25
May
11

NEWS IN THE DIGITAL AGE


THE CHEESY FACTS
Wassim Tabbarah, God rest his soul, in one of his plays back in the eighties’ performed an act where he owned a fresh produce shop. One day he was standing in front of his shop shouting for people to come and purchase his fresh vegetables. One passer-by stops and tells him “But there’s nothing on display! Your shelves are empty”, and Wassim answers him “I’m selling tomorrow’s vegetables!”

Why wait for a newspaper or TV news when I can have it as it happens?! If the conventional media needs to know something, ask me!

24 hours news channels have also contributed to making print and news casts obsolete. What’s left for those? Analysis, that’s what’s left. But that’s a different story.

Now, don’t get over excited. Not every new website is a news website! If a newspaper starts its own digital delivery, that does not make it an immediate success. How many new websites do you read everyday, all the time? Really.

Most of us are stuck with one or two sites that we visit all the time to quench our thirst for news. ANd all we do is read the news. Who cares for useless gimmicks and hoopla? Yes, being able to share, print or email and article is great, but that does not make you a pioneer! And it does not either give you the right to invade my screen with annoying animations, buttons, links and stupid stuff I will never use.

THE INSIGHTS
Now, let’s look at what makes us read news at the first place. I think that there are 3 important drivers:

1- Immediacy
News as it happens. I have many times tweeted and read tweets about news way before it was published on leading news sites. You see, we the tweeters, are not after scoops. We do not sort material according to priority to yield more readership. For us, immediacy is the word. We are attracted to news when it happens. The digital age is about living the event, not reading about it later.

2- Relevance
We want to read news that are relevant to us, in any way. And relevance is also child of immediacy, because when it gets old, it might simply become irrelevant. Relevance is subjective, and the winners are those who manage to cater for all tastes. The meaning of “news” varies drastically from one individual to the other. Take me for instance, local news are the least of my worries, which means I skim through the titles. For others, they are the heart of the matter.

3- Discovery
We do not know everything. We never will. But that does not mean that unknown news are not relevant. Discovery happens on well structured digital delivery systems. They guide you through to find out about matters you ignored.

So as you see, immediacy generates relevance, and relevance generates discovery.
What makes what?
It is undeniable that a perfect symbiosis has started to exist between the event and the news. We hear a lot about news that magnify events to the extent of blowing it out of proportions. OJ Simpson was a great example. And mind you, the digital age had not really dawned by then.

Celebrities scandals have become prime news now, sometimes over-shadowing political apocalypse. Why is that? The digital age caters to the widest target audience possible. In doing so, it reaches ages otherwise inaccessible via traditional media unless heavy investments are made. The younger generation has at reach a plethora of digital access points that constantly deliver news of celebrities and the fringe. Previously, traditional media had all these news packed in five minutes at the end of their newscast.

The result, a total blurring of the border between “serious” and fringe news. This blurring has created that ultimate symbiosis, the result of which was a similar blurring of news delivery and audience. Portals like The Huffington Post, AllTop, even CNN epitomize such a trend.

Events do not always make the news. Today, it is about the potential news portals see in specific stories that “internationalize” such stories, blowing them out of proportions, or even sometimes triggering a chain of events that change political landscapes.

Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, Syria, Iraq; are perfect examples. In such totalitarian regimes, “things” used to happen decades ago… Very bad things… And all we used to hear were bits and pieces of “rumors” that used to reach us days, weeks or even months later, and then quickly fade away in the archive of history, without even having proved they ever occurred.

Rallying the masses is what the digital age managed to do. What’s more, it can now do it in a blink. Like a plague, text messages, tweets and Facebook messaging act as catalysts, bringing millions locally to act, and more millions globally to react. YouTube triggers a chain of reaction that gets engraved in our minds, souls and the Internet archives forever.

Here’s the perfect example: How many emails with attachments do you get with warnings about a poisonous food additive, or “immediate” world occurrences, only to find out that they actually date to years back. The sender saw it on the Internet and simply thought it was happening now, without bothering checking the date of the news?

No one ever cared about Sudan or the Ivory Coast! Millions were, and still are, dying from hunger in Africa, and no one ever moved a finger. Today, thanks to the Internet news delivery, rallies are organized at the four corners of the Earth in support of these “causes”. People around the world demand the departure of dictators they never heard of! Or have they? Today it’s about what the digital news tell and show us. Conspiracy theories about media manipulation by super (and not so super) powers is starting to make sense, to me at least.

THE SECRET FORMULA
You want to topple a ruling monster? Here’s the formula: Start a Facebook group, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel. If you can afford it, start a news portal. Start spreading the news by registering hundreds of fake accounts who end up “commenting” and voicing their opinions in support to “your” cause, then sit and watch the snowball effect. Depending on your means, reach, and magnitude of the cause, you can achieve your goals in a few weeks. You can even create your own heroes as a bonus!

SO…
Bottom line, and the one million dollar question (That’s 710,000 Euros and 2,802,600 Polish zlotys), is it good or bad?

Don’t ask me!

Ask the idiots who believe websites that claim the end of the world was supposed to occur on May 21, or constantly visit websites that claim to turn you from Gargantua to Brad Pitt in four days.

Or ask the politicians who hire web geeks, writers and journalists to help them build a social media universe in compensation to their lack of meaningful social life.

Or, you could ask those who justly use the Internet to spread the news of oppression, voice the words of the muted minorities, educate, entice to explore, encourage knowledge and turn the global mess into a true global village, one where we don’t only meet to gossip, but one where we gather in empathy and support, and share knowledge instead of rumors.

The true purpose of news in the digital age is this: When your fellow human is in trouble, wherever he or she might be, you are in trouble too. If not today, then soon, pretty soon.

© 2011 Ibrahim Lahoud

Creative Commons License
News in the Digital Age by Ibrahim N. Lahoud is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at ilahoud.wordpress.com.

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Creative Commons License
Reason To Believe by Ibrahim N. Lahoud is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at ilahoud.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at htt://ilahoud.wordpress.com.

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