Micro-audiences and ambient journalism as new approaches

UBC Professor Alfred Hermida’s recent posting on Twitter as a system of ambient journalism is quiet insightful in understanding the level of change taking place within the industry.

He suggests technology like Twitter enables citizens to maintain a heightened sense of news awareness called ambient journalism. The tool is being quickly embraced by journalists to present multi-faceted, fragmented news experiences. Rather than leaving professionals as gatekeepers in this case, Hermida argues for leveraging the collective intelligence of the audience with the efforts of journalists and, in doing so, create a new “awareness system: to help people be more aware of others ideas and activities.

In my thesis, The Future of Journalism Online: a case for e-journalism, part of the discussion proposes a new approach to journalism where micro-audiences replace mass audiences. Instead of trying to reach out to global or even regional audiences, smaller, more focused communities are the targets. These communities may be geographic or communities of interest.

The recent success of hyperlocal journalism in some rural communities is a good indication of this trend. Also, the use of social media to distribute news and information is significant. By monitoring blogs, Twitter and Facebook, as examples, journalists can discover sources of news, which can be redistributed virally through alternative networks.

This can take place in a one-to-many communications model, as journalists generate news and information for a particular community. Or, it can be a many-to-many situation, where members of various communities share news with each other that can be further redirected to others by journalists. The Information Valet is one example of this kind of information service.

Key to all this discussion is the recognition of the idea that smaller is better. As fragmentation continues, news organizations and journalists must adapt. Hermida’s explorations are very useful in this regard.