Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not the same old news

Why do newsreaders all have such a similar tone? Accents in funny places, robotic delivery. Maybe it is to equate a terrible earthquake in a far flung country with a rise in interest rates. Remember, the scale of harm is proportional to how many Australians were involved in the tragedy.

Traditional news has always tended to focus on the more depressing elements of the human condition. War, famine, civil unrest, oppression, acts of God, accidents, terrorism and the like. There is a primal attraction to events of a life and death nature and these images are stored more easily in our brains (especially if there are more Australians involved... if there aren't too many, we think maybe this earthquake thing avoids attacking Australians who are visiting that country). I remember watching SBS or ABC news that had more of a global focus than the commercial channels and it seemed like they packed in even more doom and gloom because they included even more regions in the world. It always puzzled me why the good news didn't get reported as surely good news does occur in some places at some time. However, traditionally this has not been newsworthy, not attention grabbing or important enough.

News then seemed to develop as there were channels dedicated to it, covering it 24 hours a day. Something had to be put up there. News changed from reporting actual facts to covering speculation, with news stories about allegations of corruption, speculation that someone was going to be fired, backstabbed... speculation about racism in the Australian cricket team. Anything. It almost becomes the sort of news that is reported in women's magazines. Anyone can speculate. All it takes is to put two events together and hypothesise what the next outcome will be. Scrutinise everything, always looking for hidden meanings to support your theories until they come true. Even if they don't, it was only speculation.

Then there is the development of social news, which is even more powerful than the traditional news. The relevance of an event increases greatly when it is brought down to the level of effecting your circle of contacts.

There is a competitive element to social newsmaking, i.e. the Facebook status update or the twitter. There is a sense of showing off about it, the need to be slightly obscure yet at the same time connecting with people. Making out that your life is interesting. Challenging people to 'get' what you are talking about or else they just don't know what is going on. There is the chance that it increases the feeling of boredom and inadequacy in those check this news regularly as they continually see exciting things taking place in the lives of their peers. At least that is what it is some of the time, but whenever I feel like my life is so boring compared to the exciting events taking place elsewhere, I see someone's post on twitter about what sandwich they just made or complaining about something very mundane. This is one of the saving graces of social media.

It is interesting to see that the format of the two leads to different types of news being reported. This is not just related to the character limits for twitter or its inability to reply directly to someone's posts. These limitations make twitter more obscure and punchy, and its crypticness means that it can be used as an even tighter circle, while at the same time being broadcast wider (depending on your privacy settings).

Facebook's decision to have a 'like' but no 'dislike' button means that comparatively more good news is reported via Facebook than twitter. The ability to link comments to it also reinforces this effect.

The line between news and non-news is always going to be a tough one. Some might say a twitter update about what Demi Moore had for breakfast is not newsworthy. Then again, the traditional free-to-air news wouldn't think a riot in Sri Lanka was worth reporting on. It depends on what is relevant and now that relevance is being more directed by people we can see that the content of what is news is changing. If you look on a news website you will often see that the most read stories are not the traditional doom and gloom stories but sometimes good, light-hearted or quirky news.

The latest development in social media of checking in to places... I'm not even sure if that is news? I think we will have to wait and see. At the moment, I am happy that we don't have to watch or listen to the same old news that we had no other alternative to a few decades ago.

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