“If the news is important, it will find me”

by Mathew on March 27, 2008 · 148 comments

Brian Stelter has a great piece in the New York Times that I urge anyone interested in the media business to go and read right now — I’ll wait — and that includes reporters, editors and (most of all) managers, and probably IT departments and designers as well. The context of the piece is political reporting and political news, but I think the points Brian is making are relevant to the entire industry as a whole.

It’s not that there is anything earth-shatteringly new in the piece, mind you. But I think it does a great job of describing how digital “word of mouth” — in other words, social networking of all kinds including Twitter, IM, Facebook and so on — has become a dominant means of news delivery for young people in a way that I’m not sure old geezers like myself quite grasp, no matter how often people describe it (and Stelter knows whereof he speaks, since he was still in university when the NYT hired him away from TV Newser). As Brian describes it in the story:

In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.

And then Stelter mentions Jane Buckingham of the Intelligence Group, a market research company, and says that during a focus group, one of the subjects — a college student — said to her:

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

Think about that for a second — or longer, if necessary. I think that sums up, in ten simple words, what has happened to the way that many people (and not just young people, but those who use RSS readers and blogs and social networks as well) consume the news (Mark Cuban seems to think so too). Not only is there just so much of it out there that it’s virtually impossible to consume it all, but the very fact that someone you know — or trust — has passed on or blogged or Twittered or posted a link makes it more likely that you will read it.

Are most websites designed with this kind of principle in mind? Not really. Most of them are still designed as though people read the news the same way they do in the paper — starting at the front and moving page by page towards the back (of course, many people don’t read the newspaper this way either, but that’s another story). In reality, people come from every conceivable angle, dropping into stories and then disappearing, finding them through links and posts and Digg and elsewhere.

If the news is that important, it will find me.

{ 72 trackbacks }

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{ 76 comments }

michael webster 03.27.08 at 5:49 pm

Uh, would you say “if knowledge is important, it will find me.”? No.

mathewi 03.27.08 at 6:19 pm

Obviously this approach wouldn't apply in all cases, or with all kinds
of knowledge, Michael — some kinds of knowledge are obviously worth
seeking out on their own. Are you saying that every article in a
newspaper falls into that category?

In any case, not everyone has the time to seek out knowledge in every
place it might pop up — why shouldn't they find it however they can?
Isn't that better than not finding it at all?

liza 03.27.08 at 6:37 pm

“Are most websites designed with this kind of principle in mind? Not really.”

you need to qualify this because not everybody as you note, comes through the front page. to paraphrase what zeldman said succinctly in his book, “Designing with Web Standards” : Search engines are not only your biggest audience.

to keep this in mind, it's not the design that one has to think of as in “what does my front page look like”, it's the information architecture, especially the implementation of taxonomies, that really makes a difference in creating multiple participation planes and points of entry in a blog.

liza 03.27.08 at 6:42 pm

Ummm.

Yes.

millenials are masters at networking. they are in control of their likes and dislikes in ways we didn't dream of as kids and teenagers. these are people who grew up with “america's funniest videos” and “the real world”. Privacy? Voyerism? their definitions are very different from ours.

knowledge, if is important, will get to them because they have networks of people “watching their backs” and taking care of their pipeline.

if you are my age, you became an adult in the 80s, at a time when you had to choose between “networking” to get a job and become a yuppie or saying FU to the man and punking out in one club after another.

trust me. networking, the way they do it, has NOTHING to do with the 'networking', the dirty word i loved to hate in the 80s.

mathewi 03.27.08 at 6:51 pm

Thanks for making that point, Liza — I think you are right. And when
I said “designed,” I meant not just the way they look but also the
structure or the way they work.

liza 03.27.08 at 6:58 pm

and that was half a paraphrase :D

it should have said, “Search engines are not only your biggest audience, they're also blind”. meaning, that accessibility is a big deal in making all those points of entry happen.

which, btw, is very much how millenials, the subjects of the article, think of. “accessibility” is a big deal : blogs, twitter, myspace, livejournal, facebook, texting, phone, email …. you get the point.

to me, btw, this is not a generational thing since people like you and me share to a certain degree the same networking practices —but that's why for our generation we're nerds, geeks, outsiders by being in the vangard.

with the millenials, we're talking about a whole generation of you and mes.

and, btw, even within the “digital divide” context the idea holds.

i'm writing a paper about this which is why am soundboarding here ;)

mathewi 03.27.08 at 7:18 pm

I think you are onto something :-) I'd love to see the paper when you're done.

On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 6:59 PM, Disqus

Aidan Henry 03.27.08 at 9:17 pm

News is time-sensitive. Knowledge isn't.

