How Digital Natives Experience News

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.

31 thoughts on “How Digital Natives Experience News

  1. How Digital Natives Experience News…

    [Source: John Palfrey] quoted: 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…

  2. Spot on!

    Describes me to a “T”. The aggregate news picture I attain is a sort of fractal mosaic.

    I might add that once a source has attained second level status, it may also become a first level input.
    That is to say, when I have found a blog, or what have you, whose content I enjoy/trust, I may well go to it to see what new things it has to offer, as part of my habitual grazing, because I have reason to believe I’ll be interested. So it is simultaneously a “first glance” and “dig deeper” info stream. This also has the effect of turning that source into a new springboard from which to graze, because it will have its own constellation of references, both critical and tangential. A blogger’s “blogroll” or “things I’m reading” is a great example. Warren Ellis, to take just one person, is especially good at this.
    Some other bloggers have lists so long you wonder how they can possibly stay au courant with all of it.
    However, this constellation of references will be different from a news aggregator or something similar, because it is already the result of a searching and filtering process–not by me, but by someone(s) who has/have become part of my trust network.
    Eventually, you can follow the hyperlinks and metacommentary through “six degrees of separation” to literally anywhere. Go Technorati !!

    Sort of a streaming information version of “from a grain of sand one could deduce the universe.”

    A related issue I find interesting is how the list of “sites I check at least once a day” has evolved over time. there is defintely a saturation point, or number of information sources beyond which one is helpless.


  3. Links for 22 May 2006…

    Great Firewall of China China now has more internet users than any other country except for the US, but its most significant and best-funded research is focused on web filtering and other forms of censorship, building an ever higher and……

  4. […] John Palfrey of Harvard Law’s Berkman Center, hits the nail on the head regarding Digital Natives, or DN’s as he calls them. He purports that for those who’ve grown up in the digital age, most information is scanned at the headline level, that very select pieces will be pursued for some level of detail and that those which are pursued need some level of authenticity, trust and a feedback loop. It’s a perfect explanation of why blogs and social networking are so successful with youth. They ‘get’ the technology, they’re able to build relationships based on trust and common ground and there’s tons of opportunity for immediate and interactive feedback. […]

  5. “The idea is to talk back — to act as an empowered citizen, able to have an impact on the way the story is told.”

    ..sure, but this basic idea, which is defnitly good, will not help get the the discussion objectiv….as we see here…
    but we will see…all this nice features…if they will used in a few years, or are they noting more then space “eater”…
    greets tom

    and a happy new year 2007..

  6. I saw Ray in concert about 2 months ago here in Minneapolis. If you can catch him on his solo tour, it’s very worth it. It was just Ray on guitar, and another guy playing the upright bass. Very faithful to the cd.

  7. Pingback: Internet Policies: Shaping the Political Climate « Musings of a Twentysomething Librarian in Training

  8. Pingback: 29 August 2011 | Writing on The New York Times

  9. Pingback: News at the Speed of Tweets « evans4202blog

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