Disrupting news

Yesterday’s earthquake in Haiti was devastating. And while I’m watching the reports come in in horror, I can’t help but think about the roles that the Web and more traditional news media are playing in telling the world about this tragedy. The pic…

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Yesterday’s earthquake in Haiti was devastating. And while I’m watching the reports come in in horror, I can’t help but think about the roles that the Web and more traditional news media are playing in telling the world about this tragedy.

The picture above is a screenshot from the Guardian’s blog on the tragedy. The photo credit to “AFP/Getty Images” for a “Twitter image” is a striking example of just how strongly social networking sites are disrupting the breaking news focused part of journalism — as are the CNN and The New York Times newsrooms’ lists of twitter users they follow for information. Media is moving away from having exclusive access to first-rate sources, instead its role is curating sources, online, for everyone to see. And interviews (through skype) are negotiated on twitter, in public.

In Network Effects, the Economist compares the Web’s effect on news with the telegraph’s, and concludes:

The internet may kill newspapers; but it is not clear if that matters. For society, what matters is that people should have access to news, not that it should be delivered through any particular medium; and, for the consumer, the faster it travels, the better. The telegraph hastened the speed at which news was disseminated. So does the internet. Those in the news business use the new technology at every stage of newsgathering and distribution. A move to electronic distribution—through PCs, mobile phones and e-readers—has started. It seems likely only to accelerate.

The trouble is that nobody knows how to make money in the new environment. That raises questions about how much news will be gathered. But there is no sign of falling demand for news, and technology has cut the cost of collecting and distributing it, so the supply is likely to increase. The internet is shaking up the news business, as the telegraph did; in the same way, mankind will be better informed about his fellow humans than before. If paper editions die, then Bennett’s prediction that communications technology would be the death of newspapers will be belatedly proved right. But that is not the same as the death of news.