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The Information Divide: The Socialization of News

In the era of the real-time Web, information travels at a greater velocity than the infrastructure of mainstream media can support as it exists today. As events materialize, the access to social publishing and syndication platforms propels information across attentive and connected nodes that link social graphs all over the world. Current events are now at the epicenter of global attention as social media makes the world a much smaller place.

It’s a timely subject as Clay Shirky will discuss how Social Media can make history at this year’s TED conference. Indeed social media is changing, documenting, and also making history, revolutionizing once invincible industries that are now paralyzed by confusion, fear, and ignorance. Although they’re reacting now, it will take more than the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other digital readers to revitalize the business of media.

Information moves with or without them…

News no longer breaks, it tweets – demonstrating the efficiency, momentum, and influence of the human network. With every new iterative update, social graphs transform into a highly organized information distribution system that resembles an “Amber Alert” network for the social Web – with far greater speed, reach, impact, and resonance.

I once referred to Twitter as TNN, the Twitter News Network as it consistently beat traditional media in the race to report relevant news and trends. And as a result, Twitter and other social networks continue to earn an entrenched role as the primary source of information and breaking events for the hundreds of millions of people connected to one another at varying degrees within and across each network.

We no longer find information; it finds us. And, trending topics become touchpoints to the state of events as they unfold.

Accuracy vs. Immediacy

Social Media is only accelerating and in the process, it dramatically reduces the time between an event and collective awareness, growing increasingly pervasive and prominent along the way. As such, a divide now exists between the materialization and journalistic reporting of an event and as such, this gap immediately fills with tweets, updates, and posts as the crowd-powered socialization of information steps in to fill the void.

The Information Divide: The chasm between social and traditional

The information divide describes the chasm that exists between information as it rapidly spreads through attention dashboards of connected individuals and the primary reporting of news by mainstream media reinforced through the emergence of trending topics within each network. It is distanced by the time required to discern, document, fact check, and publish material information, competing with citizen media whether or not it is completely or only partially based on facts.

This prolonged cycle of journalism and reporting, while slower than the human algorithm that powers the now Web, is still unrivaled however, by its dedication to discovering, verifying, and reporting truth and fact.  In the race towards veracity, the checks and balances of new media systematically reduce error and filter hearsay and speculation and as a result, long standing sources are now slowly losing favor as a destination for revelation and instead, transforming into resources for intelligence as it emerges. In many cases, it’s the tweet, the Twitpic, the Twitvid, the livestream that serve the role of breaking (used as a verb) news.

While the divide is decreasing as media becomes more versed in the art and science of new media tools, the information divide also represents an opportunity for journalists to earn greater relevance. It is a necessary stopgap that validates information and feeds back into a system that can syndicate ratified content from news media through conversational media – gaining a broader audience with every linkback, blog post, tweet, Facebook update, et al.

It’s about proactively defining the shift from reporter to a new genre of influencers who essentially become media catalysts.

The Wire

Media is now forced to compete in an attention economy where the business of news is now a real-time competition for mind share, connectedness, and earned relevance. Today, competitive advantages, and all that benefits the business of news as a result, are defined by the ability to narrow the time span between pinpointing, validating and reporting unconfirmed events as well as the prowess to connect facts to important social beacons online.

The Cycle of Breaking News from Social to Traditional to a New Hybrid

The future of all media is rooted in engagement and its worth is measured by contribution, collaboration, and the extent of consequential relationships within any and all online networks of relevance. Influence is not only the ability to inspire action, but also a state of prominence.

The news desk of tomorrow is actually needed today.

Whereas the wire served as a source of breaking information to those who could channel it to audiences everywhere, social media is now a fusion of not only a crowd-sourced wire, but it is also representative of a living and breathing human seismograph that surfaces important events, online and offline.  As a result, active connections to the very pulse of social activity are now an unswerving qualification to sit at the news desk of tomorrow.

The acceleration of real-time content production is not only a form of immediate differentiation, it is also critical to survival. Part of what we’re learning in all of this is that the battlefield for attention and significance is not where we actually engage today. Instead, it evolves and transpires in the places where information is discovered and shared today. We are shifting from a destination-based news ecosystem to a participatory model of sourcing, engagement, and relationships that increase value by identifying and connecting stories to people where and how they consume and share it.

If information reach, velocity, and impact are measured by a human seismograph, news media must now employ social seismologists in order to measure and source the information that will enable them to effectively compete for the future as well as mind share, right now.

Collective Intelligence

We are all in this together.

Information is no longer an isolated or individual experience. We are connected to one another based on common interests and our ability to learn is now the result of collaboration and social syndication. The ability to plug-in to social networks and the invaluable relationships that define them is where the transformation begins and the journey unfolds.

