The process of experiencing news of those Born Digital – the Digital Natives — is famously different from the generations they succeed. DNs don’t read the New York Times or their local paper cover-to-cover over coffee in the morning, nor return home to hear the news read by Walter Cronkhite or Dan Rather (then discuss it around the dinner table or around the water cooler or at the pub or over bridge or at the Elk’s Lodge).
What is the process of news and information gathering for the DN? Here’s a
hypothesis. It’s a three-step process: Grazing, Deep(er) Dive(s), and the Feedback Loop.
It works, in the paradigmatic sense, like this:
1) Grazing: The citizen gets introduced to new facts through a process of grazing. The source of the facts might be Jon Stewart; it might be an RSS reader with aggregated news sources; it might by a My Yahoo! page or Google news or a PubSub alert; it might be a filtered set of news offerings served up to a Blackberry; it might be passively listening to radio in the car or a news channel at the gym from the seat of a recumbent bike; it might be from peers or blogs (of the Scripting News, Instapundit variety — at once prominent and generous with links) or Drudge; or any number of other introducers of facts, including offline. The net effect is that the citizen has the bare fact, or the headline, and perhaps a bit more (on the order of a paragraph), but no real context. The fact may not be verified and may prove to be false or misleading. In terms of the competition to provide this service, speed and relevance are the sole factors.
2) Deep Dive: The citizen makes her decision that she wants to go beyond the headline, to learn more about a topic beyond the basic fact she’s been exposed to. This is where the citizen goes to dig for context for the fact that’s been introduced. The citizen might choose the “channel” for this information because of celebrity (she likes a certain news anchor’s hair); politics (she likes a certain slant on the news); brand (a given source has a brand that appeals to her); or other reasons. The deep dive helps to make sense of the news, to put it into a frame, to offer an analysis of it, to introduce relevant other voices. This is where trust, branding, credibility come in. This is where news organizations, especially powerful and wealthy institutions — able to afford bureaus and the like — can add the most value. Some blogs fill this role, too — Global Voices might be an example. (Query: is there any reason why you wouldn’t want 1000, or 1,000,000, or n, “channels” at this level, so long as we’re able to discern and choose? See the Daily Me debate and the like for counter-arguments.) The key factor is not speed here, though timeliness is important; the key factors are accuracy, trustworthiness, insight/analysis, and relationship.
3) Feedback Loop: This stage is not for everyone, and is the hardest for traditionalists to grapple with, but an increasing number of citizens want to take another step and to engage more meaningfully with the fact and the context. It might mean blogging something yourself on an obscure blog (like this one!), creating your own podcast or vlog, or commenting on someone else’s blog or a wiki or bulletin board. Or send an e-mail to a listserv or to a network news program. The idea is to talk back — to act as an empowered citizen, able to have an impact on the way the story is told. This feedback loop may be taken seriously, or it may not, by others in the citizen generated media movement, by mainstream media, by decision-makers. It’s in theory good for participatory and semiotic democracy. The role of media in the feedback loop might be to provide an easy means to do it, or to serve as an aggregator by topic of multiple viewpoints from the broader community (loop back to the “deep-dive” step). The feedback loop might also involve taking local news and making it of broader relevance, to a non-local audience. The key factor is the ability to participate with the hopes of being heard, able to affect the outcome of the debate in some fashion, even if only for a few people.
Consider the feedback loop open.