it was not one of your regular themes :)
My thoughts are more along 'is that really news?'. reading opinions vs news is different. newspapers try to report facts, rather than push their opinions. and it might be the failure of institutions that is resulting in this. I think it is a case of journalism reinventing itself and figuring out the best approach for new media. Good journalism will resolve this, dont you think? Right now, the large institutions are preoccupied with their failing old business model.
But then, you do say "we are no longer fed news by some institution". so, what am saying does not really apply?!

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Christian and Arvind

Thanks to both of you for your comments.

Thanks Christian for the link, it was great, I have whatched almost the whole thing! Sunstein has still my vote :-)

And Arvind, the problem as I see it is that the degree and presence of "good journalism" is being reduced. So, there might not be any counter "force" to the development I am seeing.....but that would otherwise be the what is needed!

Erik

adjwilli said...

I find myself in Arvind's position a lot, wondering whether some things TV news programs report on really are news worthy. One example that comes to mind is when the WXIN, the Fox station in Indianapolis, reports on American Idol during the local news. Again, that is a problem of the dearth of good journalism.

At the same time, with social media like Twitter and Facebook, we do receive news feeds. Yes, because they're social in nature, they reflect the biases of our preferred company. However, I'm not convinced that this is a necessarily a bad thing. The articles, links, statuses, and tweets of people in my social network are generally more likely to be of interest to me than what the news manager down at the local newspaper or station finds newsworthy.

I realize that because of that there is the danger of only receiving opinions that align with my own, but that isn't always the case. But there is also a certain advantage to this too because if something does come up in my social network that challenges my views, I'm more likely to respect that challenge since it comes from a source I trust enough to include in my social network.

For example, I generally lean to the left. If there is someone I don't know, ranting about unions being the problem with the auto industry, I almost immediately dismiss whatever they're saying. But if it's someone in my social network that I respect, I'll give their opinions more attention.

Kevin Makice said...

This is a dynamic system that is rapidly changing, responding to both cultural and technological changes in media. Prior to the Watergate years, there were few celebrity or business-centric news departments on television. Prior to the Cable television, news cycles were long enough to apply traditional practices. Prior to blogs and Twitter, only trained professionals dared contribute.

I think the danger is to see any of these periods in isolation, as if there were a correct way to report news. Issues of best practices, ethics, effectiveness, sustainability, etc permeate journalism through all of the changes, but the evaluation of these issues changes with the number and experience of its participants, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the media being used.

One likely consequence of the increased speed is that more people will learn to become discerning consumers. We no longer have to take what is fed to us from "authority" sources as the only picture of reality.

The entire conversation about citizen journalism has many parallels with HCI debates about research practices and user experience. Maybe we should start viewing news as iterative instead of absolute.

Arvind said...

But Kevin, isnt there a correct way to report news i.e. not an opinion. I recall a few days back when Jeff Jarvis (of Buzz Machine and CUNY) posted about the SF Chronicle(?) editor's guidelines. And the one that stood out was 'report facts'. not opinions. thus, there is a correct way to report news. i do not think the medium should change the message of news. the medium definitely affects (positively) AFTER the news is reported, by people interacting with it, with their opinions. But I am not sure I agree with there being no correct way to report news. And this might just be because I am not well-versed in journalism.

Dave said...

Interesting article and I agree with Kevin.

Arvind, you claim there is a correct way to report news, but I would argue that the "correct way to report news" is culturally constructed. And whether or not we think the medium should change the message, it does (atleast according to McLuhan & co).

Mary said...

I think the danger is to see any of these periods in isolation, as if there were a correct way to report news. Issues of best practices, ethics, effectiveness, sustainability, etc permeate journalism through all of the changes, but the evaluation of these issues changes with the number and experience of its participants, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the media being used.
Read the news in a whole new way

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.