-Aidan

mathewi 03.27.08 at 9:22 pm

Thanks, Aidan. That's an excellent way of putting it.

On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 9:18 PM, Disqus

Louis Gray 03.27.08 at 9:38 pm

Mathew, it turns out that by sharing this item on Google Reader, those who subscribe to my feed, or my Friendfeed found it this way. That means it works!

mathewi 03.27.08 at 9:42 pm

Thanks for proving my point, Louis :-) I think it's on Techmeme and
YCombinator's aggregator too, judging by my server logs.

On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 9:39 PM, Disqus

Mike Kramlich 03.27.08 at 10:34 pm

This was true a hundred years ago.

The more important, relevant or impacting a piece of news was, the more likely you would hear about it, and the sooner. Other factors effect it, like, the number and type of a persons contacts, as well as other factors. But otherwise, the essence was as true then as now.

I like to read the news too but I'd admit that most of it is like junk food.

Extremely important and urgent news, like “A large monster is approaching this city. Run for your lives!” will probably reach me right around when I need to know it. Would I like to know it as soon as possible, with as much advanced warning? Sure. That's another issue. But if it's important and relevant to me, it will find me or I will stumble on it. Or… it will stumble on me, as in: “Run for your lives! It's Gojira! Goj–” *squish*

mathewi 03.27.08 at 10:41 pm

Mike, I would agree that this is not really something new — and Brian
mentioned that in his NYT piece. What is happening (I would argue) is
that it's occurring a lot more, and a lot faster.

On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 10:35 PM, Disqus

Boring Market 03.27.08 at 11:06 pm

This blog post is proof that if news is that important it will find me. I found this blog through another site which choose to link to you and I would never find the NYT article if you didn't linked on it. Rather then the site I found it on link to the article, they linked to you. This is then essence of 'word of mouth' on the internet.

Genius.

natch 03.27.08 at 11:12 pm

Usually the news of an extremely wonderful, sexy, important, life-changing local conference reaches me on the day after the conference ends. And I go, oh, shit. Why can't the news about these things find me BEFORE they happen?

mathewi 03.27.08 at 11:23 pm

Exactly, Natch — excellent example :-)

On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 11:13 PM, Disqus

ghiom 03.28.08 at 1:01 am

Sorry, I am not from the USA, perhaps it means I don't have the background to understand completely, but from what you say I understand that creating a network of relationships spares you the pain of seeking your own sources of information (news or knowledge, i think the distinction is irrelevant). This tends to promote a passive way of getting informed, and is therefore very dangerous : what I get from my network is not necessarily traceable, nor true (factually… as far as this word as any meaning). In that way of behaving towards information, I delegate the checking for relevance to others, who delegate it to others, who… This means I am even more vulnerable to gossips, hoaxes, or simply mistakes or misunderstood pieces of information. It is the dream of advertisers and public relation people.

Saying if info is important it'll find me is just like saying when i'm really hungry somebody will appear and give me a sandwich. It can be true if you have some good friends “watching your back”, but if it does not happen in time it is deadly, and it is not reliable.

I take it just as a mistake in the sense of the implication. Passing to your network information that you think is important does not mean that you will receive the important information when you need it (the importance being relative to each node of the network). Believing so is just letting your network decide on what sould be important to you. This makes you vulnerable to manipulation.

chewbee 03.28.08 at 7:48 am

depends on how you define “important”

most kids define it as “what everyone else is talking about”

so, yes, “important” news will “find” you simply BECAUSE everyone else is talking about it

If you want to know about more than what's already on everyone's lips, you have to look for it yourself.

Sebastian 03.28.08 at 8:11 am

It's a great approach, one that keeps my RSS feed list from exploding from 250 to 1000 – those blogs that have 1 good post in 20 I no longer subscribe to, that one good post will find me.

n8k99 03.28.08 at 11:00 am

perhaps the difficulty here is the confusion of the two terms 'knowledge' and 'news.'

News is a small group of facts, some of which may have a dubious quality to them, and geared towards relating a particular situation and/or analysis of the event.

Knowledge has more of a perspective of the event which can and usually does, have a greater perspective of the events, theory or accumulated group of facts as they fit into the landscape of the total wholeness.

Networking via people you trust, or will come to trust, is more active than the process of depending upon the process of depending upon the network of televisions and newspaper accounts. For as a participant in a network, the news you receive will only be as reliable as the news you transmit. This becomes a swap meet of information. You have ideas and observations which are not possible by another human being, strictly because you are you and no one else. You transmit these things and receive observations which others have as well.

Important news, such as major catastrophes, governmental declarations, and other such things were quickly passed through the word of mouth channels even before the advent of the internet. However with the development of social networks on the internet, this information travels in real time to a wide variety of people, who then pass it on to other people and therefore the news becomes filtered into its importance.

