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A Nerd's Take On The Future Of News Media

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There are a lot of new technologies which already affect news consumption and future business models. As a nerd, I'm excited by the new tech, particularly mobile, including new display systems and pervasive connectivity.

However, the tech is secondary, not nearly as important as repairing some current issues with trust and curation.

As a news media guy, I'm an amateur, relying on large part on people who really know the business. Frequent engagement in social media helps, and most importantly, 14 years in online customer service gives me a good feel for the ground truth and attitude online.

Trust is the new black, as I like to say. The great opportunity for news organizations is to constructively demonstrate trustworthy reporting, and to visibly do so.

News curation, that is, selecting what's news and should be visible, that's an equally big deal.

Here's the deal...

An increasingly media savvy online public sees that recent major problems involved some really good journalism, particularly the current financial crisis, and also that "weapons of mass destruction" thing. Good reporters told us that something was amiss in both situations, and we did see some really good journalism in both cases.

However, the really good journalism was buried, not curated into the front pages, and then, infrequently if at all repeated. As news consumers, if big news is not prominently displayed, and then repeated, it's a tree falling in the forest.

So, these major news organizations reported on matters of great importance to the world, but the curation model failed to really warn the public about those issues, in any way that genuinely delivered the message.

Many of us feel that professional news curation, editing, failed us deeply. We still hope that this approach will be viable in the future, and I feel it'll happen.

It's a cliche now, but I hear that the kids don't look for professionally curated news, they feel that news will find them. Yakov Smirnoff style: old model, you find news; new model, news finds you. That is, we would look around for a newspaper or TV news show previously; now, we subscribe to the Twitter or Facebook feeds of those friends who have a passion for news. I see this everyday in the feeds I read.

The new model for news curation and selection, I feel, will be a balance of professional editing and collaborative news filtering. In one incarnation, news organizations will look at feeds from highly respected news fans, and that will drive stories that are featured more prominently.

Now, remember that "trust is the new black."

The contemporary model for trustworthiness is "objectivity" but the commonplace observation is that it's failed to inspire trust. That is, the audience just doesn't trust news organizations overall, with some exceptions. (It's also a common observation that many news leaders aren't listening to this, which is difficult news to process.)

One reason for this loss of faith is the failure of curation; per above, people ask about the lack of sustained warnings regarding big stories like the two cited previously.

Another is a failure that a number of commentators have perceived, that "objectivity" is a major destroyer of trust.

In presenting two sides of a story, news organizations will allow both sides to present their positions. That sounds fair, but it's common practice to give those opportunities to "front groups," or "astroturfers," people who are paid to deceive the public in specific matters. This has been very well investigated, documented, and reported. It's a major problem in the public forum, for example, in the health care reform debate, badly hurting our country.

However, most of the reporting has been confined to one-day reports in niche publications like The Consumerist, a vehicle of Consumer Reports, one of the most trusted publications in America. Consumerist did a great report based on research by the Center for Media and Democracy. (Disclaimer: for that reason, I've joined the Consumer Reports board.)

This is a challenge, and an opportunity.

The successful news organizations of the future will pursue models for news curation/selection which is a hybrid of professional editing and collaboration among talented consumers.

A major opportunity is to be found by rejecting the involvement of professional disinformation groups. New models for fairness in reporting will balance the current vision. That's probably captured in the statement that "transparency is the new objectivity."

The deal is that the future of news organizations will be determined by emergent trends which are already visible. There's a lot of challenge there, which is to say, lots of opportunity.

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