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The Future of the News

11/18/2008 6:00 PM Museum
Ellen Hume, Research Director, MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Description: Ellen Hume predicts a "good news conversation" with her MIT Museum crowd about the future of news, but all participants end up working very hard to find a silver lining in the dire situation facing newspapers and other traditional forms of journalism.

The business model, Hume explains, is deeply broken for newspapers, big and small, and other mainstream media that people count on. Advertising -- the very idea of the classifieds -- is going extinct, vanquished by Craigslist and Cars.com. The important work that journalists do, collecting, analyzing, contextualizing and disseminating information, and providing common frames of reference, has begun to migrate to the web and elsewhere.

This isn't all bad, believes Hume, because instead of relying on experts who deliver information in a "top"down form," we get participatory journalism, where users can respond to and exchange information. This "changes power relationships." Agency has shifted from elites who create the flow of information, to citizen journalists. Users stirred by a news story have opportunities to react via social networks, videos, blogs, "creating a sense of community." This, says Hume, enables "a new sense of public space."

But there are dangers in relying exclusively on these new sources of information. Not all citizens have the expertise of a professional journalist, who's spent years learning about subjects and sources. "We may lose verification....context.transparency.a sense of independenceand the big megaphone of mainstream media." Yet we may also gain some things: authenticity, from eyewitnesses; continuity of attention to a story; and verification, via crowd sourcing. Hume thinks it's possible to replace some of the functions of traditional journalism with the resources of new media, which can build massive online archives, collect from continuously expanding sources, visualize data in arresting ways, and engage its users.

Web journalists must accept the responsibility of "separating wheat from chaff, paying enough attention to know if something's credible or not, when it's awfully hard to tell." It's going to be essential, Hume says, to "figure out how to build media literacy skills into all curricula." At the same time, there may be some hope for newspapers: Hume cites website Spot.Us that permits people to make micropayments to cover worthy community stories; ProPublica, a consortium of heavy"hitting print journalists funded by philanthropy; and The New York Times multimedia venture. Ultimately, we may have to pay a premium for a good newspaper, on or off the web, while "the dynamic and exciting future of newsmoves to the internet, cellphones and mobile devices."

About the Speaker(s): Ellen Hume is also the Founding Editor and Publisher of the New England Ethnic Newswire and the Founding Director of the Center on Media and Society, UMass Boston. As the founding Executive Director of PBS's Democracy Project, from 1996 to 1998, she developed special news programs that encouraged citizen involvement in public affairs. She oversaw PBS's 1996 and 1998 election coverage, creating PBS Debate Night, a nationally televised Congressional leadership debate, as well as local candidate debates on PBS stations across the country. She also created Follow the Money, PBS's weekly television and Web series on the role of money in American politics. At PBS, she developed "resource journalism," a multimedia approach to news coverage.

Hume has more than 30 years of experience as a reporter and analyst for American newspapers, magazines and television. She was a White House and political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal from 1983 to 1988, and a Washington"based national reporter with the Los Angeles Times from 1977 to 1983.

Hume was a Senior Research Fellow at UMass Boston (2003"2008). From 1988 to 1993, she served as Executive Director and Senior Fellow at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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