Where to turn for timely, useful news as the old media contract and the new media strike many as unknown and unreliable? News emerges from a crowd of sources on the Internet. How in a media crowd scene do you glean who to follow and who to favor with your news releases?
First off, the known trusted sources -- your old media -- are generally still there. Start, of course, with them, with what you know. The local and national newspapers that have been around and established their reliability are still there, if under more competitive duress than ever. (That's a remarkable change. Competitive pressure used to come from the other outlets nearby with printing presses and radio or TV towers. Now they're out there "in the cloud.")
Yet the fact that the news mix is changing drastically was the subject of a panel session at the SXSW conference in Austin. On the SXSW 2010 blog, Chris Crum brings us word of what occurred.
How many attendees thought the "crowd" is truly changing the nature of media or is merely hype? Crum reports "almost everybody responded with the former," that is, citizen journalism is important "and has already changed the face of media."
Just where do you look for news now? You can start with Twitter, Crum notes, but as always, it depends on who you know and trust there.
"Much of the conversation (at the SXSW session) was centered around trust," he writes. "Who can you trust? How do you know you can trust them? How do you know these citizen reporters don't have an agenda? Things of this nature."
Crum reports one of the panelists, Pete Cashmore of Mashable, noted that brand "still plays a role in trust, and that you should have some level of skepticism when a story comes from something like Twitter (assuming you are unfamiliar with the source)."
(There was a Twitter hoax perpetrated from Digg's SXSW party, but that's another story.)
You trust who you know, or have reason to trust. That's what reliance on any generation of media comes down to. It's sometimes a painful learning experience, but you soon sort out who you favor as sources of information.
The "media problem" is different now than it used to be when you chose between the morning or afternoon paper, picked your favorite radio and TV newscasters and that was pretty much it. If you care enough and are conscientious enough, you have to do a lot more roaming now to find news that's pertinent to you, and the search can yield big dividends for you personally.
The problem, though, may be that news doesn't bind society together in the way it used to. Some people understandably feel the old media didn't do that very well, especially when public agendas were changing, but common sources of news gave us common reference points and a more broadly, if not necessarily deeply, informed community. Together, we all knew more of what we were talking about, or at least recognized the subject matter.
Now we have many more sources of information, and indeed should pursue them. It remains to be seen, though, how and from where the information that binds a society together will emerge, and keep emerging. What will be the major, most known and trusted sources now that old and familiar local and national media are yielding that role?
"People need to become more educated consumers of news ... and learn what you can trust and what you can't," Pete Cashmore said at SXSW.
"That is probably easier said than done," Crum adds, "and possibly asking a lot of the average person that doesn't reside inside the news industry, but he's right. If people don't want to be misled or misinformed, they need to not only consider the source, but acknowledge multiple sources before totally abandoning the grain of salt."
In other words, figuring out what's going on is perhaps more work than it used to be. The old "newspapers of record" aren't around so much anymore. You've got to look further for information to fill in a given picture -- if you're interested enough. And there's the rub. Our interests may well have become a lot deeper but not as broad as they once were, and that could be perilous for the settings in which we live, including the nation and the planet.
Don't know how much sense this is making, but it's a reflection of how the information scene is changing around us. One thing about the new media is that they often allow comments from readers, as did, of course -- "Letters to the Editor."
It's at this point Crum makes a gross understatement:
"This comes back," he writes, "to Cashmore's statement about becoming a more educated consumer of news. Perhaps we only need to strive for a better educated public in general, and the quality of so-called citizen journalism will grow. That should be easy."