Sunday, February 15, 2009

How "positive feedback" can work for newspapers

Modern day mass media is characterized as being an "echo chamber" of discourse. By this I mean those news stories about news stories, where some piece of news gets picked up, and somehow reaches some tipping point in coverage that it starts to get bounced around repeatedly by various forms analysis, punditry, and polling data.

Stephen Johnson
pioneered the application of "positive feedback" to this phenomenon in media. Positive feedback to what happens when an event has continually increasing (or decreasing) output until some constraint is reached. Putting a microphone in front of a speaker is positive feedback, as speaker output is fed back into the mic creating an increasingly loud and shrill sound until the system can not handle it anymore.

The same thing happens with stories like Joe the Plumber. In the media, one event, claim, or talking point gets repeated more frequently until it becomes part of mainstream discourse.

What this means for local newspapers
Reinforcing local positioning. Positive feedback mechanisms on the Internet can be used to solidify a more local positioning on the newspapers website. For example, the newspaper can create editorial content, and moderate user generated content such that local themes are constantly reinforced. The goal is to have locally-themed attitudes expressed concisely and frequently that the attitudes in user generated content is consistent with and reinforce those attitudes.

Turning talking points and memes into local stories. Local stories always do better that AP stories. Rather than piping in AP stories in raw form, they can be transformed into local content. This means taking, the AP story about Tina Fey impersonating Sarah Palin, linking to it or previewing it with a Snap-like service, and promote a feature about locals doing impressions of Palin.

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