News is something that is hard to define. Events happen all around us, but which of these is “newsworthy”? Who gets to make that choice?
Traditionally, what qualifies as “news” has been defined to a great extent by the number of trees that are slain to make slabs of thin paper for printing. The other great determination is coverage area, or how tight the focus is on neighborhood scale, city scale, state, nation, and so on. Between the space allocated and the focus of the institution, the definition of news is made.
Blogs fill their space at a more human scale, or at least they can. There is genuine news to be had in anyone’s family or circle of friends, and the coverage area defines itself. By not needing to pay for dead trees, the amount of information can be unlimited – assuming that someone wants to wade through all of it. In the end, blogs are limited only by their narcissism and the attention span of their readers.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, journalism is undergoing a revolution. I use that term carefully, because unlike the casual use, meaning great change, I fear that a large number of people who were in positions of power find themselves with their backs to the wall. What is “news” is being determined, more and more, by the voraciousness of the consumer and what they want to read. Those who traditionally chose what fit on the slabs of dead tree pulp need sensationalism their product selling.
The problem with the rise of human scaled journalism is that there seems to be a great oxymoron at the center of it all. Humans respond best to things that hit them in the guts and set their emotions to work. The simplest form is anger, a potent emotion because it sets our blood on fire and stays lit, even after the story that set us off is shown to be untrue. This is, of course, the opposite of what the practice and theory of the thing called “journalism” is all about.
For example, many blogs are writing about comments made by a radio announcer this week. Don Imus has said many stupid and gutless things in his life, but this one appears to have stuck. What is human centered about this person that few of us will ever meet? The anger that he has somehow created is all that matters, because that is the emotion most people feel. There are many idiots who say stupid things, but this one has a microphone – and that fact alone seems to have created the anger that makes bloggers think he is relevant. The anger is in their blood, so it is by definition part of their lives. Nevermind how nonsensical it all is.
The collapse of traditional journalism is showing us a great hole that I fear cannot be filled by human centered journalism and blogging. We simply lack the skills and commitment to do it well. We do not seem to understand enough about ourselves and our reaction to the world around us. The determination of what is “newsworthy” seems to have moved from the cold lead of a press to the hot blood running under our skin. The spaces inbetween are full of stories of their own, stories which are all around us. These are the ones that need to be told.