News 2.0: The Future of News in an Age of Social Media
A look at where the News business is going, now that it's everybody's business
For more than a hundred years, the tools of journalistic production – the ability to report, photograph and record events and distribute that material to a mass audience – have resided in the hands of a small group of people who, by convention and by law, have been called journalists.
But in this 21st century the tools of production now belong to just about everyone. Thanks to "Web 2.0" technology – blogs, wikis, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and video sharing sites like YouTube – billions of people can transmit text, photos, and video instantly to a worldwide audience at virtually no cost. The tools of journalism are no longer the exclusive preserve of journalists.
Web 2.0 has made the creation of highly interactive online communities both easy and inexpensive. And these online communities have become important reference points in many people's lives, often replacing more traditional sources of influence, including journalists.
What is now called the "mainstream media" has lost its control over the tools of its trade, and its importance as a centre of social and political influence. The business and philosophical model both appear to be broken, perhaps irrevocably.
There is much to celebrate about this democratization of the media, but there are also reasons to be concerned about the loss of an independent, professional journalistic filter at a time when everyone can be their own media. Can online communities of "citizen journalists" be counted on to help us make informed choices as citizens and consumers? What's lost, and what's gained when "News 1.0" gives way to "News 2.0?"
What is Web 2.0?
Definition: Web 2.0
Web 2.0 is a term that is generally applied to the second generation of internet applications that first began to appear about 10 years ago. The dominant trait of Web 2.0 is its interactivity: ordinary people can easily contribute to online discussions, and not remain simply on the receiving end of information.
The big change between Web 1.0 and 2.0 was in the level of interactivity that Web 2.0 provided. Think about the difference between a website (1.0) and a blog (2.0): Back in a Web 1.0 world (1990's) websites were created by IT people who knew the secret language. And they were essentially one-way presentations. Blogs (shortform for "web-log") can be set up by anyone with an internet hookup. And anyone can join the conversation.
Blogs remain very popular, but in many ways, they have been superceded by newer products of the Web 2.0 revolution. The social networking site Facebook now has over 200 million users worldwide. Video and photo sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr have become staples of everyday life. And "twitter" is no longer just a noise that birds make. Then there are "wiki" sites like Wikipedia that allow people to work collaboratively to share information and solve problems. Web 2.0 has made the formation of online communities easy and inexpensive, with revolutionary consequences.
What's the difference between News 1.0 and 2.0?
When journalists were first introduced to Web 1.0 tools in the 1990s they thought their world had truly been transformed. Websites gave them access to more information than had ever been easily available before. And email made it much simpler to communicate with people around the world.
But in retrospect, it's now clear that not much had actually changed. In a News 1.0 world, the conversation between journalists and their audience was still mostly one-way. Still, only people who worked for print or broadcast outlets had the ability to reach mass audiences instantaneously.
In the News 2.0 world, all that has changed. Journalists have lost their monopoly. Because everyone now has the ability to send stories, pictures, and videos around the world with the click of a mouse, the lines separating reporters, editors and audiences have become very blurry. Journalism has gone from being a quasi-profession – it has no enforceable codes like doctors or lawyers – to an activity where anyone can participate.
The American writer A.J. Liebling once wrote that "freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." In News 2.0, everyone's a press owner.
Suggested reading and interviews
Here's some information about some of the people that you'll hear from in this series, along with suggested reading and transcriptions of the interviews I conducted with them.
Chris Anderson is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. He is the author of the best-selling book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (Hyperion, 2008), which was originally published in 2006.
His argument is that in an online world, the most successful business strategies involve selling a small numbers of many products, rather than large number of a few products. This was not possible in an economic model based on scarcity. A book store, for example, only had room for a relatively small number of books, and their profitability depended on blockbuster sales of a small number of best-sellers.
But in a digital economy, the scarcity principle no longer applies. Your virtual shelf-space is virtually limitless. It's still nice to have big sellers, but there still is real money to be made by making large numbers of products available and selling just a few of each.
In recent years, Anderson has been turning his attention to another byproduct of the end-of-scarcity economics. His latest book, to be released this summer, is called Free: The Future of a Radical Price.
He believes that low-cost digital distribution has reduced the break-even price of many products (movies, books, music) to near zero. As a result, giving your product away for free has become a viable economic model.
For example, a musician might decide to give recorded music away for nothing, knowing that the widespread distribution of the latest CD would give a considerable boost to ticket sales for the next concert. The profit is made in the concerts, not the music. And in case you were wondering, no, Chris Anderson will not be giving copies of his latest book away for free.
I interviewed him about the effect that the shift from scarcity to abundance is having on the world of journalism.
Clay Shirky is on the faculty of New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. His book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (The Penguin Press, 2008) is a powerful and highly readable account of how Web 2.0 tools are re-shaping business, politics, journalism and society itself.
His argument is that never before in human history has it been so easy and inexpensive for people to come together to share with one another, work together, or take public action. And anything that breaks down geographic barriers, reduces isolation, and facilities group action has the potential to profoundly change our society.
