Just as the development of the Telegraph revolutionized news reporting in the 19th century, new ICTs have fundamentally transformed the way news is gathered, reported and received. The news audience in contemporary society is more informed than ever before, more technologically savvy and increasingly aware of breaking news even before it breaks on mainstream media.
In May 2014, Rachel Bartlett wrote in journalism.co.uk about the digital tools that will make new Journalists stand out from the crowd. I said back then that the list wasn’t just a list for the rookie Journalist but for all Journalists that want to ply their trade in a more technologically-driven century. What got me so fascinated with the list was that it made no distinction between the tools of the broadcast Journalist, the print Journalist or the online Journalist. But beyond the Journalist, news media organizations can only remain ‘mainstream’ at their own risk. The future of the internet is on the move. Mobile news apps are increasingly fashionable and will always be. The audience wants to take ownership. Audiences do not only want to choose what to see, when to see it and how to see it but they also want to be seen. In the words of cyberpreneur Michael Margolis ‘the real promise of technology and the internet revolution is that everyone is now a storyteller’. In today’s mesh of information and data, the future belongs to the media organization that makes it easiest for its audience to tell their own stories and take ownership of their preferred news stories. This is why the news curation platform Paper.li by Swiss-based startup Small Rivers is increasingly popular. It enables individuals, businesses, governments, NGOs, everyone to, in a few easy clicks, have their very own online newspaper – curating news from social media and various online sources.
I have used it both as a teaching tool and as a personal tool and I am fascinated with the possibilities. I have been interested in the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria since my return to Nigeria in August 2013. My initial shock that a local TV station would give more airtime to news report on the missing Malaysian airline than to the missing Chibok girls (before the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign) gave way to a resolve to curate stories about the insurgency. So I set up The Boko Haram Observatory on Paper.li to distil stories on the insurgency from trusted sources online and on Twitter. I filtered the contents to focus on #BokoHaram, #Bornomassacre #bringbackourgirls etc. Initially it was meant to serve my information needs. But now, The Boko Haram Observatory (http://bit.ly/1tSZ5PK) is a source of information to an increasing number of friends and followers seeking daily news and features on the insurgency. It is automatically updated twice a day and an automatic notice is served to my followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook. Paper.li feeds into an increasing audience need for customized news at their command and control. It has over 3.7 million users curating over 50 million articles daily based on the interest-graph of users.
Paper.li offers an insight into how audiences will engage with news and online contents in the future. It is a refreshing model that reverses the concept of news. Paper.li shows that news is what the reader says it is, not what the editor says it is. Doubtless, Small Rivers still has a lot to do to make paper.li fulfill all its potentials. More control can be given to the user. But the site does provide users with the ability to decide what news and features they want to see and in what format – a useful tip for news media organizations. If the audience’s wish is to know less about the violence of terror groups for example, and more about local peace building efforts or what peace support community-based organisations are doing to maintain peace, they can curate stories from various sources. Ultimately, the decision on what random events make it to the news bulletin tonight is making a u-turn to the audience.
Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob teaches Communications and Multimedia Design at American University of Nigeria.