A recent study conducted by Cision and Don Bates of the George Washington University’s Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Public Relations found reporters depend on social media sources when researching their stories – but not at the extent to transform an industry over night. Indeed conversations form a groundswell that escalates information to those who can extend relevant content to the next level of audiences.

55% of the journalists said that social media was “important” or “somewhat important” for reporting and producing stories…

Not surprising however, is the perception or the observance by journalists that social media is not necessarily the most accurate source of facts. 84% of journalists indicated that information was much less and slightly less reliable than traditional media based on the lack of fact-checking, verification and reporting standards. Here in lies the opportunity to source, verify, and report on breaking stories. This is how we reduce the delta that defines the information divide.

Of the various forms of social media used by journalists to find information, blogs ranked at the very top. And in the world of news media, it should prove both alarming and also as an opportunity (again) for reporters to focus on micronetworks such as Twitter (currently ranked as third) in order to tap into news as it breaks or Tweets.

As reporters become social seismologists, it is also the responsibility of the reporter as well as the brand’s social media director, to connect information to audiences who can thus serve as information emissaries to further extend stories to social graphs across the Web.

In the end, we earn the attention, relationships, and audiences we deserve. As a new hybrid of collaborative journalism takes shape, reporters who remain plugged-in to communities outside of their domain will open new doors to relevance – connecting to stories and people that propel information beyond the reach of any one network at the speed of the now Web.

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209 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Information Divide: The Socialization of News”

  1. Crystal Hammon says:

    excellent analysis on the momentum behind social media

  2. mackmclaughlin says:

    Brian,

    Great article, I forwarded to all of my News friends, you might want to check out RTNDA@NAB this year many of the sessions are on Social Media's impact on News Delivery and how to incorporate it and compete with it on a daily basis.

  3. forthmedia says:

    “News no longer breaks. It tweets.” Well said, Brian. (via @briansolis) The Socialization of News http://bit.ly/adbjHz

  4. danielmckean says:

    Brian your post certainly resonates as society in general is certainly turning to the social Web to retrieve it's news. Those who are in the business have been watching the trends for years and see the change. But I think consciously many people are not even aware of their changing habits. For the older generations it's been a gradual transition. For the younger generations it's been just how they grew up and being “plugged in” has always been the norm.

    As a daily consumer of news myself, I still rely on mainstream broadcast media for world news and on occasion local news and weather. But as a general routine, I rely on the social Web to retrieve the news that I care about and which impacts me personally each and every day. It's more timely. It's more easily had. And it's more abundant. Yes, there may be times the news is unverified and accuracy may be circumspect. But I can live with that due to the access of “on demand” timely content and information. And even when the social Web does get it wrong, it's quick to correct itself with additional reporting and community feedback.

    So you're right about mainstream media. They face a challenge and an opportunity — to gain greater relevance and prosperity in a changing world. They see the change as they are on the frontlines. Everyday viewer, reader and subscriber numbers continue to decline. But you got to give them credit. They are evolving. It just isn't happening quickly. Change doesn't come easy. Or for those forced to shutter their doors, soon enough.

  5. Sarah Austin says:

    Bravo! Fantastic outlines and presentation on social media.

  6. Ellie Becker says:

    I love a post that doesn't aim to connect at the high school reading level. This one was really challenging. What I'm thinking now is that Social Media not only breaks news in factual terms, but lets us know in real time what the news means to those it impacts. Journalism merged with editorial comment.

    • briansolis says:

      Thank you Ellie…there's more influence in opinion some would say. I might add that content isn't necessarily king, but context appears to prevail in the real-time web.

    • Ellie Becker says:

      I agree and we can use alot more context in the world. As an extra note — Steve Rubel posted this link on Twitter today to a story about the BBC requiring its reporters to use Social Media as primary sources. http://j.mp/8ZT8lo

  7. Great insight to the social media medium and it's effects on the way we get and use the news

  8. Mike Looney says:

    Totally agree: “We are shifting from a destination-based news ecosystem to a participatory model of sourcing, engagement, and relationships that increase value by identifying and connecting stories to people where and how they consume and share it.”

    You're really on top of your game man I envy you! Thanks for the free content.

  9. Brian, I appreciate your well-researched and refreshing perspective! It's great to read an article that recognizes social media presents journalists with an opportunity not a threat. I agree that social media is forcing the mainstream media to react to the new and immediate way people are obtaining news, but this adjustment will only advance media in general and improve the quality, accuracy, and speed of which everyone gets their news.

  10. Hi Brian,

    I think the future of social media is not attention but validation.

    I question the collective intelligence of the social web simply because there must be an objective mechanism to ensure that intelligence.

    I just finished reading Shantaram, an excellent book that describes the Bombay mafia and the purpose of life in the same breathe.

