Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

It’s time to change how we think about “news”

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 14, 2010

While narrative prose will always play a central role in human communication, the future of public service journalism does not reside with “the story.”

There’s a very smart new blog on the scene, called The Future of Context. It’s run by Matt Thompson of Newsless, with input from Jay Rosen, Tristan Harris and Staci Kramer. The aim of the blog is a noble one: “…we wanted to bring some context to the question of context.”

Read any journalism manual, and it’ll tell you the importance of giving your reader or viewer the context to the story, putting it in its place. But in the rush to learn new technologies, multiskill and bootstrap, are we forgetting that?

In a post over the weekend, Howard Weaver summed up one of the big shifts in journalism pretty damn well:

In my salad days journalists relied on one tool to handle it all – the constantly changing river of news as well as the intricate web of process and relationships. Our tool was the story, a finite prose narrative anchored to one spot in time – all the news we could gather and report by midnight, more or less. Compared to the alternatives of the day, it was a rich and powerful source of information.

Compared to the alternatives today, it’s not.

He goes on to pose Jeff Jarvis‘ view that news, instead will be made up of ‘the topic, meaning a blog or site “that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering.”’

The paradigm shift

So, is the news story dead? How does that affect us as journalists? One thing you can’t deny is that things are changing. Fast. Irrevocably. And completely. Matt Thompson sums it up very well, and journalists should take note:

“I think we’re on the verge of an epochal advancement in journalism. We’ve spoken for years about the radical evolution that must take place, but I think our ideas are only now matching our ambitions. In recent years, our craft has gotten quicker and glitzier and slightly more in touch, but all our progress has been incremental. Now, the paradigm shift is finally at hand …”