We have instant access to information 24/7. We’re constantly bombarded by streams of information from various sources thanks to the Internet. Also, it isn’t just any old Internet that we have now; we live in the time of Web 2.0, the social web, an Internet that allows and encourages us to interact with information and with others. So, what has this meant for news media?
The demise of print is well-known, but it’s only part of the story. Thanks to social media we’re now in a remix era. People have grown up with the expectation of participating in the distribution and creation of content. Gone are the days of “browsing” the web. In are the days of reblogging on Tumblr.
It’s ironic that in the Information Age the producers of information have so many challenges. If anything, we’re drowning in information — well, permutations of information. The web has made it perfectly normal to encounter dozens of variations of pretty much the same thing.
As soon as something happens in the world, one source will post it online, then five more sources will publish their own slight different take. Then bloggers will reblog these stories, which quickly becomes Facebook and Twitter posts. Finally, there’s the retweet and relink cycle. Oftentimes the content itself — say a news story — isn’t even “read” in the sense of reading the entire article. The headline and synopsis is often enough. The action can take place in the Facebook comments.
It’s often said that young people don’t read the news. This isn’t exactly true. When I want to find news about a specific topic I usually search via Google News and look through headlines from trusted publications like CNN, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. When I asked some of my friends where they go for news, they said pretty much the same thing. Then of course we all have our less than scholarly sites and blogs (like Gawker, The Gothamist, The Daily What) that we check regularly for “news” roundups, a daily dose of snark, and other weird/funny/ridiculous things from around the web. Is this “reading the news”? Well, yes, in a way.
Alot of people are really into sharing news stories. Sharing is great, but motivations for doing it vary. Sometimes people are truly sharing an interesting piece of information, but far more often the act of sharing is yet another act of self-expression. You are what you share. And for many people that means they’ll share things that make them look funny, cool or smart. For example, someone who tweets McSweeney’s pieces all the time to seem like they are in the literary know, even if People is a more likely regular read. There’s also the person who posts articles about legislative or environmental issues to their Facebook walls. Sharing itself becomes a key part of what seems like is everyone’s takes nowadays: carefully crafting a social media character for ourselves that may or may not reflect who we really are.
Growing up in the Information age has made my generation all more discerning consumers of content. That’s a nice way of putting we’re good at wading through the clutter and crap. There’s little doubt this is going to change. Just look at what Flipboard is doing on the iPad or Bo.lt is doing with web pages. It’s going to be hard for content creators, but the best approach is probably to go with it. After all, what’s the alternative?