Silicon Insider: Surfing Upstream

But that's when Drudge stepped in. For no obvious reason, he decided to link to the two day old AP story. He then attached one of his classic scare headlines: "Greenspan warns of likely U.S. recession." Personally, I love stuff like that - it harkens back to the good old days of newspapering and the vastly underrated age of yellow journalism - and if the viewer chose to read the term 'imminent' into Drudge's words, and then link through to the AP story . . .well, bully for Matt. That's his job, and he does it better than anybody.

But Pethokoukis's item, and the story behind it got me thinking about the nature of the news in the Internet Age.

One thing I've noticed in my own behavior - and most other folks I know who spend their days sitting near a computer (i.e., almost everyone) is that we are in a perpetual race to get to the news as early as possible. You can understand this attitude amongst, say, day traders, for whom timing in everything. And yet, in a sense, we are all day traders now, wanting the news - especially the important, breaking news - the instant it occurs.

The result is a behavior that I can only describe as "surfing upstream". That is, we surf the cable stations on television even as we race around the net, trying to capture the latest update the instant it appears . . .and we are frustrated and furious over any delay.

The problem is that in going this far up the news cycle, we are also usually by-passing all of the standard intermediators that we normally depend upon to do our filtering for us. Some of this is understandable: the closer we get to the actual news events themselves the more obvious it becomes just how biased the coverage has been in the past. Needless to say, that's led to a lot of disenchantment with the traditional media. And rightly so.

Yet, by surfing ever further upstream, we go past not only analysis to news to breaking news, but all of the way to the raw information streaming off the event in real time. Think of it as a curve that goes infinite as it approaches the asymptote of the actual event itself: Downstream, in the world of long, leisurely feature stories and news analysis, the current is wide and slow and fairly predictable. But up at the source, information and data is blasting out of spillway like an immense firehose; all is confusion, energy and chaos.

Most of have neither the time nor the inclination to navigate against this torrent; yet, that is precisely where most of us want to be. The result is a paradox, and one that is rapidly destroying traditional media.

Put simply: we want the news as it happens, but we also want it to be intermediated by some sort of objective, professional news filter. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras have gotten us unprecedentedly close to the real-time unfolding of news events around the world. But only rudimentary institutions - notably the blogosphere -- have yet appeared to deal with the problem of filtration. Thus, our current behavior: channel surfing cable news, dropping into places like the Drudge Report fifteen times per day, and bouncing around the Web to the blogs we trust the most.

It also suggests why the traditional media are in such serious trouble. They have not only read the problem wrong, they have read it exactly wrong.

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