News media – To write hard news or opinion?

The Media Guardian speculated this week how traditional news media organisations like newspapers should react to the hordes of citizen reporters stalking the streets. The BBC, perhaps not unexpectedly, reckons that news media providers can make themselves felt by providing hard news. Blogs can out opinion the best of the papers op-ed pages they said. But they would say that – The BBC is uniquely resourced to do hard news and because of its public service remit, not big on opinionated pieces.

The BBC may only partially be right. Blogs will increasingly break hard news that institutions – even the mighty Beep – will not have the resources to cover. Or they simply just won’t be at the right place at the right time.

Ah, but you might say, no single blog will have those resources either. They might through serendipity get one great scoop, and that’s it. But do remember, its immaterial that the fractured blogosphere don’t belong to a single media entity. They work on a collective level and can be found through one or two interfaces.

Technology like Digg‘s link recommendation engine (user generated editing in effect), Technorati and Google’s time and Pageranked based blog search, will increasingly encourage bloggers to publish information nobody has access to and do so first. Take this review of Gmail’s mobile application for instance. All of these engines try to give users the best postings on the web, within a certain time frame. So the links they present are weighted for quality and news-worthiness.

But here is another reason why the BBC is wrong. There’s the so-called long tail and the workings of Google’s Pagerank to take into account. If your item on a particular subject is very incisive, funny, informative and gets voted for via links from blogs and sites across the web, Pagerank will like it too. And then you are pretty much guaranteed traffic long after the item’s published date. The links presented by Google search are weighted for quality as judged by other web users. This favours well written opinion pieces whose content transcends time.

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