The explosive growth of smartphones is altering the way news is reported – and how we consume it
Michael Rosenblum is the CEO of Rosenblum TV. He went to Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The local paper was the North Adams Transcript, which had been in business since 1843. That made the Transcript older than the New York Times. Journalist Danny Pearl got his start at the North Adams Transcipt before moving on to the Wall Street Journal. It was a pretty good paper. But the North Adams Transcript is no more. It has been absorbed into the Berkshire Eagle.
Newspapers across the country and around the world are under intense financial pressure, mostly brought about by the internet. Many are in trouble. Many are closing. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Jill Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times acknowledged that the future growth of the paper is digital and not print.
From Abramson's perspective, and indeed from the perspective of many newspaper publishers, the problem is in the "paper" part of "newspaper", and if they can only find a way to move to a digital platform and "monetise" it, they will be fine.
Rosenblum does not think so. He says: "I think their problem is bigger. I think their problem is not just with the paper part, but with the news part, too. In a digital world, what is news? And who gets to create it?"
In the linear, print (and television) past, that issue was pretty simple. Journalists created the news content and published it, either on paper or on air, and the job of the rest of us was to read or watch it. It was a pretty simple relationship.
The web has shattered that relationship, but not in the way that Abramson and most other conventional purveyors of the news business think.
Today, there are 1.4bn smartphones in the world. Organisations such as the New York Times or the BBC are trying to grapple with the problem of how to get people to read their papers or watch their news on smartphones. They look at the phones as platforms. But, I think they are missing the point.
Phones are actually nodes of content creation, places where anyone can make the content and report the news.
In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, former executive editor Bill Keller noted: "I begin my day with this paper's foreign staff – 75 reporters in 31 bureaus." Keller's piece was headlined: "The Golden Age of Journalism".
When the newspaper world was about long-distance phone calls and ink and paper, having 75 reporters in 31 bureaus to cover the world was probably pretty impressive. But, in a world in which 1.4bn people are walking around with a device in their pocket that allows them to write text, take photos, shoot and edit video and then upload and transmit it to the rest of the world immediately, and for free – well, Keller's boast seems more than a bit pathetic.
The Poynter Institute recently announced that a third of all Americans under 30 now get their news from social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: "For American adults under 30, social media has far surpassed newspapers and has equalled TV as a primary source of daily news."
And where does the content for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram come from? It comes, 100% of it, from the 1.4 billion people with smartphones. Which makes sense.
What is the value in flying a correspondent halfway around the world to report from a country where they probably don't speak the language, where they need a local fixer to get around, where they have no connection to the local history, culture or much of anything else ... and calling it news?
In an era when that was the only way to get information, it made sense. But today, there is a tsunami of primary source, on-the-spot reporting going on all over the planet. It just needs to be focused, edited and published.
It's a different idea of news. A different approach from the one that the North Adams Transcript engaged in in 1843. But then, they didn't have the technology we have.
Time to use it properly.
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Source: The Guardian