Will the producer, aggregator save journalism in the real-time media environment?

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Could the future of journalism in a social, engaged environment still come from the role of ‘producer’?

I’ve attended a dozen forums that discuss the future of journalism in the digital environment; a space with a growing number of platforms affected by the dramatic flow of information. Invariably, the question is ‘how will journalism be funded when the audience and publications both become so fragmented?’

Here’s another angle I encourage people to consider: what role does the producer or aggregator play?

As the amount of information becomes so readily available to what are audience ‘partners’, there must be a role for someone who can analyse content and aggregate it in some ordered way that provides the content with context. A number of changes to Twitter this year provide an example of this. Twitter lists evolved because tweets from so many interesting, relevant sources flood the twittersphere, making it difficult for people to find content that matters to them and is of importance to their lives.

I, like so many other twitter users, now subscribe to a number of lists. These lists aggregate material for me based on what my friends, colleagues and family think is important.

The news websites such as news.com.au and smh.com.au are still some of the most visited websites in Australia. They exist in a fragmented online world where people now have the power to cross reference the claims being made in the report. These ‘old media’ news sites remain hugely popular despite no longer being able to claim that the news is solely their domain.

But what they do well is take hundreds of issues, and produce them in a style that gives an audience an idea of what the organisation perceives as most important. It’s a starting point.

Don’t get me wrong. Social media is making the news editor that decrees that Lara Bingle’s love affair is THE story of the day for everyone a redundant role. People have such powerful choice when they go looking for news, and have so many varied sources to turn to, that media consumers now ‘engage’ as opposed to ‘consume’. But that does not discount the role of production and aggregation as a service, and as a means of providing a news platform for these new audience ‘partners’.

People wanting to engage with environment information, car information, carpet information, jogging information, fishing information, karate information, surfing information, and architecture information now have vast quantities of, well, information. But which bits of the information amount to news (something of consequence and outcome)?
Sure — people never have to watch one more story about Lara Bingle or faulty speed cameras ever again if they so choose. But I argue they will always turn to some kind of aggregation or summary, if you like, that helps them understand what’s of importance in their field of interest.

I argue that aggregation is collating information of consequence that can be deconstructed and analysed by those close to the news. This material is then shared with the social media audience ‘partners’. Then, based on that engagement, is rewritten, re-tested, better understood, and sometimes discarded. But the process of bringing the material to the community is a form of aggregation and production. It must never be control and manipulation.

Not sure that I’m right? The reason for this post stems, in part, from my Google Reader. I logged on recently to see a huge stream of hundreds of items all sitting there in the same font with the same apparent level of importance. What did I do? I went to three or four of the main news sites just to see what they considered were the most important issues.

The engaged media audience partner has new powers which dramatically change the role of news. But those same partners want advice, guidance and a community to help them digest the world around them.

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By John Kerrison

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