What if the middle man disappeared? (Or picked his battles)

Another kind of feed, from the animal kingdom (Photo by tomsowerby on flickr)

How people get their news is changing, which changes how the news is made. I’m not sure anyone really knows where it’s going (and I’m sure I don’t).

But here’s a path I wonder about sometimes, that Darren just reminded me of by mentioning “churnalism” — a derogatory term for practice of rewriting press releases and calling it news.

To be clear, I’m not saying I hope this is where we’re heading, I’m musing out loud about something I find partly ominous. I also see it as a possibility if certain existing traits of the current news environment thrive and outcompete others.

Follow your own news

What if mainstream media organizations gave up on covering anything that came written well in a press release? As in, if there’s enough in the release that “churnalism” could be practiced, it just isn’t.

The public would still get the information that’s available from the big institutional sources of news by signing up to those institution’s feeds. Instead of reporters tasked with checking whether there’s anything new from the Delta Police or Vancouver Coastal Health, the people who want to know what those bodies have to say pull the information in themselves. Aggregators would emerge (probably from the news media and elsewhere) to curate feeds for people who aren’t interested in doing that themselves.

This is something we already see, a bit. Celebrities talking directly to fans via social media to bypass critical coverage. PR people with more followers than the reporters they pitch.

What, role, then, would journalists play? One possible path (and my hope, in this thought-experiment) is that by curbing time spent on these easy tasks, newsrooms running at full-tilt would have more time to do the hard stuff, like finding more stories someone hasn’t already told, or more thorough information to tell them better.

It’s like that often-retold tale about the jar with sand and rocks, meant to remind us that if you fill your days with little things there’s no room for the big priorities. This would be a switch to more rocks, less sand. I’m happy to say I’m seeing some shift in this direction at CBC right now.

The other possibility is newsrooms would just keep shrinking, and more former reporters would go work for the feeds.

Okay, there’s one dodgy idea. I wonder what cool experiments might already be underway, when it comes to picking battles. Where do you think the news is going?

1 Comment

  1. Amen on the ‘hard stuff’. That’s where journalists can best differentiate themselves from the rest of the online riffraff. I call myself a writer, and you can also call me “an online writer”, but I’d never claim to be a reporter, or even a “citizen journalist”.

    I’m no expert, but I’d love to see newspapers and other media outlets become funded in a foundation model, where we’d have fewer of them, but also less bias, and more emphasis on substantive reporting that matters.

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