When revolutionary technology is sweeping the world, it is always good to ask what it is doing to your job. For me, given my decades in the business of news, it could be the difference between better work and irrelevance.
I entered journalism when India had no private or colour TV and newspapers were more or less the only source of independent news. We were fascinated by “The New York Times” slogan: All The News That Is Fit To Print.
Then came TV news, Internet and then social media, and we are now enriched and confused as never before. Social media activists are challenging the NYT’s slogan to ask: Who are you anyway to decide what is fit to print?
There are now startups and community sites that are trying to make sense of the chaotic excess of blogs and news items, blurring the gap between the average citizen and the professional journalist. From a survey of websites that are taking news to the next level, it seems there can be two extremes of “social news”. One captures what is “buzzing” in the social sharing and the other that puts in what we could call old-fashioned “editors”.
As I see it, the hottest among these are Buzzfeed.com and Upworthy.com for contrasting reasons. Buzzfeed has technology that in its own words spots “what is trending on the Web and connects in people in real-time with the hottest content of the moment.”
Upworthy.com, somewhat pompously calls itself “a mission-driven media company” and adds: “We’d rather speak truth than appear unbiased.”
Then there is Reddit.com that is an “open source” site for stories run by a community of “redditors”.
Digg.com says it delivers news using what it calls “smart algorithms and smart networks and….smart people to parse the two.” In effect, Google’s own news site does pretty much that.
There is plenty of worries for publishers as real newsgathering involves investments. And there is still no technology yet that guarantees “credibility” — which is where NYT might still have its point.