I was having a chat conversation with DBF this morning, and we got to talking about the Twittering of the Iranian election:
Me: On an totally unrelated note, it’s a whole new media world out there: http://mashable.com/2009/06/15/twitter-iran-election/
DBF: It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Me: When you stop to think about it, it really is a paradigm shift of rather major proportions.
DBF: Remember faxes and the role they played in bringing down the iron curtain?
Me: No…. Refresh my memory.
DBF: It was the same kind of thing, only an older technology. Protesters used the faxes to communicate independent of their bugged phone lines, and arranged rallies, etc. [...]
Me: I’m not sure I was even aware of that.
Me: So where do you suppose this leaves the traditional newspaper?
DBF: Gone the way of the buggy whip.
Me: I’m afraid so.
I’ve got this feeling that this is bigger than we’re realizing. I know it’s news, but the shift in the relevance of traditional media combined with the shift in the sheer power of the control over information will have significant ramifications.
It’s the Tweet heard ’round the world, if you will.
I’m not sure how I would respond to these developments, if I were a newspaper owner. It would be rather like having the market cornered on slide rules, only to have the calculator appear. In a moment, you’ve become not only superfluous, but antiquated.
Perhaps the role of the newspaper at this point needs to morph into a re-imagined role – like libraries have had to do in recent years. Librarians direct people to the information they’re seeking, regardless of format. We’ve had to adjust from a world that was once dominated by books and include the new ways that information is being delivered. (Some have been dragged, kicking and screaming, granted. But we’ve largely made the transition.)
Newspapers are now in the position of being one of many sources of information rather than the primary source. In order to maintain their relevance, they will need to revise their business model. I would propose that a newspaper at this point should be an in-depth exploration of stories, with historical perspective and thoughtful presentation of the issues. Since tweets are, by their nature, short snippets, it is impossible to get a thorough examination of an incident. Newspapers should fill that gap and go back to fleshing out stories, rather than stooping to the lower denominator of small bites of information. Slow journalism. Give us something to chew on, something to ponder.
I must admit a fondness for newspapers (I dearly miss the Milwaukee Sentinel) and will also admit that I don’t read a newspaper nearly as often as I once did. I find myself getting my news from online sources and from radio and television. When I do pick up a paper, it’s for those in-depth explorations, not for news in the real sense of the word.
It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out. I hope the newspaper successfully transitions into a better version of itself, and that we don’t lose them altogether.