    I was struck by a description of good and evil that suggested that what is good in the world is precisely what contributes to the Universe's inherent intent. It's a compelling argument, if the universe does have a general progression or direction, than there must be a greater purpose. And while that purpose is elusive, there is a certain reasonableness to the suggestion that since the big bang the universe has tended towards greater complexity with humans as the most complex beings (that we know of).

    Jumping back to the web's collective intelligence, what is its tendency?

    We find that tendencies in human nature provide for the possibility that a large number of individuals and influencers can choose the wrong decision -“information cascades”. This helps explain why the stock market failed to predict the financial destruction of the past few years. It also explains fashion trends as well as fads…anyways.

    For social news to be intelligent, we need a mechanism that can properly aggregate that news. As long as these aggregators are human, it puts a very real limitation on the speed of effective aggregation. I think you suggest this, that rather than pull power away from journalists, the social web empowers them further. The key in social media is to be a trusted validator.

  11. Brian –

    I find it interesting that many companies rank social media high in importance, yet many dedicate far less time/money/energy to it as opposed to some of the traditional means.

    That being said, the shift continues to well…shift 🙂

  12. Scott Gould says:

    Have some models I've developed that contain some of these ideas. Nice additions here – thanks Brian

  13. Teresa_0222 says:

    Information is important, no matter where we get it from. Whether we learn about it the traditional way (TV, radio, newspaper, word-of-mouth) or the new, hyper-speed way (Internet, social media), I agree that relevance and accuracy are still the most valuable things it needs to have. With plenty of information bombarding us from all corners today, it’s our decision to choose which ones we’ll believe or even pay attention to. It’s okay to expect those in power and position to use these media responsibly, but it boils down to our own opinions and interests in the end. It’s great too that no matter the belief or interest, there’s always enough information for everyone available out there.

    P.S. Click on http://budurl.com/2jkb to see how being a little sceptical can help you separate the truth from the lies and http://budurl.com/9qcm to discover how being informed and knowing what to do can help you prepare for harder times, especially when it affects your livelihood and environment.

  14. iancleary says:

    I want to hear about something immediately. If it's not that accurate then it will be corrected quite quickly and probably still in time before the newspaper is hot off the press.

    By the way, TNN – Twitter news network, a great TLA (three letter acronym) !!!

  15. danedmiller says:

    New reader Brian, but this is a great article to get me hooked. I found it interesting that of the media polled, only 55% deemed the social media conduit of news “important”. This seems to indicate the other 45% either approach with skepticism, or are simply unwilling to acknowledge the idea that there are many times when the ability to get an exclusive first delivery of any story is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Love the term “human seismograph” and the “surfacing of events” concept. Colorful and instantly understandable.

  16. All in all, a very well-written post and one that I largely agree on. I’d like to take a few points and offer additional context:
    1. ”…Twitter News Network as it consistently beat traditional media in the race to report relevant news and trends.” There are two perspectives to this point. First, clearly it is impossible for traditional media to be everywhere at all times as news breaks. In this case, anyone with a cell phone can become a journalist as evidenced by major breaking news such as the plane landing on the Hudson.

    Second, we often think of breaking news as the big events, e.g., Haiti, but we must remember that Twitter is formally known as micro-blogging. In turn, Twitterers have micro-interests meaning that something could be breaking news in their world that doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional breaking news event. If you’re a cruise fanatic and learn that Carnival is going to announce a new ship, then this is breaking news for you. It’s in these less heralded examples where traditional media can beat out social media because news orgs and journalists are often the primary recipients and conduits of such information.

    2. “We no longer find information; it finds us.” Completely agreed, and this is where I feel that journalists have a tremendous opportunity in front of them. As journalists are experts in their own beats, they can now leverage social media to become news curators for their fans as well as pull in new audience who may have been unaware that they existed. This human connection lends itself to building trust with the larger news brand that a journalist represents and a more engaged audience who looks for more details beyond a 140-character tweet.

    Furthermore, as online users increasingly start and end their days with social networks, then a traditional media brand needs a way to be part of those communities, so that it can stay a top of mind news brand when users seek more information.

    3. “Accuracy vs. Immediacy.” Yes, a very delicate balance for any news organization as it should be. Better to get it right than get it first because the latter could prove disastrous if incorrect. However, there is a way for journalists to strike the appropriate balance. For example, during one of last year’s snow storms, one of our travel journalists entered the search terms “snow + hotel” into Twitter Search, and discovered several tweets that were along the lines of, “Snow preventing me from flying out. Hotel now wants to charge double for staying another night.” She was able to then take these unrelated tweets and unlikely search combination and write a post on her hotel blog of her observations about trends related to the weather.

    As stated up front, nothing that I really disagree with. Just additional points to digest for a very well written analysis of the new media and traditional media dance routine.

  17. erin_m says:

    Nice article – thank you. Looking forward to sharing content with colleagues at our organization.

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