Solutions against an informative saturation
Posted by Adrian Elliot
We who work in the communications sector spend too much time talking about the written press crisis as the first symptom of a more serious decline that threatens to wipe out the journalistic profession. What is actually dangerous about this pessimistic outlook is that, apart from having to self-medicate ourselves for anxiety and grief, the lack of creativity and foresight could end up making this prophecy come true.
The difference between the current media crisis and other preceding crises is that the new technologies have brought about a transformation in communications that, not being an instant revolution like the invention of the printed press and the beginning of the written press, will require a long process of many years of trial and error. Perhaps one day we will find the cornerstone which will enable us all to benefit from the invention, however, if in the meantime, we merely dwell on navel-gazing and wait for others to invent; to paraphrase Keynes, in the long run we will all be dead.
Printed media will indeed disappear. This is a fact. We can spend hours debating on the convenience of paper for text books, however, it is not the case where the printed press is concerned when technology enables any citizen to generate information and broadcast it with the immediacy offered by Internet. The possibility of accessing information instantly and through an ever wider variety of electronic devices leaves no room for a medium that, by the time it reaches the newspaper stands, seems more like a chronicle of a distant story than a summary of current news.
We receive information through the Internet and it multiplies at such speed that, in most cases, any attempt to make users pay for the raw contents would be useless. Copying or pirating the written word is too easy, and the social networks are too powerful to permit any publication to rapidly gain credibility in the cyberspace and for their owners to try to restrict the free flow of information. Nevertheless, I believe that many media groups make a fundamental mistake in treating Internet as just another medium, as the daily or the weekly newspapers once were.
Internet is the origin; the main source of information; the word of mouth transformed in virtual phenomenon. And in the past, no one tried to sell us hearsay without filtering it, in the same way that we cannot commercialise the air we breathe. We were not offered the raw material, but the secondary or tertiary product: analysed, classified, checked and edited information. The newspaper reader believed, from his own ideological subjectivity, that the information he received was reliable, and that thirty minutes of reading the daily newspaper were enough to keep up to date.
Nowadays, this is not possible. The amount of information we have to digest is so excessive that we are saturated. Even for us communication professionals, we find it increasingly tiresome having to analyse, read and edit hundreds of articles and comments in a multitude of media, blogs and social networks and then elaborating a strategy to respond and give more visibility to our customer’s perspective. In any case, the ordinary citizen has so much information at his disposal that he needs to become his own editor each day in order to be able to make sense of all the “noise” generated in the online environment.
With few noteworthy exceptions, such as The Huffington Post, the majority of traditional media are not fulfilling their role as editors, they merely continue to do what they did in the traditional format –generate contents-, only more immediately and using new audio-visual and interactive elements with their readers. It is quite right to do this. Without contents, our profession would cease to exist. However, the communications tycoon does not subsist on contents only. To generate income, he needs to gather and filter the information and offer each reader a much more tailored product so that a professional of any sector may have access to all relevant current issues and be informed at the same celerity as he once was with the printed newspaper. Not just a summary of their webs’ contents, but of all the Web’s contents regarding his subjects of interest intended for each readers’ niche. Tools such as Google News are insufficient for this task. They lack the intelligence and the specialised know-how to render the end reader a truly satisfactory service. The expertise that only a journalist can have. An expertise that, even in 2012, cannot be replaced by a computer and, consequently, still has an economic value and will continue being a potential income and job generator for a long time.
Internet still seems like an immense unclassified library. We need professionals who, aided by computers and the increasingly more sophisticated classifying methods, categorise and assess the quality and reliability of the information, in order to offer it to us in a digestible format. In such a way that, once and for all, we may eradicate this terrible epidemic of informative obesity that is slowly killing the credibility and the prosperity of our sector. Accordingly, information will no longer be merely a “noise generator” and will become once more useful.
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