Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Future Of News: The Newsmaster Role As Seen By Gerd Leonhard, George Siemens And Nancy White

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How important is going to be the role of the "newsmaster" in the future? Is this network middle layer of human filterers and scanners actually emerging? What about serious business talk: Could the newsmastering practice ever become a professionally sustainable role? And what is its value?

Photo credit: solarseven edited by Robin Good

Thanks to the generous time and availability that educational technologies researcher George Siemens, media futurist Gerd Leonhard and online collaboration and facilitation expert Nancy White have provided during their recent visit to Rome, I have been able to record a few interesting short video clips in which questioned them on a topic I feel as relevant today as when I first wrote about it in 2004: newsmastering.

Though almost five years have gone since that time and things on the Internet have changed a lot, what I had originally envisioned as a new network figure needed to aggregate, filter and select the most relevant info, news and tools on a specific topic has indeed started to spontaneously emerge.

Thanks to the new opportunities created by social media first and more recently by technologies like Twitter, which make it very easy for people to aggregate, scan and redistribute valuable news and information, the basic skills of the newsmaster have started to become more visible and acknowledged.

But this individual, the emerging newsmaster, is not just like the typical passionate Twitterer who shares all kinds of valuable information she finds. Her value, as I see it, emerges from focusing only on one, very specific topic, and acting as an always-on radar. Its unique value is not just in the ability to capture everything being said, written and published on a specific topic, but very much into her ability to filter, select and editorially curate (titling, sequencing, grouping, commenting, etc.) the flow of information she manages.

Technology-wise, RSS remains the key component through which a newsmaster can bring together information coming from many different kinds of sources: traditional web sites, directories, search engines, social media such as blogs and video sharing sites, news content sites, social bookmarking destinations, and now also from Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.

So while a lot of people are spontaneously doing some kind of very-light, serendipitous newsmastering via their Twitter or personal social media stream, only very few have tried refining their natural newsmastering approach or have become aware of the opportunity that exists to take this to a higher, professional level.

Mastering how to create high-value newsradars and training skilled news editors in the art of newsmastering may be in fact one of the key lifesaving strategies that wise-minded newspapers operating online can still adopt to offer greater value, even at a price, to those interested in it. No matter what the topic, there is always a good number of people willing to pay to stay more informed than everyone else in a certain sector or industry niche.

But this is just my view. Since many have not even ever heard about the idea of newsradars and newsmastering, I took the time to briefly expose my vision to my three video guests asking for their free and open reactions.

Do you see what I see? Is this a possibe emerging business role? Is there value in doing it? Does it have a future?


The Role Of The Newsmaster In The Information Ecosystem - George Siemens

Duration: 6' 26''

Full English Text Transcription

George Siemens: The more complex the world becomes, the more obvious is that we need multiple viewpoints, multiple perspectives in order to even begin to resemble the complexity of what is happening in the world.

What happens, and this is what I see with courses that I am teaching, is that I have long stated that content it is worthless.

Content is so freely available today. One of the examples I have given recently was Encarta, Microsoft's encyclopedia. I think it was 1985 or so and Microsoft was doing some focus groups, asking people: "What would you pay for Encarta?" The initial reviews were: "A $1000, $2000".

By the time Microsoft has got to market, they were charging around $400 and it kept dropping. Encarta closed down two months ago or so. When they closed down they were charging $19.95 for their encyclopedia.

20 years ago Microsoft thought that taking your physical encyclopedia, putting it on a CD-ROM with images, videos and audio would have been so valuable that people would have paid $2000 for it.

I do not think you could sell one Encarta CD today, and then the question for me is: "Why?". Why cannot you sell it anymore? The reason you cannot sell it is because the economic value point does not reside in content.
There is so much free content available online, there are:

  • Wikipedia,
  • people who are publishing and posting their information online,
  • universities that are sharing information,
  • foundations
  • corporations that are sharing examples or content

The question becomes: if content is not the value point, what is the value point? To a degree, newspapers were both valuable for content, original coverage and for what they selected and did not select.

The newspaper had to make choices on the part of its readers to say: "This news is important and we are going to tell you about this", but that strength was its own weakness.

The fact that newspapers could select what was important for readers, served an homogeneous society, and it served a very specific world view. World views today have fragmented where we have a huge spectrum. Look at politics these days, just a device of this within politics demonstrates the growing diversity within society as a whole.

One newspaper cannot cover that fragmented world view, so we need all of these various points of interest, these various viewpoints shared, this content been created from different perspectives. But a newspaper, by nature of its design, cannot bring all of these pieces together.

The world is far too complex to be captured today in a daily newspaper. The newspaper says: "We have a sport section, this section, that section, etc.".

Let's say I am interested in soccer and I am in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I am not going to get detailed soccer information in my morning newspaper, but I might get good hockey information.

If I am a hockey enthusiast living in Rome, I am not going to get good hockey information in the local newspaper.

What is happened is that there is a challenge:

  • the diversification of interests,
  • the complexification of society

have put us into a position where we need to have all of these viewpoints available so that individuals can select what they wish to be following.

When people can select what they want to follow, is where the middle layer comes in and the newsmaster notion comes in.

Even with the ability that we have to seek and solicit the information that is relevant to us, the abundance of that information is so significant that a person who does this as a spare sort of side activity, cannot keep up.

