“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.

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