Hunting for value in a world of information overload…
Even Robert Scoble admitted it’s not easy being a one man news brand today. “It’s hard to get that traffic to build a business,” he said, while acknowledging he had a staggering 90,000 followers on Twitter. “You’re scratching for every viewer to come along.”
If it’s hard for him, it’s hard for anyone. And, of course, the still evolving media landscape bears witness to this fact. No need to rehash the lowlights of the last half decade in news, but the lack of a frontrunner for a sustainable business model for the news industry is evidence that more turmoil is still to come.
In thinking more about Scoble’s and others’ comments made during last week’s panel discussion on the future of communications (see initial post here), an underlying current throughout it all was the quest to add value for whatever audience you’re speaking with.
Liz Gannes of NewTeeVee acknowledged that what she was doing wasn’t much different from what newspaper columnists have traditionally done and Chris O’Brien of the San Jose Mercury News and the Next Newsroom Project acknowledged that the printed paper likely won’t be the core of what the Merc eventually becomes (he also made an interesting observation that the radio remains the place where Bay Area commuters consume most of their media yet radio is frequently omitted from these sorts of discussions).
Remove the delivery vehicle (the paper, a blog, the radio, TV, etc) from the conversation and what remains of news is the information itself (which you could argue is as it should be). And with no barriers to entry and general information overload, the information needs to add value. Anything less and relevancy will wane, no matter who you write for.
Richard Brewer-Hay, principal blogger for eBay over at eBay Ink, said to me afterward he’s most intrigued how newer communications channels have enabled two-way dialogues (or even many-to-many) rather than the traditional one-to-many. That, he said, fundamentally changes the value proposition for journalists and audiences. This works great for Richard because he’s able to leverage his role into a true dialogue with eBay’s community. Letters to the editor just don’t cut it anymore. The letter to the editor presents a voice, but it’s a voice that isn’t replied back to and doesn’t spawn other conversations. It’s the tree falling in the forest and no one is quite sure if anyone else is around to hear it.
Post into any story and you’ve now contributed to a “live” conversation, and impacted the rest of what’s to come and can see how it all plays out. Likewise, fully formed conversations can get built up through many voices all riffing on whatever original content gets posted to the Internet.
But this doesn’t necessarily equate to value. Wading through a hundred comments on a story is rarely fruitful. I would rather have Seymour Hersh writing his stories for the print New Yorker in a 1-to-many conversation as there is absolutely no value I can add to his content. I am in listen-only mode when he’s talking.
Indeed, the construct of news doesn’t need to change. Journalists still need to be able do what they’ve always done best: Find the facts, find the viewpoints, and distill them down for the audience in a compelling manner. But a journalist who can’t add value beyond a press release essentially becomes commoditized by the press release itself.
Journalism today can be as biting as any time in the past, but the amount of information currently accessible and the number of viewpoints being thrown at us from experts and non-experts alike has had the effect of shortening our collective attention spans and reducing our tolerance for status-quo deliveries. The voices who have the greatest impact and can cut through the noise with impactful analysis – no matter whom they write for – will be the ones we seek out. Everyone else will just fade into the background as white noise.
Somewhat unfortunately, the tolerance for any slippage in this area will be minimal. If Robert Scoble is not adding value to the conversation, the collective public will banish him immediately and without remorse. Someone else will be ready and waiting to take his place, and we’ll be ready too. It’s a vicious turn, but it’s the world we live in currently. Here’s hoping that the people who deserve to be heard find their audiences and financially-viable platforms to support them.
Photo credit: Paul Keleher