Drifting along the Flood of Information: The paradox of human newspapers in a Big Data Society

Bigger, faster, stronger:
This is how the Big Data Society appears to be. More interactive, more interconnected, offering humanity innumerable opportunities to fish out of the information flood we are drifting along. Thus it raises the unprecedented necessity to use newspapers as filters in order to pull out relevant and interesting information out of the data masses. However, while data gets more vivid day by day, the newspaper world is close to extinction.
Why does this paradox exist?

,,They’re not dying because they’re not good. They’re dying because of more general reasons connected with technology and behavior.,” explains newspaper designer Jaced Ukto in an interview with the Ted Blog.

(too) Great Expectations

The truth is, people do not read fewer newspapers because they are so distracted by the Internet, their exhausting urban lifestyle and their lack of time management. It is the mistrust towards classic journalists, the fear of them being subjective gatekeepers, withholding important data we eventually deserve to know about. Since we live in a society in which globalization is not only a buzzword, where the fruits we eat and the clothes we wear come from the other end of the planet, we therefore believe we ought to know every bit and byte of information available. So, by avoiding subjective newspapers, we choose our own way to access the objective data of the information flood.

Is it therefore possible that we expect our newspapers to be perfect, now that all this data is available to professional journalists? Has drifting along the information flood made us demanding a more perfect and objective, but less human newspaper world?

Yet the utopia we are awaiting will never come. There is no perfect and objective newspaper world, nor will there ever be one in the future. Journalists will still be subjective, preferring one topic over another and interweaving information with interpretation. Some of them will still make typing mistakes despite of autocorrect.

This is nothing but human.

And we need human newspapers within a Big Data Society. Sure, one could argue that Big Data is better data. In fact, Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor of the Economist, most certainly does in his Talk. However this does not automatically mean that Big Data is better journalism, too.

Reification of Journalism is no solution

So, it is crucial to divide relevant and non-relevant information, to subtract the superfluous details and add your own little truth in order to communicate awareness and new findings to the public. The math of journalism seems easy to comprehend, though we still demand strict objectiveness and hard facts to be added to the equation. Humanity tends to avoid classic journalism due to the sudden access to all these data masses available. But reading the newspaper is not only about information. It is about loosing some objectiveness in order to gain a variety of views and opinions.

Of course, once there was a time when people believed to experience such a perfect journalism world, where every argument was well founded, every journalist bound to society’s moral values and every article the only truth. Back then, the media landscape was an efficient and cold machine, perfectly controlled and faceless.

That was during World War II.

And if humanity has learned something out of history, it is how dangerous the reification of media can get.

Drifting along the information flood vs. holding the wheel

This is why the paradox of human newspapers in a Big Data Society must be kept alive.It is time to ask ourselves: Do we want to be overloaded with data and continue drifting lonely along the flood? Or do we want to receive the information we deserve to know about by professionals who respect human dignity? This is not a question about reading a newspaper hastily while getting ready for the office on a Monday morning.
It is a question about holding the wheel and determining the speed of our journey.

The trip won’t be easy since the fate of journalism is still blurry.

,,Will there be anything like newspapers in the future? Or should we forget about it and just think about the web? What will be the next step? A plastic screen with WiFi that we all carry around, with a touchscreen? Or will we only use mobile phones?” 

Jacek Ukto in Can design save newspapers?

Whatever it may be, it will definitely be written by, about and for humans. It will be the exchange of their subjective opinions that will keep humanity more interactive, more interconnected. And for the times the Big Data might get too big, too fast, too strong, this is a thought worth holding on to.

Header image credits royalty free
photo1 – Alina Nikolaou

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