Monday, May 24, 2010

Good news about the news

With lively news and thoughtful commentary from south of the 49th parallel, The Atlantic is always worth a stop on a curious Canadian's online odyssey.

My current favourite Atlantic item is How to Save the News by James Fallows, also in the June 2010 edition of The Atlantic magazine.

His thesis: Google knows that people will use its search engine only if it brings them interesting or useful information. Since the source of much of this stuff -- "the news" -- is traditional news media, it is in Google's interest to support and develop those media.

Google's goal, Fallows writes, is "a reinvented business model to sustain professional newsgathering." Well, lots of people are trying to create one.

But here's a change.

Rather than ignoring or trying to destroy traditional news media, Google's model would incorporate old-fashioned, high-cost news gathering such as (in Canada, which Fallows ignores, since being American means never having to say you're sorry) knowledgeable, long-term coverage of the Supreme Court of Canada.

It would also include, on the same site, immediate, exciting, unedited amateur-created video from hot spots such as Bangkok during the Thai military attacks on Red Shirt protesters.

Who would pay for this? Subscribers in some cases, advertisers in others, or some shifting blend of the two. Let a thousand business models bloom.

Today's media-rich but often wisdom-depleted online world faces a central problem. In Fallows's words, "The internet is a great way to get news but often a poor way to read it."

There's a device for that, of course: a Google device (coming soon ... really) that would re-create the serendipity of leafing through a magazine, discovering the beautiful colour ads and surrendering to the other content that you did not know you would be interested in.

Sounds like Google propaganda? Maybe. You need to keep your bullshit detector cranked up.

But what I love about this piece is its unusual and optimistic view of the news business -- a business, after all, that has adapted to every new technology since smoke-blackened sticks on cave walls.

Spoiler! How to Save the News contains more than 140 characters. You'll have to spend a bit of time reading it.

But your investment of time and thinking will pay off. You can tweet about it.

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