The 1% Of News That Matters

I first heard about the earthquake in Japan from a cab driver in Milwaukee. By the time I got to the airport, it was all over the monitors. And by the time I could find a Wi-Fi connection, the first details were just starting to emerge.

Our society digests news differently now. Electronic media paints news in broad strokes. Digital media offers a never-ending deep dive into the details. In the few days since disaster struck, the Web has already built up a vast repository of information about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The Web stretches infinitely to accommodate new content, stretching its digital boundaries as required. The shelf life of broadcast news is much shorter. Time constrains the content. Detail has to be sacrificed for impact.

But on the Web, news is also a participatory experience. News isn't a broadcast, it's a conversation, guided by editors and journalists but often veering in unexpected directions as our collective voice hits its stride. We shape the coverage by voicing our opinions, our concerns and, for those who are in the middle of the news, our experiences. The world is smaller, rawer, more visceral, more vital -- and, hopefully, more human.



In the convergence of these two shifts in how we digest what happens in the world, there lies something impactful. Traditionally, because news was a shifting canvas where yesterday's events quickly faded to make room for today's, we had no choice but to move on to the next story. But now, thanks to the Web, the content remains, if we choose to seek it out. While Japan's pain is still horribly fresh, more than a year later the traumatic story of Haiti is still unwinding online.

The fact is that 99% of the news you hear nightly won't really make much of a difference in your life in five years. They're stories of passing interest, but in the big scheme of things, they're rather inconsequential. And the things that will make a difference seldom make the news. But, on the Web, the time limitation of being "new" doesn't artificially constrain what is news. For those who continue to care about Haiti, the information is there, living on in indelible binary bits.

It's this concept of "caring" about news that is served so well online. Humans tend to react to our surroundings in two distinct ways. We react to the immediate and awesome (in both its negative and positive connotations) simply because we're wired to notice dramatic and potentially harmful events in our environment. But, if it has no personal impact, we move on with our lives. We're like a herd of sheep that goes back to its collective grazing after a loud noise startles us in our pasture. For this fleeting level of engagement, broadcast news works exceedingly well. It's been designed to impact us at this transitory level, hammering us for maximum effect by a parade of violence, negativity and trauma.

But for the 1% of stories that do affect us, that will matter to us in a very personal way in five years, the 30-second sound bite is simply not enough. If news can affect our well-being, the second level of human engagement kicks in. Now, we are hungry for information. We need to dive deep into the details, so we can understand what the personal impact might be.

Consider the difference in how I would react to the news coming out of Japan if, rather than observing it at arm's length as I did, I had a child who was teaching English as a second language in Sendai, the epicenter of the quake. Think about how I would voraciously devour any information I could find online, trying to determine if my child was safe.

For the 1% of news that does matter to us, online provides us something we never had before. It takes the temporal and archives it at a scale never before possible. Individual slivers of history are frozen in a digital record. It allows us to connect to information that is personally relevant, even long after it qualifies as "news."

4 comments about "The 1% Of News That Matters".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Silvia Bitchkei-campbell from Xclamation Marketing, March 17, 2011 at 11:34 a.m.

    Well, welcome to the Global Village...I do have have to say that this abundance information is certainly a good thing from the consumer's point of view. Never before have we been able to compare products, prices, and opinions this fast before. I can be standing at any given retailer's in the trying room tweeting back and forth with my friend, or searching for a similar item on the web.

  2. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, March 17, 2011 at 3:03 p.m.

    I have two problems with your analysis: I doubt if an entire 1% of broadcast news is important to the typical viewer at any given moment. (The exceptions is the bulletin- that penetrates the fog of self-possession and tells you to get the hell out of your house before the tsunami/earthquake/flood/forest fire, (etc.) hits. We used to describe it as the weather report: What is it? Where is it? In what direction is it moving? How fast? Should I take an umbrella?

    The second problems is the notion that the Internet, is so deeply woven into our social fabric, the it becomes a passive archive of history.

    Such as it is, it is catch basin of our temporary misrepresentation of events as distorted by biased observers. (This is not nothing, by the way, in the sense that we will have a recording of a great many data, including facts and errors that can may be examined later time in order to patch together a plausible explanation of what happened. (In effect, it is not that much different then what we have now -just bigger). We will still have to watch the playback of events in altered time in order to deconstruct it, explain it, and separate fact from fiction.

    What has rendered broadcast news virtually worthless (except for the bulletin) is the 'organ-grinder's monkey' effect. The "antics" of the monkey are so distracting that we barely pay any attention to the music. The lead-ins, promo's, teases, gratuitous graphics and visual eye candy, are so distracting and so time consuming, that the "information content" is reduced to a tiny speck of monkey poop deposited on the sidewalk after the organ grinder goes dark.

    It's come to such a sorry state thay I leave the radio or TV on soley to get the bulletins after I have become aware of a momentous event through other means. Which means it may be on for hours but it doesn't mean I'm watching or listening to it. Besides, my online touch point is just as likely to send be a notice or alert when momentous events occur, and more likely to provide me with the means to "get detail" or even interact with the events as I did with #Egypt and #Japan.

    The only role that TV news continues to play effectively is that of the "organ grinder." It occupies a privileged position, it's loud and hard to ignore, and is able to draw a small crowd long enough for them to decide if they have any interest in what's happening.


  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, March 17, 2011 at 6:13 p.m.

    Agree with much of David's analysis. The problem with the internet is that information is only clearly available on the internet in two cases:

    1. A business or government entity funds it's existence there.
    2. There happens to be a passionate advocate for that POV that invest their own time in ensuring the information exists and is findable.

    Go try to search for something that's really important to you but which fails on the two items above. You'll find zippo. As a young testimonial told me once "everybody says just search for what you want on the internet and you'll find it. But somehow it just doesn't work out that way."

    The beauty of true "news" is that an editorial entity searches for stories that are important in their eyes and they make sure they are able to be found and are accurate within their definitions. That's more valuable to me than my neighbor Bob's perspective.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 14, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.

    Not true. You may think only 1% is important. The Tulip default swap in the 1600's is more important today than it was then and easier to find info on it now than then. Because we don't want to pay attention to what happends locally or across the globle doesn't mean it doesn't affect us. It does matter.

Next story loading loading..