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Where is the news indeed?

Om Malik, Forget what, where is the news?

I woke up thinking, what is news good for? No, I was not being snarky. It was just a question: what is the purpose of news. After two and a half decades in the media trenches, the way I thought of news and its purpose was simple: one, to inform. And second, to educate the reader (or viewer.) And in doing so, it allowed readers to act upon it. That made news valuable.

For example, in the past, if there is news of wildfires and the news report tells you to evacuate, then the story has done an excellent job. Radio or TV reporters would talk to relevant authorities and relate that information to the people. Today, Twitter accounts of the California authorities of various stripes, brought that information to the people. The media outlets eventually caught up and added their twist on actionable information. However, by then, the information was already widely available.

News, as we knew it, is a victim of Dave Winer calls “sources going direct.” Blame it on the increased velocity of our times, the news already feels old in our lives moving at neck-snapping speed. Maybe that is why the news has become a tool of entertainment and titillation. Perhaps that is why it is hard to tell fact from fiction. 

In the world of business, bad news used to impact companies’ stock performance. Now, it is merely an opportunity to earn a bigger Christmas bonus for crisis management experts. There was a time when you could glean a lot in the news about a company’s prospects or an idea. Now, not as much. You can’t even get the essential essentials. 

This piece reminds me why I’ve stepped away not just from social media but the news cycle in print, TV, radio and online. Too many news organizations are focussed on bringing the news, rather than analysing and understanding it. And some are content to merely repeat what they’re told, in effect becoming extended PR.

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