Written some three months before I got to meet the peerless Josh Benton. Published on May 17, 2011.
I first noticed it a few months ago, when I read Joshua Benton’s “Eight Trends for Journalism in 2011,” a presentation by the young director of the Nieman Journalism Lab before the Canadian Journalism Foundation in January. In the last paragraph of a longish discussion about the seventh trend (“New front pages”), Benton took time to praise the BBC’s iPad app.
“And I think one of the brilliant elements of it is that when you launch the app, it doesn’t present you with a menu of options. It doesn’t say, ‘Here are 17 options, choose one.’ It’s not a choose-your-own-adventure. It immediately tells you, ‘This is where your adventure should start.’ It puts you in a story right away. You don’t [have to do] any action, you’re immediately pushed in. And then it becomes, ‘How do you navigate from story to story?’ Instead of going to a story, hitting the back button, going to look over the other menu of options, then going back again. The metaphor that exists on a lot of iPad apps in the news world is swiping from story to story. Which is a very similar experience to what you traditionally had in newspapers—seeing stories and being able to dive in right there.”
Precisely because it is very similar to the traditional newspaper reading experience, the new feature the BBC’s iPad application presents to the reader (and represents to the media observer) can be easily overlooked. But to those of us who straddle both the traditional and the digital, Benton’s insight prompted a double take. (I must say I like the BBC’s app very much; it is first in my page of news apps on the iPad.) Did he say the reader needn’t choose? But customization of the news experience was precisely what recommended the new Internet-based news sources, sharply differentiating them from the traditional newspaper or TV newscast. In fact, the catchphrase and template, coined by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte in 1995, was The Daily Me—meaning a virtual newspaper tailored to the taste of each individual reader.
A customized newspaper is possible primarily because, once we choose what type of news we want (for instance, just political and sports stories, no celebrity news, stock market updates, etc.), algorithms will do the rest of the work for us. In other words, computers and not human editors will find the stories we think we want to read.
Did Benton’s insight imply that old-school editing was back in favor, even in the various forms of online media? I didn’t pursue the implications then.
(For the benefit of the obsessive-compulsive, the other trends Benton identified were: Tivo for news; more sharing of content, in both directions; the singles model for news; we’ll do it live; big boom in smartphones; trimming back in nonprofits; a shift in Google results. I don’t have space to explain each, but the presentation, complete with graphics, is available at niemanlab.org.)
But the other day, I read a report from Mashable Connect 2011. “Gaining Authority in the Age of Digital Overload” is Erica Swallow’s take on Steve Rubel’s presentation about what may be the most important currency in the digital world: authoritativeness. Rubel’s is a programmatic presentation, just the sort of thing to discuss after hours in the newsroom. It proposes the three ages of the Internet (Commercialization from 1994 to 2002, Democratization from 2002 to 2010, and Validation, beginning in 2010) and the four “spheres of media” (traditional, “tradigital,” owned and social—again, for lack of space I can only suggest following the link, at mashable.com).
The vital thing is authority, that credibility which allows Internet information sources to cut through the clutter or, in Rubel’s words, to “find the signal in the noise.” The second of Rubel’s five steps to success is “Curate to Connect.” Swallow writes: “Rubel pointed out an unprecedented opportunity for companies and individuals to gain authority and become thought leaders by being the ones who ‘separate art from junk for people to understand it.’ Curation is just as important as creation.”
What, exactly, is curation? The way I understand Rubel, it corresponds to news direction, broadly speaking. That is, it is a fancier word for what it is newspaper editors and TV producers and radio directors do (or ought to): Using experience to find the signal amid all the noise.
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RIZAL 150 NEWS. Over the weekend, I got a copy of the full program for the global Rizal conference being organized by the University of the Philippines—and it’s a doozy. There are a total of 10 plenary speakers, all internationally recognized scholars; but there are also a total of seven parallel sessions, with 22 panel presentations in all. Topics that all but leap off the page include “Rizal: Science and Science Fiction,” with Perry Ong, Balintawak Gareza and Paolo Reyes as panelists; “Rizal: Digital Age and Popular Culture,” with Vladimeir Gonzales, Mykel Andrada and Roland Tolentino (dean of UP’s College of Mass Communication) serving on the panel; and “Rizalistas (Kapatiran) Panel,” with Paz Castillo Raro, Michael Charlston “xiao” Chua and Carmen Maglambayan as discussants. (I took the liberty of posting the full program on my blog.)
The conference is from June 22 to 24, and open to the public.