Let's say I work as an accountant in a major organization, and in my spare time I like to do a little bit of what you, Robin, would call professional online publishing. The newsmaster model helps me take control of my fate in this area.

Let's say I am passionate about soccer or I am passionate about cooking. I can create and I want to follow various developments of the cooking field, but there is no way I can quit my job as an accountant to become a complete expert as somebody who is following cooking or wine making.

What do I need to become a complete cooking expert? I need the middle person who becomes an expert in the cooking area of society that likely makes their living off of it, because:

  • they are passionate about it,
  • they have a growing readership,
  • they have a growing publication base online with videos and audio,

that while I continue being an accountant I can become a wine maker. I can become an informed wine maker by following these expert-amateur that are sharing their information and staying on top of the field.
Now where it would get interesting, and this I do not think will happen for most people, is:

  • If I become so informed that I decide to share my information on sites, I start earning money through whether advertising or sharing of information on my site. Then it is possible that I also could become a full-time newsmaster.

  • Maybe I do not want to become a full-time newsmaster. Maybe I want to be an accountant, but I still want to follow what is going on in the field.

    If I do not want to become a full-time newsmaster, I need that middle man who is able to be an expert in that field. I can then step in and plug in to the expert's information, expertise or guidance while I continue what I am doing. Now, I have a very focused information source.

    Over time, I will learn to trust the expert because I will know them personally on Facebook, on Twitter, through their
    blogs, through their videos, through their podcasts, something that would never have had happened if I would have picked up whoever's handbook, or wines around the world. The personal connection would not be there.

With specialized expertise within different fields, sort of a newsmaster model, you become the person that tracks huge trends and can filter down important elements and share those with others. I absolutely think that is a business model or a value point that society needs.


Scanning And Filtering News And Info - Nancy White

Duration: 1' 20''

Nancy White: There are certain people in my network who I have discovered, or they have discovered me, who are so good at sending out pointers or noticing something or someone and pointing it out to the rest of the network. These are people I pay more attention to in these various media.

If you look back in network theory, this idea of the filter and the scanner has been around for a long time. The technologies have augmented the importance of filters and scanners, because before it was a slower process.

Now the person who is good at filtering or scanning can totally change both the community and the network.

People ask me: "When you are hiring somebody, what are some of the things you look for?" I reply: "In every team you have got to have a filter and a scanner, because some people are not good at that, and other people are". There is a talent and then there is a skill associated with it.

I really value people who are good filters and scanners, and scanners are different than filters:

  • scanners may take in more than you want.
  • the filters start finding the gold.

A bad filter would be blocking things, they will start exercising some sort of influence or editorial control that blocks innovation.

Anything has its plus or minus side or its positive or negative side. I do not want to glorify these things as perfection does not exist; they are humans.


Future Of News: The Importance Of News Curation And Distribution - Gerd Leonhard

Duration: 1' 47''

Gerd Leonhard: What we are looking at with newspapers and print publishers, is lots of times they had a sort of monopoly on information coming from feeds like the ones from Reuters and many others that they had aggregated themselves.

Now, newspapers and publishers are upset because what is happening is the entire world gets the feed. The users themselves are becoming producers. They are producing for each other like on Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

The fact that producers and users are producing for each other is also damaging this sort of exclusive access model, very much like the music industry had the same model.

I think any system based on monopoly right now by market default is in trouble, because people go around it and find other ways.

What producers need to do is to incorporate everyone, and also aggregate people's voices and opinions like The New York Times is starting to do, or like Digg and many others. These are all aggregators, and include this aggregation of people's voices and opinions with the professional things that they do, without having to be too sort of insular about what they do and how they do it.

I think curation is key in aggregating people's voices, because most people have to go through 500 feeds of some sort of news event, and that would take them hours to go through the feeds and pick the right ones.

A professional reporter can search the right feeds in five minutes, because they have the skills to select photos and those kinds of things; which is very valuable, but not if you put those feeds under a wrapper.

It is not going to be easy for newspapers and print publishers, because having had a monopoly on the viewers and the information has put them into various sort of privileged position.

Now the monopoly is of the viewers: they go somewhere else and the news feeds go somewhere else as well.

Newspapers and publishers have to create a new platform where they add value in different ways.

Video clips originally recorded by Robin Good for MasterNewMedia, and first published on August 13th, 2009 as "Future Of News: The Newsmaster Role As Seen By Gerd Leonhard, George Siemens And Nancy White".

About the interviewees


Gerd Leonhard is a media futurist as well as an author and writer, a media and Internet entrepreneur, a strategic advisor, and a keynote speaker & presenter. If you want to get a good feel for what he does, you can check out Gerd's blog MediaFuturist or visit his Youtube channel.


To learn more about George Siemens and to access extensive information and resources on elearning check out Explore also George Siemens connectivism site for resources on the changing nature of learning and check out his new book "Knowing Knowledge".


Nancy White is an online facilitation and community-building expert. Nancy is the owner of Full Circle Associates, a company that develops collaboration and facilitation strategies, communications, planning and Internet collaboration solutions for non-profits, organizations and businesses.

Robin Good -
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posted by Daniele Bazzano on Thursday, August 13 2009, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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