“Owning” news

Matthew Ingram at GigaOM throws a little cold water on those trying to downplay the role of Twitter in the public square:

One of the signs of how much Twitter and other social tools are disrupting media is the strenuous argument about how they aren’t doing this at all — including the repeated assertion that “Twitter doesn’t break news.” In the latest example of the genre, a writer in the American Journalism Review makes the case that Twitter didn’t break the news about recent events such as Whitney Houston’s death or the assassination of Osama bin Laden, because those events didn’t actually become “news” until they were confirmed by mainstream sources. This kind of thinking betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about how news works now.

Ingram could have shaved off the word now and improved his word count, but the bigger problem he notes is the implication of the perception of others.

He quotes Barb Palser, a columnist at American Journalism Review:

While nearly an hour passed between the first known mention of Houston’s death and the AP’s report, Twitter’s timeline clearly shows that the story flatlined until the AP tweet. It was that properly attributed post by a credible news organization with a broad following that broke through the noise.

There’s a lot to digest there, once you get over the flatline pun. Best are those phrases “properly attributed” and “credible.”

Understand: attribution is crucial. Credibility is key. (My research dabbles in that area, after all.) Also there is the absolute importance of accuracy, which everyone should have learned is something to be carefully regarded when it comes to hot news on fast platforms like Twitter. To imply, however, that the one (the outlet) must come before the other (the dissemination of information) is a statement idly wanting for creation and control, ownership of news.

Palser is discussing a familiar aspect of the news business, where the feeling has always been one of controlling content — and thus the message and the money. In the world you live and work in, though, control is often something else: the ability to build a place for users to do what they want to do. (What they’re going to do anyway.)

Editing, curating, has evolved into aggregating information and, as a credible resource yourself, sharing, learning and educating. The job is swiftly becoming less about controlling a flow and more about improving (community content) and encouraging (collaboration).

As Jeff Jarvis says:

News, then, begins to take on the architecture of the internet itself: end-to-end. At one end are the witnesses sharing, at the other the readers reading and interacting, asking their own questions, having their own say, passing on and recommending what interests them. No need for a gatekeeper. No need for a distributor. No need for a central hub. No tolerance for controllers. The conversation is occurring on its own.

Journalism is sometimes a subset of that conversation. It can add value. It can serve. But it should not think of itself as the creator of the conversation, the setter of the agenda, though that is what I see in so much of the BBC’s worldview as demonstrated at events this week. They might have learned that better if instead of a meeting, they held a conversation.

The conversation is news.


2 thoughts on ““Owning” news

  1. Yes, but…I’m a career journo (30 years) and find this notion weird that no one creates news anymore. People who take the time and trouble to do investigative work do indeed break news. In a month when we lost Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin, this should be sadly obvious. They did not die in the service of “aggregation” and “curation” but deadly dangerous front-line reporting in Syria.

  2. Kenny

    Hi Caitlin,

    Thanks for stopping by, and especially for the comment. In the most literal sense we don’t create news. We cover it. In investigative pieces we uncover it. We share it. We often take large gobs of information and try to synthesize it into 12 inches or a 90 second package. Sure, we polish and find quotes and elegant things to do with commas and verbs. But that’s not creating news, is it?

    The loss of Shadid and Colvin are certainly terrible. They died covering an important story, because (I presume) they were passionate about sharing it, because their boss sent them there and because their boss’ boss paid for them to go. But they don’t own Syria. Pyle didn’t own the Pacific Theater. (I’ve never owned any hard news story I worked, far, far from any legitimate war zone.) They covered it. Darn well too.

    There’s a lot to that particular conversation, but my original intent in this particular post was to touch on the related implication that news wasn’t news until the news people showed up. We know that’s not the case, but we often pretend it is that way.

    Do come back again? Love your site, by the way.

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