Jesse Hirsh: [Full interview transcript] Newsmakers Pt. 1

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Jesse Hirsh is a co-founder of the Academy of the Possible, a “peer-to-peer life-long learning facility.” He has a weekly column on CBC Radio and owns Metaviews Media Management, Inc. Read Jesse’s full bio here…

Click here to watch part one of Jesse’s interview, “Who are the New Newsmakers?”

Jesse: Journalism is undergoing a dramatic industrial change, because the economics of journalism are really what’s transforming, induced by technology. But technology’s really just the distraction. It has to do with the democratization of news, that anyone can be a journalist, anyone can make a living as a journalist. But it’s also juxtaposed with the showbiz of news, that now news is more about celebrity than it is about politics, than it is about business. In that sense it’s a much more open environment, and a much more competitive environment in which it’s much more difficult to make a living. But anyone could do it if they have the right gumption and hustle.

Ramona: How has social media changed the way that stories are captured and told, and the way that stories spread?

Jesse: Social media has accelerated the news cycle. Cable news created the 24/7 news cycle, but social media creates the 14,400, which is how many seconds are in the course of a day. Because it literally is a matter of seconds before you hear the news. And it’s no longer where you go to the news, you don’t open up the newspaper, social media means the news comes to you. It’s transcendent. If someone dies, you can’t avoid that death. If a big game in hockey or basketball happens, you’re going to hear about it as it happens. So there’s no more time delay, there’s no more taping it to watch later. Spoilers are everywhere. So social media is very accessible, it means you can be a journalist just by posting on Twitter. But it also means that you have to be very current, that yesterday’s news it yesterday’s news. This morning’s news is no longer of interest. So it puts a lot of pressure on the journalist to move at the speed of the web, at the speed of light, in order to break a story, in order to cover a story. And that’s where automated journalism starts to become interesting. That social media, especially Twitter, allows people to automate the news, to have robots acting as reporters, and doing so very successfully and very effectively. Because they can think at the speed of light, whereas humans may not be able to. In that sense, social media both democratizes but also automates, which is both a challenge and a risk to the traditional journalists.

Automation is transforming every industry, but journalism especially, and a great example is what’s called the “algorithmic editorial product.” Instead of having an assignment editor, who’s a human being, who listens to police scanners, who reads the wires, it’s software that scans Twitter, that scans Facebook, that looks at other media sites, and uses its speed and its software logic to determine what stories should be assigned to real human beings. But increasingly, you don’t even need a real human being. There are now algorithms that can take a sports box score and write a complete story, just based on the statistics, that says who did what and in what inning and in what period, and that, for a reason of speed, allows some media outlets to compete because, seconds after the game is over, they can get the article out there for readers to consume.

Ramona: It’s interesting that you talk about how news comes to us, with Twitter as the most obvious example. The flipside of that, and something that Clay Shirky brings up, is that when you had a newspaper, you were forced to read the boring stories. You had to read about what was going on in local politics. Now, it’s a little bit more silo’d, because we can find the news that we want to see. So there’s these two things going on. One, all the news comes to you, but it’s only the stories that you want to be reading. What are the dangers of this or the potential implications of this?

Jesse: Well we take for granted that the nation-state was a byproduct of the newspaper, the fact that we all looked at the same page and could debate the same policies. The problem with social media, the problem with digital media, is that it’s subjective. Not only can we choose which stories we want, but in fact that choice is made for us. People decide what they think we want, and it ends up being what’s called a filter bubble. That we literally have an insular culture, where everyone we talk to, everything we read, reinforces our worldview rather than challenge it. Nobody goes online to find somebody who disagrees with them. No one goes online to find someone who’s going to shatter their worldview. So what it means is that not only are we less informed, but we’re no longer part of society, we’re part of our tribe. We’re part of the group of people who think like us, dress like us, act like us. And that’s not society, that’s not the basis for a shared reality where everybody debates the same issues and has the same concerns.

You know, we talk about the fragmented media universe, when what we should be talking about is a fragmented society, because we no longer have the room for major debates, for the greater good, for the idea that we can govern as a society, rather than just fight amongst tribes.

Summary

  • The Internet changed the model of journalism, made the news a 24/7 cycle 
  • Social media means the news comes to the consumer, changed people’s relationship with the news
  • There is now automation software that scans social media to tell journalists what topics are trending – i.e. what could make good news stories
  • Risks creating an insular community where people only read and discuss topics they are interested in and that are designed specifically for them

Follow Jesse on Twitter @jessehirsh.

 

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