Disrupt and provide a public service, or continue to write about it?

social media sketch 09When the public needed a service to find things on the internet, some journalists wrote about how a new breed of search engines were providing that service … while Google disrupted the way people found information.

When the public started looking for niche sites about topics they cared about, journalists wrote about how enigmatic blogs were providing that service … while blogs disrupted the publication and of niche content.

When the public needed someone to point them to news that they cared about, mainstream media talked about how Matt Drudge linked to other sites to provide that service … while Drudge Report disrupted the idea of a trusted brand.

When the public wanted a cheap way to buy and sell things online, newspapers wrote about how Craig Newmark  created a community as he provided that service … while craigslist disrupted the world of classified advertising.

When small businesses needed a cost-effective way to get their message in front of a web audience, and web site owners needed revenue, reporters wrote about how Google provided those services with AdWords and AdSense … while Google disrupted targeted advertising and marketing.

When the public needed a way to gather all their sources in one place, journalists wrote about how RSS and feed-readers gained popularity and provided that service … while RSS disrupted the distribution of online content.

When the public wanted to send and receive small bits of information as it happened, reporters examined the perceived value of Twitter while the microblogging provided that service … while Twitter disrupted the speed at which information traveled.

As the public becomes overwhelmed by the amount of unfiltered data coming from social media and networks, as the value of real-time search rises, and as lifestreaming gains popularity, what will news professionals do?

Journalists and news organizations can choose to “cover” these changes or they can choose to actively disrupt news and storytelling — and provide a much-needed public service — by distilling all the white noise into informative, cohesive and easily-consumable stories.

My solution is a storystreaming platform, but I want to know what ideas you have. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Social media sketch courtesy of Birger Hartung via Flickr. You can see an updated version here.

8 thoughts on “Disrupt and provide a public service, or continue to write about it?

  1. Excellent list of examples. Two things come to mind:

    J-schools need to teach motivation
    This is an often-talked about failure of the current journalism educational system – students need to be taught entrepreneurialism. It's not longer acceptable for journalists to be 9-5 reporters working a day job. At least not now. And not likely for the next 5-10 years. Maybe longer. If we can get the journalists of the present/future thinking in terms of this new paradigm, we'll spend less time watching our industry get built around us, and more time leading the way.

    Old Media is Chronicling it's Demise
    I might be wrong on this, but never before in history has any industry taken such accurate notes, had such a huge meta-discussion, about it's own collapse. The examples in this post just prove that. As Adrian Holovaty says about data:

    1. Who cares?
    2. I hope my competitors waste their time arguing about this as long as possible.

    Some of us are going to do this. You're more than welcome to come along for the ride. Storystreaming seems to be to a method of getting past the article as Jeff Jarvis would say. In other words, it's a way to move forward, instead of insisting on the old formats, which we've seen get broken all the time.

    Personally, I'm rooting for Google Wave + plugins to provide the curation and aggregation necessary to pull off a story-streaming platform. But… if someone wants to build something else/better… I say go for it. You've got nothing to loose but a startup under your belt and might be creating the next twitter.

    Yours in pessimistic optimism,
    –Joey

    Disclosure: Kevin asked me to comment on this post.

  2. Great post, Kevin. And — Joey — agree with you.

    I think J-schools do (and are) changing how they educate future journalists, and that will continue to evolve. It has to.

    But the bigger change is in thinking — and that's really a change more for people currently in the business than students, I think. The reason the news media "covered" all the innovations you wrote about it because that's what they do. That's what they've always done. That's what they think is their job.

    That needs to change. This professional detachment is hurting the industry. And it hampers people in the news business from innovating. Innovating in this way isn't part of the culture at newspapers. Some people even look at your cross-eyed if you promote your newspaper blog as if you've sold out somehow.

    Newspapers can't continue to do things the way they always have and expect to succeed or even survive. I like the storystreaming idea. I think more and more innovations like this will become part of the technological consciousness. News organizations can be the ones inventing and making sense of them or not.

    I'm optimistically optimistic they will.

    — Gina

  3. Gina – I respectfully disagree. I think [some] journalism students are some of the most ill-tempered, ill-prepared and egotistical young people — listen to me… "young people" — I've ever encountered.

    Years ago, there used to be some real elbow grease put into journalism. Most organizations are hurting so much, they're just trying to get pages filled, and for the most part, they aren't innovating on the Web.

    And it shows; most news Web sites look the same as they did 10-15 years ago.

    I agree with you, Kevin — storystreaming may be a good idea. It's new, it's different…and it changes the way people think about news. If you look at a news Web site, each story looks very separate, almost disconnected. If your readers can easily follow the arc of a story, and can feel it, I think they're more likely to look at the reporter — and the publication — as credible.

    News presentation plays a huge part in innovation, I think, but we hardly see anything about it in many of the major journalism thought leadership publications.

    Dude. Let's write a piece for Nieman or E&P or something. Drop me a line.

  4. I have to disagree with a lot of this. Even the lamest mainstream news site is better than whatever it looked like 15 years ago. They have blogs, video, staff on Twitter, Facebook fan pages, interactive graphics, yadda yadda. People who write critiques living this tend to be living in a bubble. The audience and the advertisers are only now catching up to these new forms of storytelling. Yeah, they might have a Facebook account and they read stuff on the Web. They look at YouTube videos. It's far less likely that they use RSS or even know what Google Wave is. That said

  5. …(misfire! continued..) …That said, I would expect the story forms to evolve into an interactive cloud, a thunderstorm of commentary and content prepared by both amateurs and pros… But don't overestimate the average audience's desire to participate or its tolerance for disruption… Sure, they'll abandon print eventually and get used to squinting at headlines on a phone or video on YouTube, but the more complicated it is, the more work it takes…forget it. The forms have to be simple to use, and comprehend.

    (Sorry for the typos etc — still getting used to thihe s netbook's $#%^ tiny keyboard).

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