You know, the internet is quite a thing.
People in the know (the elders of the internet) say that ninety percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. Our output of bits and bytes is astounding, and our data space continues to grow at quintillions of bytes per day. Each time we write a blog or tweet or make a post on social media, our collective data weight in the world grows.
At first glance, this seems like a miraculous and impressive human accomplishment. We appear to be creating and sharing knowledge at unprecedented rates.
But is that actually true?
A quick Google search of any newsworthy topic, however, shows a bleak reality. Much of the data we are creating is highly repetitive, to the point that most media outlets now post stories without even attempting to give it a unique or geographically relevant spin.
Case in point: a reddit link led me to a story in Calgary that resource companies fear that cyber crime could lead to actual loss of life if data breaches include large machinery and equipment. That’s a big deal! I immediately wanted to know more, so I popped cybercrime fears in resource industry into Google and lo and behold! More news!
Closer inspection of a few of the top links, however, showed that it was not in fact more news. Nope. It was a complete regurgitation of the first story that I found on the Calgary reddit page. Down to the paragraph structure.
So basically, 3 different news outlets copied and pasted in its entirety a story from the Canadian Press, put a Calgary reporter’s name on it and reposted it. And there you have it – another couple hundred kilobytes added to our collective data load with zero added value.
The Decreasing Value of Information
The slow demise of large news organizations reporting on local news is not new news. But it is news that continues to concern quite a few people. While cities like Calgary are still large enough to support a journalist base, and not a few independent press publications, smaller centers are starving for locally relevant news stories.
Access to information is now largely free, thanks to the internet, but this puts a strain on news outlets since in order to add value, they need to create scarcity. Since information is now certainly not scarce, we aren’t really willing to pay to have it delivered to us, and news outlets cannot add value. Vicious, meet Circle.
However, what the internet taketh in scarcity, the internet also giveth in opportunities to create and disseminate information with relatively low investment. An enterprising freelancer in Calgary is doing just that.
Sprawl Media is a Calgary based news outlet established by a Jeremy Klaszus, a freelance journalist concerned with the paucity of local news around Calgary’s last civic election. He found a niche where Calgary residents were looking for information that larger news outlets couldn’t or wouldn’t provide. Where once the newspaper industry required capital, human resources and investment to build a media empire, Jeremy used a laptop, a crowdfunding campaign and some of those multitudinous bytes to start something new.
There’s Hope for Us Yet
Jeremy managed to access funding from his supporters directly, keep his overhead low and deliver what his demographic was keen to have – locally relevant news on important Calgary civic and human interest stories.
On a macro level, the availability and ease of direct funding for journalists like Jeremy could signal a sea change in the way we research, deliver and consume news. With large news outlets struggling, shrinking and relying more and more on news generating organizations like the Canadian Press to write stories they can republish, single issue journalists may now have an opportunity to fully abandon the dream of the 30 year career and focus instead on reporting what they care about and bringing in the direct financing support they need to cover their minimal overhead.
The benefits to the consumer is better quality and paying directly for a service that you want without buying the whole pie. I mean, I’d subscribe to a newspaper if it wasn’t full of ads and sports news. With a new funding model, you could latch onto a journalist superstar who fulfills your every need and pay them to keep you informed.
An interesting development and a reason to keep an eye on new ways to get the news. What do you think, Calgary? Is news about new news news to your ears?