The top search engine phrase that leads people to my blog is some configuration of “how do people get their news.” The question is usually couched in terms of how this process is carried out in 2009 or specifies getting good news, and it is being asked a lot. I probably wouldn’t get traffic to my blog if it weren’t for the few posts in which I was smart enough to blog about this obviously pressing issue. Instead I keep blogging about issues interesting to people inside the industry, which points to another realization that media pundits are missing the point… but that is, for this post, beside the point.
I’ve remarked about this persistent search in a previous post and on my Twitter on a couple of occasions, but I feel the need to write about it again because of a realization I had tonight. I was at a Society of Professional Journalists Web workshop tonight given by Justin Thurman from Consolidated Publishing Co. He was walking us through some of the elements of the Anniston Star‘s new Web site design. Usually these presentations raise more questions than they answer because finding the best way to bring newspaper publications to the Internet is so complex. This time however, there was one aspect of the operations that I felt gave insight into the greater schema, and that was the community calendar.
Focusing the online news media question on the simplest of functions, the calendar, reduced the noise and gave me a brief moment of clarity. Let me first explain what Justin said. On the new Web site design, he pointed to the calendar and said very casually that it is given prominence on the homepage because they want members of the community to go there and tell the paper what’s going on as well as find out what other people in their community contributed. Immediately I thought about the repeated question on so many people’s minds: “Where can I get good news?” The Star is reshaping the news experience. Now, the community has to think about their site as where they can go to give news, too. They can even make news there by winning a contest or other interactions.
The reason I am so excited about this development is because I truly believe that human beings are meant to be producers of their life experience and not just consumers of it. As every part of society is becoming more global, more integrated and more mediated, we get to decide on new ways of doing things. If we make these decisions thoughtfully then we get wonderful outcomes like community calendars that can be more complete and reach more people than ever before. Of course, we have seen the outcomes of just letting changes happen to us… and those are not sites where people in 2009 go to get good news.