James Fallows article about Google and the news industry is worth a read. He hears from several Googlers who think that it’s all about (1) distribution, (2) engagement and (3) monetization. All critical elements, of course, but what’s missing is the dumbing-down of news we’ve witnessed over the past few decades. What do these elements matter — reaching people, getting them to read, and turning a buck — when all you have to offer is USAToday-type snippet-size pieces about the same topics over and over?
Here’s how Google’s Krishna Bharat put it in Fallows’ piece…
… he said that what astonished him was the predictable and pack-like response of most of the world’s news outlets to most stories. Or, more positively, how much opportunity he saw for anyone who was willing to try a different approach.
The Google News front page is a kind of air-traffic-control center for the movement of stories across the world’s media, in real time. “Usually, you see essentially the same approach taken by a thousand publications at the same time,” he told me. “Once something has been observed, nearly everyone says approximately the same thing.” He didn’t mean that the publications were linking to one another or syndicating their stories. Rather, their conventions and instincts made them all emphasize the same things. This could be reassuring, in indicating some consensus on what the “important” stories were. But Bharat said it also indicated a faddishness of coverage—when Michael Jackson dies, other things cease to matter—and a redundancy that journalism could no longer afford. “It makes you wonder, is there a better way?” he asked. “Why is it that a thousand people come up with approximately the same reading of matters? Why couldn’t there be five readings? And meanwhile use that energy to observe something else, equally important, that is currently being neglected.” He said this was not a purely theoretical question. “I believe the news industry is finding that it will not be able to sustain producing highly similar articles.”
Moderating Front Porch Forum in our region while monitoring the local media in our corner of Vermont, I can share that “tonight’s top stories,” as decided by local professional editors, don’t always align with what neighbors are discussing on FPF. Indeed, a service like FPF is a great way to uncover the other hundred stories that don’t get picked up by traditional local media.