How the news found me on Twitter

More than a year ago, Brian Stelter had a story in The New York Times about how the social media generation takes it upon themselves to pass on the news they feel is worthwhile. The story contained a seminal quote from an unidentified college student that has become iconic of the new journalism evolving before our eyes. He said: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

The line meant many things to many people. BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis and the Globe and Mail’s Mathew Ingram, a colleague here at Nieman, both wrote about it at the time.

That single line seemed to capture what is changing in journalism. The old model of sender (news organization) to receiver (audience) was eroding. With the interactive Web, people could be senders and receivers. News organizations could also be both. The lines were blurry and crossed. And if you wanted to capture those illusive young readers you needed to get that.

So why am I bringing all this up now, more than 18 months after the pivotal story — a lifetime in the Web world?

Read the rest of the post at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

4 thoughts on “How the news found me on Twitter

  1. Danny Bloom , October 8, 3009

    Josh Young blogged on this meme the other day on his HuffPost blog. Gina, good post. But i disagree. Forget the me me me world we live in. We must find the news. Not the news will find us. That is wrong, Stelter is wrong, the study was wrong. Real readers will find the news. If we wait for the news to find ME ME ME, the news we get will be celebrity driven shite. gina, this is ALL wrong. please email me and i will set you straight, and see my blog “zippy1300″ for more of this. DANNY

  2. Danny Bloom at 10:36 pm, October 8, 2009

    Josh Young who is
    Social News Editor at the Huffington Post

    “If News is That Important, It Will Find Me.”

    There’s one really powerful idea shaping the future of news. It’s powerful, sure, and has wide-ranging implications for how citizens inform themselves about the world around them. Powerful and yet perfectly simple.

    “If news is that important, it will find me.”

    The reporter responsible for surfacing this gem is Brian Stelter, whom we’ve written about before at the Huffington Post. While in college, he wrote the hit blog TVNewser before the New York Times hired him as a media reporter.

    Stelter deserves credit for picking up in March 2008 on the unassuming thought — shared by a researcher conducting a focus group that included one surprisingly wise college student.

    But how could it be that news will find us? Isn’t that just lazy — the stuff an MTV-obsessed college student might say? Doesn’t it take a supremely self-important culture of distraction and abbreviation to wish away civic responsibilities in favor of solipsistic consumption? I mean, how presumptuous?!

    It takes work to read the newspaper, doesn’t it? Logging on and visiting websites works basically the same way. You have to seek out information around you. The newspaper or its website has the information. So you have to go to the information, asking to be informed. That is the news.

    But one important fact about the news media landscape is different. It’s a game-changer, as they say. One account (PDF) of professor W. Russell Neuman shows just how much media there is in the world. Not all of it’s news, of course. We don’t know how much exactly, but we do know that there’s more.

    And there’s way more media in general. On top of that, it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between news media or pure entertainment (hello Jon Stewart!).

    From 1960 to 2005, the amount of media at our disposal skyrocketed. Even if we take into consideration the fact–maybe good, maybe bad, but certainly true–that Americans consumed almost twice as much media in 2005 as they did in 1960, the amount of media is astonishing.

    In 1960, if someone had a minute of attention to give to consuming media, there were 98 one-minute alternatives available. In other words, as Neuman and his co-authors Yong Jin Park and Elliot Panek write, “the ratio of supply to demand in 1960…is 98.” And “that represents the fundamental metric of choice.” Thus, “It is a human scale choice.”

    But the present-day environment is different — like night and day. Now, “there are over 20,000 minutes of mediated content available for every minute to be consumed.” In fact, “the ratio is 20,943.” Of course, “that is not a human-scale cognitive challenge.”

    And so, the authors write, “humans will inevitably turn to the increasingly intelligent digital technologies that created the abundance in the first place for help in sorting it out.” That is the challenge for a new generation of media consumers.

    We cannot sift through mountains of media options the same way we remembered which radio station played our favorite tunes or which television station broadcast on which channel. In fact, we are going to have to rely on one another to discover, filter, and share — with ingenious technologies helping us out.

    But the news doesn’t have to come to us only through our friends and family — or anyone in particular. It will take all kinds of routes to us — through one social network, onto to another, and into a blog we read for reasons totally unrelated to the news.

    Children of recent decades know this deep down. Most of them do, anyhow. It’s natural, now, that news and information follows a roundabout path, circling and swooping around us, in constant motion. Everywhere’s a watercooler. We feel this. Not only us youngsters, of course, but we have our own set of experiences, unique to us because this is all we’ve ever known.

    That’s why it took a college student in a focus group and a young reporter to bring it to a newspaper. And that’s why it’s a shame that the Newseum isn’t opening itself up to these simple insights from digital natives.

  3. More People Realizing That The News Finds Them… Not The Other Way Around
    says TechDirt re

    from the locking-up-news-doesn’t-make-sense dept

    We’ve been talking for a while about how these days, news is increasingly likely to find people rather than people finding news. This is a key point to understand in developing any kind of news related business model. It’s about understanding how “passed links” or “earned links” are increasingly important. Many old school newspaper execs still think of news consumption via the old model: that someone chooses to go to a newspaper website and read through the news. But that’s increasingly rare. Instead, the more common stories are the ones like Gina Chen explains, where news found her on Twitter. She didn’t go looking for the particular story about the magazine Gourmet closing — she spotted it because someone she followed who worked there mentioned it. People are increasingly getting important news from their social network “passing links” or even just passing on the news directly, rather than going to some centralized hub and “finding” the news

    This doesn’t mean the old model is dead, but it’s less important, and less a part of the news ecosystem as it used to be. And you know what’s death for news “finding” people? A paywall. If content is behind a paywall, I’m much less likely to send it out to anyone else or let anyone know about it. It’s just not worth creating that kind of hassle for others. Newspapers that decide to put up such a paywall are actively putting up a barrier to one of the major promotion and distribution mechanisms in how people find and consume news these days. It’s difficult to see how that makes any sense at all.

  4. Hi Gina,

    I understand your point better now, thanks for the clarification, and ….you’re right. I see now. I guess because I am a lifelong reporter, newspaper reader, since my teen days in Springfield Mass to my days now in Taiwan, I search out the news I want to find and want to read, because I am an intellectual who does things for himself, but you are right, most kids today want and LIKE the news coming to them, it’s okay, that’s the new value system. It sucks, but it’s reality….SIGH

    danny, 60 going on 100

    BY the way, Gina, my idea that we might need a new word for reading on screens compared to reading on paper surface, can you interview me one day about this? I am the only person in the world right now going in this direction, calling for a new word for “reading” when we read on a screen,,,it is NOT reading, it is something new, i don’t know the word yet, but a new word will come soon……see my blog here

    As one newsperson to another, THIS IS IMPORTANT….. Gina, can you get back to me on this pro or con.?

    Tufts 1971
    former editor, Capital City Weekly, Juneau, Alaska
    former sub-editor, Daily Yomiuri, JAPAN
    former sub-editor, Taipei Times, Taiwan

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