In fact, journalism that makes sense of the news may even increase news consumption. As Jay Rosen points out on his blog, explanatory journalism creates a “scaffold of understanding in the users that future reports can attach to, thus driving demand for the updates that today are more easily delivered.” In a similar fashion—by providing links to background information and analysis alongside every news story—the BBC gives consumers frameworks for understanding that generate an appetite for more information.

The future of news depends on the willingness of journalistic organizations to adjust to the new ecology and new economy of information in the digital age. “I think in some ways, we need a better metaphor,” says Delli Carpini. “The gatekeeping metaphor worked pretty well in the twentieth century, but maybe what news organizations should be now is not gatekeepers so much as guides. You don’t want gatekeepers that can say you can get this and you can’t get that. You want people who can guide you through all this stuff.”

Ironically, if out of desperation for advertising dollars, news organizations continue to chase eyeballs with snippets and sound bites, they will ultimately lose the war for consumer attention. Readers and viewers will go elsewhere, and so will advertisers. But if news organizations decide to rethink their role and give consumers the context and coherence they want and need in an age of overload, they may just achieve the financial stability they’ve been scrambling for, even as they recapture their public-service mission before it slips away.

 

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Bree Nordenson a former assistant editor of CJR.