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‘Meta-reading': the generational differences in consuming news

Turi Munthe, CEO and founder of the citizen journalism site, Demotix, shared an interesting thought with participants of the Voices Online Blogging Conference on Monday. The young Demotix interns consume news differently from the way he does. He elaborated to Journalism.co.uk after the panel.

‘Meta-reading':

“There is a generational split, but not in the way everyone imagines. It’s much more recent than that,” he said. People only ten years younger – he is in his 30s – consume news differently from the way he does, Munthe told Journalism.co.uk.

The interns in the office (‘who play a hugely important role: they’re regional editors and they get properly stuck into what we do’) read slightly differently, he said.

“They are getting the Twitter feeds, and the blog posts, and the Facebook messaging and the free papers, and everything else, and are very happy with it. Much more happy with it than I am.”

“Essentially, they process information differently. It’s a ‘meta-reading’. It’s not about individual brands. They are fully aware of all the back-stories of all the stories they’re getting,” he says.

It’s a ‘degree of sophistication,’ he said, ‘which reads the interests behind the news as an integral part of the news’.

“This is something I had to learn. They’re constantly reading two things: what the information is, and who’s saying it – and it’s completely part of the story. Just as when I was doing history A-Level [you were taught to ask] ‘which is the source, who’s the source, why are they saying it?'”

“They get it. I think they are learning it as they are consuming it.”

Entering an era of ‘social knowledge':

Munthe also believes that we are moving into an era of ‘social knowledge’.

For a long time, he said, theorists grappled with the dilemmas of post-structuralism and post-modernism, where the absolutes of the earlier part of the 20th century were abandoned. But they were not sure how to answer questions about society and ‘truth’, without returning to those absolutes, he said.

Now, with the advent of the web, a ‘social knowledge’ is emerging, via the spread of online information and idea-sharing, which Munthe believes is ‘the real founding for how we understand ideas,’ he explained.

“People read as sophisticatedly as they do because they’re know they’re getting their news from George, or from Johnny, or from Jack Lean or whoever it is.”

But, Journalism.co.uk asked, doesn’t that exclude a huge number of people who aren’t participating online? Munthe maintained not.

“I have a feeling that this meta-reading is not elitist,” Munthe answered. His real concern, he said, is the ‘radicalisation’ of online news.  “If you’re the kind of person who is only ever going to watch Fox News, who is ‘properly rightist’, there’s no need for you to encounter any view but your own,” he says.

Journalism.co.uk reported live from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for updates from media events.

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For @GuidoFawkes, Twitter is a fad that will disappear; for @MickFealty, it’s a valuable tool

May 12th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Events, Social media and blogging

Twitter is a ‘fad that will soon disappear,’ political blogger Paul Staines said yesterday.

Staines, who blogs under the alias Guido Fawkes, told participants at the Voices Online Blogging conference at City University that he has ‘not got the time’ to monitor the 3,000 + followers of @guidofawkes.

“How profound can you be in 140 characters?” he said. “I use Twitter to broadcast, but I go to individual bloggers for information.”

Staines argued that the increasing popularity of the site, boosted by celebrity users such as Stephen Fry and Oprah Winfrey, meant that ‘overload is inevitable’.

However, Mick Fealty (@mickfealty) creator of the Slugger O’Toole blog, agreed that Twitter is a ‘nightmare’ but insisted it remained an ‘important tool’ for journalists.

“I used it on the day of the US elections last November, when I was writing a live blog on the Slugger site,” he explained. “I canvassed for US readers to be mini-bloggers for one day.

He used feeds from people who were watching three or four American television networks, he said. “Within about two minutes I knew what had gone out on ABC, Fox and CNN, and I could give a clear judgement about what was going on.”

Fealty added that the site was an effective tool to generate information about an area where he had ‘no local or native knowledge’.

Twitter’s usefulness was a result of the ‘very smart and intelligent’ contacts he has made using it, he said.

“The value of Twitter is the value of people I follow,” he explained.

Journalism.co.uk reported from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for live updates from a wide array of media events.

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Online commenters are like ‘particularly aggressive sub-editors’ says Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow

Bloggers and journalists discussed their shifting roles and relationships in the context of online political blogging at Monday’s Voices Online blogging conference at City University, organised by the Next Century Foundation.

Blogging is improving the quality of journalism by forcing reporters to be more honest about their sources the Guardian’s senior political correspondent, Andrew Sparrow, said yesterday.

Sparrow said that traditional journalistic secrecy had become ‘hard to justify in the blogosphere’ because readers act as ‘particularly aggressive sub-editors’.

“There’s an expectation that you will be more upfront about your sources, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

“In a conventional news story, you can never own up to doubt. In a blog, it’s perfectly acceptable to say what you know and what you don’t know.”

Sparrow also suggested that political bloggers have raised the bar of competition for traditional news organisations.

“I don’t see myself as part of the blogging community in the way that Paul Staines or Nick Fielding are,” he said. “I view blogging as a tool that we use [at the Guardian] for our mainstream journalism. But I worry if the amateurs are doing it better than we are.”

However, in an earlier panel, Paul Staines questioned whether drawing a distinction between ‘journalist’ and ‘bloggers’ is still relevant.

“How long is it before we stop asking that question?” he said. “With converging digital platforms, there may no longer be a difference.”

Sparrow, who has previously reported on the political arena for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, said that he had been frustrated by ‘the limited way you could tell stories’ in traditional print media.

“The internet has an immediacy that you don’t always get in mainstream media. I like the commentability, but it makes many journalists uncomfortable,” he said.

He added that digital media has improved the range of sources available to journalists. “Once, you might have had to spend the morning ringing ten people to find out what they thought about something, whereas now, you can subscribe to ten RSS feeds,” he said.

However, Sparrow also said that the Guardian ensures its blogs ‘report in accordance with its journalistic values and the public interest’, and acknowledged that the wider blogging community ‘survives on subjectivity’ which is at odd with traditional journalistic notions of balance.

But Mick Fealty, creator of the Slugger O’Toole blog and who also blogs at the Telegraph and the Guardian sites, insisted this did not compromise the quality and integrity of blogging. “The journalists who make good bloggers are the ones who know they’re only interjecting into a larger conversation. There is a value in being challenged,” he said.

“Truth is more useful than balance. One truth at a time is enough.”

Journalism.co.uk reported live from the Voices Online Blogging conference 2009. Follow @journalism_live on Twitter for updates from a wide array of media events.

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