Does the Future of News & Journalism Rely on “Fun”?

Robert Scoble has been reviewing his news reading habits with RSS feeds, concluding:

“I wasn’t reading as many feeds lately because it just wasn’t fun.”

Is this the metric that media companies and journalists are missing when they question the future of the news industry, and the tactics on dealing with massive competition from new, smaller news sources? Now, Robert is an interesting blend of technologist and reporter. Does his review of news reading software reflect simply on the tools of the trade? I think there is more to it than that.

Stephen Baker at BusinessWeek reflects on how things have changed from the side of the journalist:

“For years at BusinessWeek, I wrote for an audience of one. At least that’s the way I saw it. If an article pleased the editor in chief, it really didn’t make much difference what anyone else thought… Now things have changed. Editors have loads of things to count. Readers weigh in with page views, clicks, and comments. If an article keeps their attention for three minutes and gets forwarded to friends, those data are recorded.”

He goes on to wonder about the growing trend of using “popularity” of articles as the determining factor of their worth:

“If it were just a matter of clicks, every single story about Apple would be more valuable than even the best about Citibank…”

Stephen makes an excellent point here. However, I don’t think Robert’s “fun” concept necessarily means that we all need to be reading about Paris Hilton and Apple 24/7 because it is easier on our brains than news about Iraq and Darfur.

Hugo E. Martin looks at some engaging ways that the NY Times has covered recent topics ranging from the World Cup to politics.

But then that is balanced out by PayPerPost, a service that pays bloggers to write about products.

I think Robert’s “fun” has more to do with coping with information overload. Yesterday I talked about how much fun bloggers have spreading rumors, simply because the information “feels right.”

Has it become more fun to click on a rumor that emotionally grabs you, than on a more measured article that gives an incremental step in your understanding of a product? Probably. And hasn’t it always been this way? What grabs your emotions – even your intellectual emotions – isn’t that the article that you read first in the paper, the news story you tune into on TV?

But perhaps Robert’s search for a “fun” way to read the news speaks to what I feel his core mission is: how do we cut through the minutiae to uncover the news that really matters. How can we read the massive amount of information we would like to read each day? How do we allow these new media tools to advance the goals of journalism, and the power of smaller bloggers and writers who are truly providing benefit to the topics and people they write about.

Some may feel that the goal of journalism should not be “fun.” That the digging is the price we pay to be informed about our world. But the real danger of that digging, is the other kind of Digging: where people vote up the most emotionally “fun” stories, to the detriment to news that is really shaping the world.

Why can’t it be “fun” to do both?

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