If journalists don’t write about it does that mean that news doesn’t happen and if they do does that mean they have some sort of copyright over the reporting of that news?
For as long as there has been a news industry what is considered important enough to take up so-called valuable space on a printed collection of paper or take up valuable airtime has been limited to a select few. It is the people in editorial boardroom or producer’s offices who decide what they think we need to see or read each day. The majority of the time it is the news that is most likely aimed to promote our most visceral responses – hence the popularity of “bad news” being the good news.
It’s good news for the news gatekeepers because it is almost guaranteed to bring in the most readers or viewers. The worst the disaster, the juicier the scandal, or the more heart-wrenching the story, the better. Sure we every once in a while go through our angst ridden worrying that the news is too negative and that there isn’t enough good news. The problem is good news isn’t profitable news and what is important to the news industry is the stuff that keeps the shareholders happy and the management bonuses flowing.
The realization of that myth – the myth of necessity – hit me head-on when I read an unselfconsciously narcissistic feature in The New York Times this week about the room where the 4 p.m. news meeting is held. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has likened that meeting to a “religious ceremony.” The Times feature certainly acted as if it were taking us inside the Pope’s chapel: “The table was formidable: oval and elegant, with curves of gleaming wood. The editors no less so: 11 men and 7 women with the power to decide what was important in the world.”
Behold the hubris of that: They decide what is important. Because we can’t. That’s what it says. That’s what they believe.
I was trained to accept that myth: that journalists decide what’s important, that it’s a skill with which they are imbued: news judgment. I worked hard to gain and exercise that judgment. The myth further holds that no judgment of importance is more important than The Times'; that’s why, every night, it sends out to the rest of newspaperdom its choices. News isn’t news until it’s reported and it’s not important until The Times says so.
Our supply of news is dictated to us minute by minute, day by day. That doesn’t mean though that it is the only news out there. An incredible amount of new worthy things are going on everyday – from the bad to the good. Just because the large majority of it doesn’t make it through the editorial “money” filter doesn’t change the fact that those events or information isn’t news.
The news isn’t about the reporting of it. It isn’t about the people writing about it. News is about the event, the happening, the information. It is about the people who were involved with the event. It is about the people who made the happening happen. It is about the people who created the information.
What the new media, blogs, Twitter, Friendfeed, and Facebook (to a lesser degree) did was to allow the people responsible for creating the news to be the ones that distributed the news. Or as Dave Winer put it – “The new world pays the source, indirectly, and obviates the middleman“. No longer is our flow of news being dictated to us by the select few and what they think is important. We are getting to make those decisions now.
However being entrenched as our sole providers of what is important in the world isn’t something that the news industry will give up without a fight. Rather than try and find their way in a new world of news and information distribution that doesn’t flow through their gates, the industry is trying to bend and manipulate this new media into their way of doing business.
The news industry of the past is locked into the believing that if they aren’t the ones reporting the ‘news’ then it doesn’t exist. It is because of this belief that they then turn around and try and claim ownership of the ‘news’. Because they are the ones that paid someone to write about something that happened the industry figures that they have an ownership – a copyright – over it all even right down to barring online linking to that news or information.
In their effort to bend this new media way of getting our news the only thing the news industry is doing is hastening the breaking of their stranglehold on the distribution of the news. They still have all the same abilities to reports the news and the people who are a part of that news. All they are losing is the exclusive rights to distribute it – as they should.
News isn’t distribution and who controls it, news is what is happening in and around our lives except now we are the ones who can distribute it – as it should be.