“Finding” news consumers, the new mission of media

A noteworthy piece in the New York Times by Brian Stelter outlines beautifully a postmodern perspective on “the news” and brings a little clarity to the matter of how young people stay informed. It will give modernist, top-down professional news people heartburn.

According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e‑mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.

“There are lots of times where I’ll read an interesting story online and send the U.R.L. to 10 friends,” said Lauren Wolfe, 25, the president of College Democrats of America. “I’d rather read an e‑mail from a friend with an attached story than search through a newspaper to find the story.”

While Stelter’s article deals with political information, I would argue that this is taking place across all information niches, because in a postmodern, postcolonial culture, trust is with one’s tribe, not institutional expertise. So why shouldn’t we expect Bill to email his friends when he finds something of interest? It’s word-of-mouth gone-to-seed.

Young people also identify online discussions with friends and videos as important sources of election information. The habits suggest that younger readers find themselves going straight to the source, bypassing the context and analysis that seasoned journalists provide.

Stelter quotes Jane Buckingham of the market research company Intelligence Group recalling a student in a focus group who said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

This is a great mantra for the traditional news industry to adopt, because it flips the news mission from putting the word out via “distribution” channels to the active pursuit of “finding” people like the student referenced above. You can’t “find” anybody by insisting them come to you. Old meet new.

(Thanks, Jeff)

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