Al Jazeera's, "The Stream," represents the smartest mix of video, social media and broadcast news interactivity to date. Will this become the model for the "new" newsroom?
I have seen the future of online Democracy - and it has come from Al Jazeera. Now, I must confess that I'm no expert at the political leanings or messaging of this Middle Eastern news organization - in fact, out here in the sticks (Denver, baby) we're still mourning the loss of The Rocky Mountain News. For those of you who don't know what that venerable Rocky was - it was ink on paper, and (in my opinion anyway) new media / internet news killed it. While there certainly was culpability on the part of it's editors and senior management not to see the rising Tsunami of digital destruction headed it's way - the fact is that it's dead and now we have one newspaper instead of two.
An Endless "Stream" of News Information via Social Media
So how do news organizations (print, broadcast, radio) adapt to the social nature of the new internet? When I say "new" internet, I mean the one where individual websites mean less and less in the onslaught of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The model of "build a website" that has some of the components of your core business, add a blog or two and let folks upload a picture seems to be failing miserably - at least from an economic perspective. "The Stream" turns that model upside down and makes it work.
"The Stream" (http://stream.aljazeera.com/) sees the endless flow of information from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as the source of the dialogue as opposed to a compliment to the news organizations internally-produced content. We have seen the newsroom - and it is us. At least that's what Al Jazeera thinks, and considering the impact that social media has had on "local" politics lately - I think it's grabbed the tiger by the tail, swung it around and fed it some Alpo. It has turned the raging tide of public opinion into the largest, interactive news gathering staff never employed. Take that, Arianna! Who needs legions of bloggers when you've got tweets on one wall, facebook feeds in a ticker and you're group-watching a YouTube video while the filmmaker joins in the mix via Skype?
Traditional news gathering organizations have been on the skids for years: first the sad realization that "eyeballs on their website" did not translate directly into "money in their bank account", follow that with the data-mining of Google and it's ability to give you a personalized newspaper, and finally the sad realization that most people simply didn't care if the story they were reading was from an ethical, trained, editorial professional or some goofball in a warehouse in Denver (take the piece you're reading as a prime example). The core component was immediacy, information and perceived knowledge - the kind of knowledge you get from being on the street with a cell-phone camera while tear gas explodes around you and your friends start dropping from gunshot wounds as opposed to the knowledge you get from reading a story off a teleprompter while wondering about your hair.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube now represent an unprecedented access to news as it happens - no truck or crew, no lights, no microwave link back to the station - no film at 11. Everyone has an equal voice in Social Media - it's Democracy at it's finest. Al Jazeera's "Stream" has tapped into those garden-hoses of data, and plays the part of host / curator as it culls the subjects, subject-matter and follow-up in real-time and slings it back in your face via a live stream. I've always been a proponent of the dialogue between audience and presenter in the interactive space - and at a certain level it's very gratifying to see media professionals finally develop a product that concentrates less on what it has to say and more on what it's viewers are experiencing. Real-time is the new 5pm, and it's being brought to you live by Al Jazeera.
Will Traditional Media Embrace this New Social Democracy?
The only question in my mind is will our local and national news organizations be able to grasp the importance of this "social news" phenomena and capitalize on it in time - or will they continue on the self-destructive paths that they refer to as "time-honored" traditions?