Of particular interest are two chapters on the impact of social media on journalism. The titles of those chapters are instructive: "Everyone is a Media Outlet," about how the tools of journalistic production now potentially belong to everyone; and "Publish, then Filter," about how Web 2.0 has turned the traditional news paradigm (filter, then publish) on its head.
You can read an excerpt of my interview with Clay Shirky.
Andrew Keen takes considerable delight in his role as the bête noir of the Web 2.0 revolution. His book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture (Doubleday/Currency, 2007), is a lively and provocative polemic about the effect that Web 2.0 and user-generated content are having on music, publishing, film and journalism.
Keen believes all of those cultural industries are being destroyed by a self-broadcasting culture that celebrates amateurism over excellence, and destroys the ability of talented professionals to be adequately compensated for their work.
In many ways, Andrew Keen is an unlikely warrior for his cause. He was an internet entrepreneur during the first high tech boom in the 1990s and still lives in Silicon Valley, the epicentre of the Web 2.0 revolution. But he is now biting the hand that used to feed him, and even his harshest critics concede that his arguments must be taken seriously.
At the Couchiching Conference last summer, Keen warned the crowd that if mainstream media cannot survive its current crisis, the only people who will be left will be people like him who get paid to espouse provocative opinions. It was a sobering thought.
Read a partial transcript of my interview with Andrew Keen.
There was a time when Paul Sullivan was about as mainstream as you could get in Canadian journalism: Western editor of the Globe and Mail, managing editor of the Vancouver Sun, editor-in-chief of the Winnipeg Sun, and senior news editor at CBC-TV. I worked with him briefly in the 1990s when he was host of CBC Radio's local morning show in Vancouver. I lost track of him after he left the CBC, but a few years ago, I saw him at the annual MESH conference in Toronto. He was on a panel about the future of news, and I was surprised to see that he had transformed himself from an old school media guy to an apostle of online citizen journalism. He even went so far as to lament all the "dead trees" that gave their lives so that he could pursue his long career as a print journalist.
At the time, Paul Sullivan was editor of a citizen journalism site called Orato.com based in Vancouver. Orato is latin for "I speak" and Sullivan's philosophy was captured in its motto: "citizen news: your story, your words." He started the site in 2006 as a way of putting into practice his commitment to providing a platform for people to tell their own stories their own way. During the Robert Picton trial, Sullivan sent to two former sex workers to cover the story for Orato.
Sullivan and Orato parted company in the fall of 2008, and the site has been redesigned and and re-focused, and no longer operates as a citizen journalism site. But Paul Sullivan remains passionately committed to the idea of citizen journalism.
Read a portion of our interview, which we did before he left Orato.
Paul Gilllin spent more than 20 years as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor, focusing mainly on the technology industry. He now works as a marketing consultant and writes a blog called Newspaper Death Watch. Although he believes the newspaper industry is dying, he insists that its demise gives him no particular pleasure.
In 2007, Gillin wrote the best-selling book The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media (2007: Quill Driver Books). The book's thesis is that the real influencers in today's world are not marketing experts or the traditional media types who have historically filtered marketing messages, but millions of ordinary people who are now determining what people buy, read and believe. These people are using Web 2.0 tools to gain a platform they have never had before.
Many surveys show that when people today are asked "who do you trust," the answer is more likely to be "people like me," than "experts," journalists, politicians or other traditional authority figures. Therefore, Gillin argues, marketers should be paying less attention to trying to get their message through the media filter, and more attention to learning how to effectively reach the millions of people who live in social media land, and who neither need nor want to message to be mediated.
Read an excerpt from my interview with Paul Gillin.
Kirk Lapointe is Managing Editor of the Vancouver Sun, and is a thoughtful observer of the Canadian media scene. You can find many of his thoughts about the present and future state of Canadian journalism on his blog at http://www.themediamanager.com/.
Lapointe has held senior editorial positions at CTV, The Hamilton Spectator, and Southam News. He was also the founding Executive Editor of The National Post, and is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC.
I actually interviewed Kirk Lapointe twice for this project, once in the spring of 2008, and then again in the spring of 2009. In the course of that year, his views on the value of citizen journalism softened quite a bit. He originally didn't believe it had very much to offer mainstream journalists, but he now thinks there can be some useful collaborations between pros and amateurs that would benefit his paper's readers.
Read excerpts from our second interview.
Mathew Ingram is the "Communities Editor" at the Globe and Mail, which, according to the Globe website, means he is "responsible for finding and developing new and different ways of interacting with readers." He has been at the Globe since 1994, and has written extensively about technology and new media. He is also one of the organizers of the highly successful MESH Conference on social media that is held in Toronto every spring.
Mathew Ingram was one of the first people to re-post the erroneous Steve Jobs heart attack story from CNN iReport last October. He has thought a lot about what that incident means for journalism present and future, and he was kind enough to share those thoughts with me, which you can read in the interview trancript.