John McCann

Is information worth anything?

In Mediamorphosis on March 12, 2007 at 5:11 pm

An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribute features an interview with Thomas Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota’s newly-formed College of Design. His opening comment struck me as very pertinent to the Participation Age.

“The information economy is still with us. But the paradoxical effect of the Internet is that it has made information so widely available that it holds no real economic value. Everybody can get incredible amounts of information, so there’s no competitive advantage of having it.”

If you look at my recent posts, you will see that I have been writing about how newspapers and other types of traditional media are attempting to change so they can meet the demands of today’s Internet user. Fisher’s comment points to a reality that it may not be easy, or even possible for some. Traditionally, a newspaper succeeded because it published and distributed information that was hard, or even impossible, for people to obtain otherwise. That day has long disappeared.

I find that when I encounter a newspaper article that is information-intensive, I soon stop reading it. More often than not, I have already read that information on the Internet. Even if I have not seen the information, it may not garner my limited attention because I am more interested in understanding why things happen than what happened. It is only the analysis-intensive articles that appeal to me. And good analysis may be beyond the ability of most journalist when writing about subjects with which they are not experts. Editors assign them to cover events and topics that may be relatively new to them.

Perhaps deep analysis has value in the Participation Age but not information. That means that if you want to make money, you have to know a lot about what you are writing.

I wrote the above material on Monday (March 5). The next morning, USA Today had an article about advocacy journalism that described one way that the media is changing, perhaps in response to the glut of information-intensive stories. The article features stories by Bob Woodruff, as well as a Washington Post team, about how injured soldiers are not receiving proper care, and a university professor puts this type of journalism into perspective:

“In a journalistic sense, Woodruff and the Post ‘own’ these stories, which cut through a crowded media marketplace because ‘people are hungry to be surprised by the content,’ says Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi journalism professor. ‘The key is to get people addicted to your content. If you can’t surprise them, you can’t get them addicted.'”

It is increasingly hard to surprise people because of the participation in news gathering by so many amateurs. But it is clearly possible to get them addicted by in-depth reporting and great writing. Then your information is worth something.

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