Pizza tastes better than broccoli

So last week I went to the amazing Webstock conference in Wellington. I have gone to this most years and always there seem to be a few themes that seem to creep into many of the talks given. Because usually many of the speakers are American its not uncommon for the ‘themes’ to be heavily influenced by whatever is going on over there, but this is valuable because many of the trends we see in the US eventually make their way here as well. This year a major ‘theme’ that I picked up on is that the news media is broken.

Clay Johnson @cjoh talked about “industrialised ignorance” where a highly politicised media is based on affirming the reader in their existing beliefs, not in informing them. One of the stunning examples he gave was that of the leaked AOL document, The AOL Way, available as slides over on the Business Insider website. It demonstrates how every click that we make reinforces the demand for more of that type of content and therefore is an ethical choice. He showed how today ignorance is caused by the consumption of information, not by its lack, and recommends that we all go on an Information Diet, become a conscious consumer, shift our focus to the local and focus on producing quality content ourselves.

Miranda Mulligan @mirandamulligan was equally critical about the news media although more from a design perspective. She says that journalism is important for democracy but that too few journalists understand the current mediums. They need to understand how the Internet works, not to become developers, but to understand how their content will be consumed. She’s worked in the news media for years trying to teach them but it hasn’t worked so now is trying to get web designers to be journalists as she sees them as being “uniquely positioned to have global view on how the business works”.

Meanwhile Robin Sloan is a media inventor and writer. We have his book book cover Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, but his talk wasn’t about that. Rather he discussed some of the inventions of the past: printing and the development of italic script, movies and Edison’s rotating ‘black maria’ studio (one of his early ‘movies’ featured cats boxing) and his own invention of a new type of media, the ‘tap essay’ available in the Tapestry app for iOS.

I thought that all of these sessions were very interesting as they demonstrated how different sectors are handling the tremendous changes that have been occurring in information format and delivery over the past decade. I think that there’s a message there for librarians too, like journalists our job is still being transformed by the internet and we need to understand how it works, not just at a surface level, in order to be able to help our customers. Karen McGrane talked about throwing away any idea of there being a ‘primary’ medium and focusing on the content and that’s part of this too. Finally we need to become more mindful consumers of information so that we can better assist and teach our customers – if we all need to be on an information diet maybe librarians need to learn to be information dieticians.

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