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The False Idol: Technology

The journalism industry, in all its worry over its place in the digital age, seems too willing to “commit suicide out of a fear of dying” and seemingly latches onto anything it thinks might increase user engagement and/or page views.

At the recent Online News Association conference, the entire place was filled with “MSM”-types buzzing about “UGC.”

Those implementing it were eagerly doling out advice; “It’s wonderful,” they seemed to preach. “It’s revolutionary!” (Ironically, there was also a session explaining how to keep the annoying people from participating).

Job postings for Site UGC Editors abounded.

The sense was as though the industry thought it finally has this “Web” thing figured out.

But, as the IHT’s Mike Oreskes said in his keynote to the conference, journalists need to help audiences with information overload and not just become conveyor belts.

The online news industry needs to realize mainstream media has always about aggregation. The New York Times prides itself by claiming that it only publishes the “news that’s fit to print.” Online news needs to confidently embrace this role by filtering out, again as Oreskes said, the wheat from the chaff.

If a news site can present its readers, alongside the pure news, a distillation of the best of the rest of the Web by properly using the tools of the new Web surprising things could happen: news outlets might once again been viewed with the kind of authority they once had.

But first the industry needs to remember, technology won’t save the day.

During his presentation at the recent conference, Adrian Holovaty was asked repeatedly about what tools a news organization can use to collect and refine data for features like “Faces of the Fallen.” His answer?

“Hire a reporter.”