knowledge value chain Five years ago I had the opportunity to speak to a group of Canadian press representatives about the future of the news media. They listened to me because I buy their newsfeeds and publications databases for our company’s intranet. They didn’t like my message. I told them the news motto for 2003 would be “less is more”, that buyers and readers would want less ‘raw’ news data and more “what does it mean” analysis.

Now I think I was wrong, for two reasons:

  • People often don’t trust the media to be logical, complete and unbiased in their analysis (though for some reason they do tend to trust them to be complete and accurate in the ‘raw’ news they report, ’embedded’ journalism notwithstanding); and
  • Some people are just news junkies, with an insatiable thirst for ‘raw’ news for its entertainment value, for its own sake. They don’t really care what it means. It’s today’s water cooler, boardroom and coffee klatsch chat fodder, forgotten tomorrow.

During the Iraq war, The Agonist was offering minute-by-minute details of troop movements and other events, with no time for real analysis, and was drawing two million hits per day to his blog. On the other hand, the ‘most e-mailed’ New York Times articles are frequently editorials and op-ed pieces, which I’d guess means the senders think they’re useful or at least inspiring analyses.

What are we to make of this? In the field of Knowledge Management, we recognize a spectrum of ‘knowledge behaviours’, illustrated in the chart at right. These behaviours reflect each individual’s level of trust in their information sources, and their attention span, appetite and available time to process information themselves. At one end of the spectrum (‘A’ on the chart) are news junkies who either don’t trust anyone to analyze information for them, or don’t care what it means. At the other end (‘D’) are those that trust others (their parents, their president, or their preacher) enough to allow those others not only to interpret the news for them, but to prescribe appropriate action. These people probably own a lot of surplus duct tape these days.

Most of us, of course, vacillate along this value chain. We trust some sources implicitly and others not at all. We usually trust major media to at least aggregate the news for us, and often allow analysts and editorialists we know to give us their take on what it means.

Bloggers’ posts, too, range from ‘just the facts’ to far-reaching essays and calls to arms. This blog is usually rated ‘C’, and those that enjoy exchange of ideas and opinions should be at home here. News junkies, and those looking for life’s instructions, will probably have more fun elsewhere. Among Salon blogs, I think Ted Ritzer’s WIFL is an excellent mostly-type-‘A’ blog, while The Raven is the consummate type ‘B’, and Toby is an outstanding type ‘C’. I’ve occasionally tried my hand at type ‘D’ posts, but as this thread will attest, bloggers who attempt to pontificate to an unfamiliar and sceptical audience do so at their peril. Even if you’re a Rush Limbaugh preaching to an uncritical choir, it’s all about building trust, and especially these days, trust takes time.

Stories are a clever mechanism to present type ‘C’ and even type ‘D’ knowledge as type ‘A’, in advance of building trust. Most religions are thus built on books of stories, and it’s a prime means of teaching children with short attention spans. Even business is taking stories very seriously these days, as I’ll explain in a future post.

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  1. Great! Now I’m going to have to try and figure out which “Type” my blog is. Grrrrrrr.Interesting theory here – I think you’re on to something here… :)

  2. Excellent piece. My opinion: You were correct to rethink your position. Mine? All types of news is good as long as it’s definitively labeled A,B,C or D. Fox news comes immediately to mind as an egregious example of the antithesis.

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