Issue No. 04 - October-December (2011 vol. 18)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MMUL.2011.69
John R. Smith , IBM Research
Stuff happens. That's one of life's rules. Some of it is of profound importance or even historical in nature. 1 Some is routine or of no major significance. The rest depends on who you are, what you are doing, or where you are or where you are going. But, regardless, learning about what's happening in the world gives us awareness and allows us to assess implications, make decisions, and respond when necessary.
There are many ways we learn about what's going on in the world. The obvious one is news. And for a declining many, the preferred channel is print. The top 100 paid-for newspapers in the world have a total circulation of more than 150 million. 2 Japan alone accounts for a large fraction of that—its top-five paid-for newspapers have a circulation of more than 40 million per day. 2 The top-three US newspapers have circulations of between one and two million per day, 2 and approximately 40 million Americans read newspapers each day. 3 However, worldwide newspaper readership has been in decline for decades—for example, dropping between 5 to 10 percent per year in the US, 3 as people are increasingly getting their news from other sources, such as television, radio, and more recently the Internet. While television news has taken some share from print newspapers, it's not growing either. In the US, the top three broadcast commercial evening news programs (ABC, CBS, and NBC) average approximately 20 million viewers total each day. 3 While this might seem like a big number, it represents a 55 percent loss of viewers since 1980, when the three networks averaged more than 50 million viewers per day. And the rise of cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) has not improved this picture. The top-three prime-time cable news programs combined have only one-quarter of the television viewership compared to the top-three network evening news programs.
However, the past several years have seen a growing shift from newspapers and television news to digital channels. The Web sites of the top-three US television news organizations averaged 2.7 million unique daily visitors in 2010. In 2011, their Twitter feeds surpassed more than one million followers each. This means that audiences are spending more time per day accessing news sources online and increasingly obtain news digitally. 4,5 This is driving a new premium for timeliness and immediacy of news. However, rapid discovery and reporting is difficult for the traditional news process based on a daily production and distribution cycle. In the increasingly digital world, latency in discovering and reporting news needs to be minimized—being first and being early is what matters most.
Rising to fill this void will be a new reliance on computer-based systems that continuously monitor the pulse of the world through digital means, detecting topics of interest from open, multilingual, multimedia and social information. While this might seem like a step backward for news journalism, the emphasis on early detection from a wide range of open sources will have tremendous benefits. For one, it will significantly grow the reach for news discovery. This was first made apparent with the advent of citizen journalism as a specialization of user-content generation, where ordinary people actively contribute newsworthy information they come across in their everyday experiences. However, in practice, less-active means will dominate, as people's regular online postings of pictures, video, text, and speech and interactions through social media will provide perhaps unintentional, but open, channels for detecting what's happening in the world.
Although there will always be a need for understanding what's going on in the world in a broader historical context, when stuff initially happens and action is needed, the earlier we know the better.
Contact John R. Smith at email@example.com.