So, what is "news," anyway?

In writing about this month's Carnival of Journalism topic (increasing sources of news), I've been doing a lot of thinking about what exactly "news" is and what a "source of news" therefore is. I still don't have a solid answer. (But maybe I shouldn't waste my time dwelling over such questions in the first place). News used to be defined by the act of publication. Information became news once it was published somewhere. Now we have tons of information and "publishing" can be as simple as hitting a "share" button on Facebook. News is being published in spurts every second, everywhere. Much like that old mantra that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," such is the case for news; it's in the eye of the consumers and creators.

I got a text message from my mom Tuesday night that said my aunt had fallen into a coma, no details. A few hours later on Facebook, my cousin updated that she was at the hospital and asked her Facebook friends to pray. In the comments for that update, another cousin said that she tried to make it to the hospital before they flew my aunt out to the Bay Area, but couldn't make it on time.  Late last night, I saw another comment from another cousin saying that they had just made it to Stanford Medical. Then I saw my mom check in on Facebook to the city of San Francsisco-- she had apparently gone too. Another update revealed the coma was cased by a brain aneurism. A followup update this morning said it was a subarchnoid hemorrhage and that my aunt had just gone into surgery.

The point of this ramble is to show you how news about my family broke in realtime, and how I was able to follow a progression of facts from one step to another as a consumer. That news is news to me, but would certainly not be worthy news to you or your family.

Everyone in my family is reporting news to their community of stakeholders in as quick and accurate a way as possible. Within that community, Facebook is the best way for them to share.

Then there's the traditional kind of news. Protestors setting government buildings on fire. Senators retiring. Meth-related fires killing families. It's all important in the grand scheme of things, but people aren't interacting with it in an obsessive, by-the-minute basis like they are with Facebook, until it impacts them.

So maybe the answer is this: "News" can be as narrow or broad as we choose to define it, and everyone can choose to define "news" differently.  Therefore, "sources of news" become the people, organizations, groups, businesses, and platforms that get that news from one spot to another.

The difference is not necessarily that the spectrum of news has widened, but that the number of platforms for quickly, efficiently sharing news along that entire spectrum have increased.

If we want people to interact with news in the way that they interact with their families and friends on Facebook, we have to make it relevant to them and we have to make it easy for them to access and stay informed about news that is relevant to them:

  1. Customizable news subscriptions.
  2. Easy ways to subscribe to individual topics, keywords, authors.
  3. Multiple modes of delivery (mobile, web, social media, email).
  4. Automagical habit recognition. Like Google reader can determine what a reader wants to see based on past habits.

But even then, will they care? Does it matter if they do? If we, as journalists and news organizations, want to be at the heart of communities and sources of knowledge for all, then we'd better hope so.

Just a few scattered thoughts. Make of it what you will.