All the news that’s fit to crib

Maureen Dowd lifting language from a blog post for use in her column is proof that, as it has been for decades, the New York Times is the defining example of print journalism in America.  After all, this news comes less than two weeks after reporters at various papers were exposed for relying too heavily on Wikipedia to write obituaries for composer Maurice Jarre.   With the mainstream media becomes reliant on digital sources, what’s to stop the media consumer from doing the same?

Consider a short, oversimplified summary of the development of our modern media:

Media evolved as a way to let us know what the most important events of they day are; the people who owned the printing press would learn as much as they could and summarize it for the masses.  Then, to get as much information as possible, the press owners hired reporters who cultivated sources, from whom they collected information and distilled the most important parts – which was, again, summarized for the masses.

In this model, the journalist is an extremely important link in the chain of information.  There’s far too much news out there tucked away in the nooks and crannies of politics, government, sports teams, companies, movie studios, or anything other institution for the average citizen to find it all on his or her own.  Unfortunately for the journalist, this model is no longer the case.

Today, most reporters get their news from RSS feeds.  I make this point often whenever I’m asked to talk about either public relations or building a digital strategy for an organization (since nowadays, the two really go hand-in-hand).  Therefore, if you are in PR – in other words, if you want to be a reporter’s source – you have to make sure your organization distributes information over RSS feeds.  In essence, RSS feeds are the new “sources.”

And since you can go around the web signing up for just about any RSS feed you want, you have access to those sources as well.  And instead of reading about President Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee in your local paper, you can instantly see what The National Review, Daily Kos, the Huffington Post, Human Events, and a host of other media outlets from all over the political spectrum have to say about him.

All of this makes the reporter or the columnist much less useful than he or she used to be – especially when he or she is sloppy and cribs almost directly from his or her source.

Of course, this isn’t the end of journalism – the information has to come from somewhere, after all.  But it does mean that a journalist has to work harder and report information that his or her readers wouldn’t be able to find otherwise.  Like many other industries, the media must find new ways to generate value.

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