The Future of the News

published: Oct. 10, 2011,   recorded: November 2008,   views: 2407

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Ellen Hume predicts a “good news conversation” with her MIT Museum crowd about the future of news, but all participants end up working very hard to find a silver lining in the dire situation facing newspapers and other traditional forms of journalism.

The business model, Hume explains, is deeply broken for newspapers, big and small, and other mainstream media that people count on. Advertising -- the very idea of the classifieds -- is going extinct, vanquished by sites like Craigslist and The important work that journalists do, collecting, analyzing, contextualizing and disseminating information, and providing common frames of reference, has begun to migrate to the web and elsewhere.

This isn’t all bad, believes Hume, because instead of relying on experts who deliver information in a “top-down form,” we get participatory journalism, where users can respond to and exchange information. This “changes power relationships.” Agency has shifted from elites who create the flow of information, to citizen journalists. Users stirred by a news story have opportunities to react via social networks, videos, blogs, “creating a sense of community.” This, says Hume, enables “a new sense of public space.”

But there are dangers in relying exclusively on these new sources of information. Not all citizens have the expertise of a professional journalist, who’s spent years learning about subjects and sources. “We may lose verification....context….transparency….a sense of independence…and the big megaphone of mainstream media.” Yet we may also gain some things: authenticity, from eyewitnesses; continuity of attention to a story; and verification, via crowd sourcing. Hume thinks it’s possible to replace some of the functions of traditional journalism with the resources of new media, which can build massive online archives, collect from continuously expanding sources, visualize data in arresting ways, and engage its users.

Web journalists must accept the responsibility of “separating wheat from chaff, paying enough attention to know if something’s credible or not, when it’s awfully hard to tell.” It’s going to be essential, Hume says, to “figure out how to build media literacy skills into all curricula.” At the same time, there may be some hope for newspapers: Hume cites website Spot.Us that permits people to make micropayments to cover worthy community stories; ProPublica, a consortium of heavy-hitting print journalists funded by philanthropy; and The New York Times multimedia venture. Ultimately, we may have to pay a premium for a good newspaper, on or off the web, while “the dynamic and exciting future of news…moves to the internet, cellphones and mobile devices.”

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