One of the hottest topics in journalism is the future of the craft itself. Newspapers are laying off reporters at a rapid clip at the same time that technology has made “citizen journalists” out of any blogger willing to take up the handle. What is the future of a profession that appears to be in such decline? Like many careers, journalism is clearly going to change in ways that are hard to predict right now. The future may lie in a bit of the past and a bit of innovation, as shown by the excellent new aggregator of Minnesota blogs, Newsbobber.
Aggregators are sprouting up everywhere on the ‘net lately. The reason they are popular is that there is far more stuff available to us than any one person can handle through the first wave of search engines, such as google. The stream of information is, as Scott Adams once observed, “Like aiming a firehose at a teacup.” Organizing things and making sense of them in a way that people can actually find what they want is clearly important. Newsbobber and other aggregators are a handy way of doing this.
Newsbobber‘s niche is that it is all Minnesota blogs and news services put into one place. It’s a good line to draw because being a Minnesotan is an identity that comes naturally to those of us who live under the cold northern sky. We have a long history of being unique and a bit proud of the differences. Having all things Minnesotan in one place is a very good idea.
Beyond being Minnesotan, Newsbobber has every kind of news you can imagine. Feeds are taken from professional news sources. You can also find blog staples of politics and personal info, but there are also blogs on the Vikings, knitting, Catholic devotionals, food, and just about any topic you can name. Some of the bloggers are professionals, such as David Brauer of MinnPost and James Lileks of the StarTribune, but most are amateurs like myself. There’s even a rating system based on an aggregate of different measures of traffic if you want to focus on what’s hot.
This new service is extremely useful for those of us who are interested in what our neighbors are saying, so Newsbobber is a handy addition to the local scene. But it becomes even more interesting when you consider the future of journalism, with professionals and citizen journalists working in the same field. What does it mean to be a professional?
The founder and creator of Newsbobber, Bob Ingrassia, knows what it means to be a journalist. He was a reporter and editor with the Pioneer Press for a number of years before he went out on his own. Newspapers, like the one Bob left behind, are increasingly relying on cheap wire service stories and free “guest commentaries” from citizens themselves. The professionals that are left are increasingly taking on the role of editors, but the format and feel all look like they have for years.
Newsbobber is, simply, an edited guide to what people are producing on their own. It’s summarized and organized in short intros and popularity numbers, but you can click to read in detail a topic that catches your eye. It is, in many ways, the future of journalism as a profession – where the pros become “Editors of the World”, in a sense. Content produced by amateurs may get our news stories much closer to the sources, but there is still a strong need to sift through it, sort it, and package it all in a way that makes sense.
This role isn’t all that different from the role that people like Benjamin Franklin had back in the earliest days of newspapers. Many of the articles were written by gentlemen who sent a letter off to the editor of the paper – this is why many had names like the “Post” or the “Gazette” (literally, “summary”). The idea of stories written by exclusively working professionals called “reporters” was a product of the era 150 to 120 years ago when newspapers became large industrial operations hungry for more and more stories to fill space. Before that time, “citizen journalism” was the order of the craft.
Is Newsbobber and aggregators like it the future of journalism? I think so, but the answer hinges on developing a stream of income that will support keeping them going. I don’t know Bob’s plans for capturing revenue from Newsbobber, but I know he’s thinking about it. What matters here is that a layout like this is the most useful role for professional journalists in this new era, so figuring out how to make it work one way or the other has to be a top priority for the profession. In the meantime, we in Minnesota have an excellent new way to keep in touch with what’s happening around us. Thanks, Bob, and here’s hoping Newsbobber is a great success!