Importance is not something that has to be known right away. The knowledge of the events on 9/11/2001 is more important than the instantaneous absorption of the event itself. If someone did not know about it for a week or two, their life would not be significantly downgraded, if at all. and perhaps it would have even enhanced their life to not watch it over and over again on the passive networks(television)

vwtom 03.28.08 at 12:56 pm

as it turns out that is really how del.icio.us and stumbleupon work too – “like minded” people suggest things for you to look at.

JM 03.28.08 at 4:09 pm

On Sept. 11, 2001, the news websites were jammed all day. At my office in downtown Toronto, we would call out to each other if someone actually got onto a news site, and people would gather around that monitor for information about the World Trade Center attacks. The next day I noticed that the corner newspaper boxes were ALL emptied (sold out) by midday. Would these things not be the case if it happened now? In five years?

mathewi 03.28.08 at 4:19 pm

I think they would likely be the same. But how does that contradict
what I described? I'm not saying that newspapers are going to be
obsolete — just that the way people find the news is changing.

On Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 4:10 PM, Disqus

shafqat 03.28.08 at 7:29 pm

I think trust and credibility are two criterion that we had to take for granted before we had the distribution platform that we enjoy with the internet today. Now, news is filtered through by people we trust directly, or in the case of social news sites, by a community we can trust. While it doesn't always work, more often than not, we can get relevant news we trust, and very quickly. Unless traditional news organisations figure out a way to do the same, they will struggle.

mathewi 03.28.08 at 7:56 pm

I agree, Shafqat.

BrianReich 03.29.08 at 5:48 pm

Tremendously important concept – that if the news is important, it will find me. I had this same quote in my book, Media Rules! — I was talking to Mark Lukasciewicz from NBC News about a focus group that he did with young women regarding Nightly News.

mathewi 03.29.08 at 5:56 pm

Thanks for the comment, Brian. I hope Mark (who is Canadian, by the
way) keeps that in mind now that he's in charge of NBC News' digital
operations.

On Sat, Mar 29, 2008 at 5:49 PM, Disqus

JoeDuck 03.29.08 at 8:40 pm

Matt after reflecting on this idea it really riled me. Online news via social networking is closer to just extending the wasteland than it is to news nirvana.
http://www.webguild.org/2008/03/important-news-

mathewi 03.29.08 at 9:52 pm

As I said on your post, I have to disagree with you, Joe.

Yes, the echo chamber is a real problem, and it's true that people are
often distracted by frivolous “news,” but I still think the value of
social networking overcomes that. The friends I rely on to bring me
great links or bring things to my attention are (like me) interested
in a broad and diverse range of things, both deep and shallow, things
that I may not pay attention to — and I like to think I serve the
same function for others in different ways.

That's what I mean by news finding me.

On Sat, Mar 29, 2008 at 8:41 PM, Disqus

Matt 03.31.08 at 11:52 am

In order for this to be true, people have to be immersed in networked (new) media.

We should be careful with the assumption that “young people” are immersed in new media and “old geezers” aren't.

I teach citizen journalism at a local university and I'd say less than 10% of them use these things regularly.

Blogs and microblogs are not a generational phenomenon – I think rather that they appeal to a certain personality type.

mathewi 03.31.08 at 11:59 am

You might be right, Matt — but I think the principle extends to text
messaging, IM and Facebook. And at least judging by my own research
using my teenaged daughters, that is how they get a lot of their news.

kdonovan11 04.01.08 at 2:15 am

I'm a 19 year old, highly connected college kid and I would change that to:

If news is relevant, it may find me.

The important stuff, I have to seek out.

For example, just today a friend read me a funny passage from CNN.com about couples getting even with each other. It was not important, but it found me.

I still have to actively seek (via RSS subscriptions) what I know is important – political/economic news.

mathewi 04.01.08 at 8:20 am

Thanks for the comment, Kevin — that's a good way of putting it.

On Tue, Apr 1, 2008 at 2:16 AM, Disqus

Jasonp107 06.05.08 at 1:58 pm

Absolutely true Mathew.

I've treated news as an “it will find me” enterprise for several years now, and while I'm sure I'm less informed than those who really do put the time in to read several newspapers every day, I also seem to get along just fine.

I think that newspapers, along with all other content-based business, are going to need to learn to rely on and enable the community filter to pass their content around. I wrote a post the other day about how the New York Times should take all their really cool interactive graphics and make them embeddable widgets the way youtube made video embeddable.

It's a little sad, because I think there's real value in having an editorial board come together at 5pm and decide what the public most needs to know (putting a limiter, essentially, on the public's sweet tooth for celebrity or sports news).

