Of floods, firehoses, and faucets.

Joshua Gans say the following at the Harvard Business Review’s blog, in a post stating that Facebook is the largest news organization ever:

News organizations do two major things, commercially speaking: they use news to grab attention and then sell that attention to advertisers.

Facebook does do what Gans describes, but it isn’t news.  Currently it is only noise, a flood, though you could use it as a firehose.  News – however –  comes from a faucet.

Facebook (and the sum of all other social media) are floods.  There is simply too much information, which flows over you, consumes you, and overwhelms you.

Channeling that deluge of data into a reservoir (say refining via a keyword search or by place and time) and placing it behind a dam to generate power, or focusing it with a hose to extinguish a fire would be the next step, but it’s still not news.

Finally, taking the water from a river, purifying it of pollutants, distributing it through a vast system of infrastructure, gradually reducing the pressure and getting it to the end user – ie. your faucet to fill a glass of water – that’s news.

Social media’s noise is a product of abundance.  News is a product of scarcity.  The act of journalism, or the product that is news implies choices being made.

Those choices may be a print editor tweaking the lede, a video producer deciding what elements belong in a shot, or an assignments editor deciding what stories are worth the time and resources for coverage.  Those choices might be to tell stories that will capture attention or generate revenue, like finding the second richest dog in South Dakota.  Or it may be in ignoring the noise and focusing on a thin slice of it, like the heroism of the Fukushima 50 or any of many other known individual acts of courage.  News is created by curating the noise and producing a product worthy-of and suited-for consumption.

Facebook’s news feed is news – sort of – in that it’s the updates of the people FB has determined are important to you based on an algorithm.   Is it what’s important?  Interesting?  Entertaining?  Probably not.

The sum of the noise is not news.  It’s just noise.

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