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 "Positive Outlook" by ViaMoi on Flickr

Are news filters giving us an artificially “positive outlook?” Photo by ViaMoi.

Over the last decade, the world of news media has changed significantly, allowing more voices to share their stories and more ears to listen. There has been a convergence of major media conglomerates, the introduction of social media, and the spread of the Internet, including the ever popular browser search tool. All of these new methods of communicating and obtaining information means that people don’t have to go very far to find news stories they want to learn about. But does this method of learning about the world really introduce us to new news, or just news that is filtered specifically for our personal interests? 

As I ask myself these questions, I am not exactly sure what the answer is, but I am pretty sure that yes, we are getting self-prescribed news. From an interview with Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, in The Telegraph:

The convergence of search, location and social is the next big narrative. Schmidt says that people who “opt in” to the system will begin experiencing a much richer relationship with technology, aided by their computerised “personal assistant.” “We still think of search as something you type,” Schmidt said. “Perhaps a decade from now, you will think, well, that was interesting, I used to type but now it just knows.“ How does it know? Well, on mobiles we know where you are, down to the nearest foot. You’ve chosen to log in, with your permission, and it knows where you are and it can provide a personalised service. 

Does this make us more susceptible to a narrow point of view or does this open our eyes to a wide range of ideas and stories? The New York Times is going to be recommending pages to its readers based on the content that they have already read.  “The whole idea is to expose our readers to as much of our great journalism as we can,” says Marc Frons, the Times’ new Chief Technology Officer for digital operations. 

On the web, it can be hard to find the things you like — not to mention the things you don’t know you’d like until you like them. The new Recommendation engine, Frons says, “allows us to expose content to our readers that they wouldn’t see any other way.” And it allows the news organization, more broadly, “to establish a more personal connection between what we do online and what our readers do online.”

The Times will be rolling out this new approach to its readers in the next couple weeks. The Washington Post is also preparing to launch a free news-aggregation website, called Trove, to personalize the news experience for its readers (the site is currently in private beta.) This will be another test to see what happens with readership for some of the less popular topics. Will this mean that certain parts of the paper are going to become a thing of the past? Will it continue to mean people might miss important historical events? Consider this: 52% of Americans have heard little or nothing about the anti-government protests in Egypt, according to research from the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press.

Filtering to Gain Social Network Value by Intersection Consulting

What do we gain (or sacrifice) by creating personalized news feeds? Image by Mark Smiciklas.

As we’ve written about before, the future of media is storytelling, one where the stories we read and watch are the ones we believe, and thus, history is in our mind’s eye. New search and curation tools like Qwiki or Storify will give viewers a more interactive way to experience these stories. But I hope we don’t miss out on the big events in the world just because we don’t find them interesting.

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“As we move to this world where we consume things on screen and the lines blur between television and radio and the printed word and every medium, everything is going to be catered to storytelling,” says writer Nick Bilton in a recent interview with Wired.com.

The techie journalist, who’s written about everything from crowdsourcing hamburgers to the creation of the anti-Facebook, just published a new book, “I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted.” In it, he explains why surgeons should play video games and how pornographers are futurists, among other forecasts. His main point, though, is that the internet is going to encompass every element of our lives, not just media consumption: “I think it’s going to be in everything: electricity, our clothes, our cars, our pets.”

His book itself is an interactive experience—users can scan QR Codes at the beginning of each chapter, which, when scanned, will take them to a website where they can consume additional multimedia content and leave comments. Or, you could just read it on your iPad.

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