For the odd moments I can manage to think of something.

“All things to all men”

The title is a quote and I’m not spending time on gender semantics today, we can save that for another time.

The phrase occurred to me while reading about the transformation of the Washington Post and as ever pondering the continued change in the presentation and delivery of news.

When looking at wider and knotty problems, I prefer to put my nose into a dictionary or other reference resource and try to find the core of the issue. So, I looked up “News” in an online dictionary. After nearly 20 years in the game, you’d think I’d know the answer, but it’s that experience that also made sure I looked it up. It seemed to be formal and not very satisfying to me. But, it certainly outlined a core definition.

Information about recent events or happenings

This also didn’t spark with me any tool for unpicking the situation we are in. I tempts me to say, “We’re in the middle of the maelstrom so you cannot see what’s happening until this all settles….” But I don’t find that so satisfying either, it seems to point to a haitus where there is none. People still demand news and organisations and individuals still provide it.

So, what am I looking for? A way to describe the now or a way to predict where things are going? I had thought for a long time now that the latter was more interesting. Naturally, the future as an unknown is interesting, but it’s also not easy to predict. But it is easier to shape. This brought me to a slightly clearer question.

What should news be like in the future?

Which in turn brought me back to the core. Information about recent events or happenings. Whatever it turns out to be, that should be right at the centre.

So, when folk are discussing the future of news, what do they mean? I have been curling my lip at the term “future of news” for almost five years now, if the wind changes, my face will probably stick that way if I am not careful. It’s a blanket term and I dislike it. It feels messy and disorganised to me and well, I’ve stopped going to events with similar titles because I never found a spark of value there that inspired further thought on the matter. What I do find are pockets of observation that help build a slightly better picture, but I also think that they overlap and obstruct what is happening.

Through the past few years so much has happened around news that it’s also tempting to say it has changed.

Media formats, speed of delivery, availability, speed, style, pace, length, timing. You can get information about recent events from many more places. This has sliced the market up so that no one format seems to easily dominate – radio, websites, blogs, mobile, television, podcasting, A/V streaming and yes, still paper.

There has been much discussion about what is better, often measured by the larger audience share and sometimes in conjunction with advertising revenue and funding. I seem to remember there being pages and pages of adverts in newspaper…but they were easy enough to escape with the turn of a page.

The creation and development of news presentation and delivery is a large network and it is being pulled into new shapes. But I do not think that this changes the core values.  When I read about the nostalgia for news, I now don’t think it’s news at the basic level, it’s the older formats where nostalgia plays it’s part and the accompanying grandeur. When you have to wait for something, it has the power of a grand entrance, no matter what the content. When you can access this at any time, it loses that power.

So far this wandering is about the delivery of news. On either side of that position is the gathering of information and the reception and reaction. In gathering news we also see a change of pace and speed. Though the follow through to delivery may depend on technological advance, it will ever be a human delivery system – the fastest typist, the first recording of a scene. In receiving news – we are capricious and demanding. What we like, when we like it and more often than not, from whom we prefer or who we trust.

It is when I get away from the core of news and into say, the role of news that everything becomes more complex and fragmented. As a quick reference, Wikipedia (I know already…) points to further areas of consideration, Lippman and Dewey and then later, Kovach & Rosenstiel’s  “9 points of journalism” (or 10 in the later edition). But this draws me out to angles on news, so I am back to the beginning and that particular definition.

Will they recollect to become one narrative? Were they ever so? Or has news always been delivered on merit – what is worth reporting in the best way possible depending on the services available at the time?

Moreover, when we stray from the core and into the method and delivery, do we strive to be all things to all men (and women)? Is there a way to funnel the gathering process for so many sources, so widely spread and then expand it all through one delivery mechanism to suit all consumers? Is that then code over content? Do we get to call all of these things a News Agent?

I’m still moving wooden puzzle blocks around in my mind. Even though it’s wonderful to consider the far ends of the possibilities, I still believe that the definition cannot change. So, one easy thing nailed down, now there’s all those questions…

JK

(Note: Frankly I can’t remember when I wrote this – but it was in draft so here it is now. Probably sketched out a few months ago…)

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