But the fact of the matter is that most people don't WANT those editors to be their filter anymore, and the tools are available for people to do otherwise. So adapt to that system, or lose out.

wotlk leveling guide 12.03.08 at 11:46 am

Wrong, Michael. Knowledge isn't time sensitive.

5 Best pistols today 12.07.08 at 9:30 pm

Matt after reflecting on this idea it really riled me. Online news via social networking is closer to just extending the wasteland than it is to news nirvana.

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Mike Post 01.26.09 at 2:33 pm

Great article, man. Keep up the good work and please do keep sharing.

Thanks in advance!

Mike

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sell my house fast 01.31.09 at 1:55 am

The delivery system for news is evolving. From newspaper to radio to TV to internet. Pretty soon it will be beamed directly into our brains. ;)

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Ninth Agenda 02.26.09 at 9:50 pm

I agree with this idea in theory, but I'm too afraid I will miss something interesting if I don't go looking for news.

Stacy 03.01.09 at 3:06 pm

Yeah, but sometimes news is money-sensitive, where knowledge cannot help :-)

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rafikam (Rafi Kam) 07.20.09 at 2:01 pm

Twitter Comment


@wesleyverhoeve thats us though. “if the news is important, it will find me” may be more common. hell, i can relate too [link to post]

Posted using Chat Catcher

rafikam (Rafi Kam) 07.20.09 at 1:01 pm

Twitter Comment






@wesleyverhoeve thats us though. “if the news is important, it will find me” may be more common. hell, i can relate too [link to post]

Posted using Chat Catcher

wesleyverhoeve (Wesley Verhoeve) 07.20.09 at 2:59 pm

Twitter Comment


@rafikam true, i sometimes forget what bubble i am in, even just as a new yorker

Posted using Chat Catcher

wesleyverhoeve (Wesley Verhoev 07.20.09 at 1:59 pm

Twitter Comment






@rafikam true, i sometimes forget what bubble i am in, even just as a new yorker

Posted using Chat Catcher

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elgreco66 (Christian Kuhna) 10.23.09 at 11:54 pm

This statement sums it up: “If news is important, it will find me” http://bit.ly/39G0QO mathewingram.com

rada_mess (rada mess) 12.14.09 at 12:27 am

Twitter Comment


“If the news is important, it will find me” [link to post]

Posted using Chat Catcher

hyfen (Andrew Louis) 12.22.09 at 4:56 pm

Twitter Comment


“If the news is important, it will find me,” says @mathewi ([link to post]). Proof: many ppl sent me this today: http://bit.ly/83zz6h

Posted using Chat Catcher

adasport 01.21.10 at 12:39 pm

What is happening is that it’s occurring a lot more, and a lot faster.

prostitutka 01.28.10 at 8:09 pm

Think about that for a second — or longer, if necessary. I think that sums up, in ten simple words, what has happened to the way that many people (and not just young people, but those who use RSS readers and blogs and social networks as well) consume the news (Mark Cuban seems to think so too). Not only is there just so much of it out there that it’s virtually impossible to consume it all, but the very fact that someone you know — or trust — has passed on or blogged or Twittered or posted a link makes it more likely that you will read it.

??????????? 01.28.10 at 8:11 pm

. I think that sums up, in ten simple words, what has happened to the way that many people

??????????? 01.28.10 at 8:13 pm

actually these homes wont find they people

??????????? 01.28.10 at 8:16 pm

Sorry, I am not from the USA, perhaps it means I don't have the background to understand completely, but from what you say I understand that creating a network of relationships spares you the pain of seeking your own sources of information (news or knowledge, i think the distinction is irrelevant). This tends to promote a passive way of getting informed, and is therefore very dangerous : what I get from my network is not necessarily traceable, nor true (factually… as far as this word as any meaning). In that way of behaving towards information, I delegate the checking for relevance to others, who delegate it to others, who… This means I am even more vulnerable to gossips, hoaxes, or simply mistakes or misunderstood pieces of information. It is the dream of advertisers and public relation people.

Saying if info is important it'll find me is just like saying when i'm really hungry somebody will appear and give me a sandwich. It can be true if you have some good friends “watching your back” prostitutka, but if it does not happen in time it is deadly, and it is not reliable.

I take it just as a mistake in the sense of the implication. Passing to your network information that you think is important does not mean that you will receive the important information when you need it (the importance being relative to each node of the network). Believing so is just letting your network decide on what sould be important to you. This makes you vulnerable to manipulation.

mpesce (Mark Pesce) 03.15.10 at 7:20 am

@jameshutson Start here – http://tinyurl.com/ynsep4 – this is two years ago, so it’s somewhat old news… ;-)

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