Evan Kraus is an executive vice president and director of APCO Online®, a service group that delivers powerful, results-focused online communication strategies for APCO Worldwide’s clients around the world.
The Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was hugely significant in terms of its impact on the American health care system, the U.S. presidential election and even the role of the federal government. But from my perch as the head of a practice focused on digital and social media, I was also fascinated by what it meant in terms of how information makes its way to the public today.
As a big fan of the traditional news business, I cringed while watching Jon Stewart of the impossibly popular political satire show “The Daily Show” castigate the major cable TV news networks CNN and Fox News for mis-reporting the news in their zeal to be first. At the moment the Supreme Court made its decision, I was actually in a meeting watching coverage on the SCOTUS blog, who got it right, while several of my colleagues had their mobile phones zapped with a CNN alert that had it wrong.
So what does this mean? Does it mean that CNN and Fox News are the past, while esoteric blogs are the future of news? Of course not. But in my view it does demonstrate something important about the world of fragmented information and expertise.
As an avid consumer of social media, and someone embedded deeply into its fabric, it was perfectly normal and reasonable for me to be watching for the announcement on the SCOTUS blog. Sure CNN (and Fox) are much more influential, popular and better resourced. But it isn’t their job to understand the eccentricities, operations and interpretation of the Supreme Court. It’s to make decisions about which SCOTUS decisions are worth reporting as general news within their fixed 30-minute or hour-long news wrap-ups or talk shows. In fact, it was because of traditional news services that I first found out that the Supreme Court had taken the case, and when it was going to rule on the ACA. The SCOTUS Blog, on the other hand, has only one job. To cover the court. Every day. Always.
Since I’m not a court watcher, like most Americans, I spend very little time on that blog. But on June 28, that was where I pushed my attention. This is what social media information consumers do. We frequent the Oil Drum when OPEC is set to make a decision. We visit Seeking Alpha during the Facebook IPO. And we follow newsmakers directly on Twitter. Many of us don’t ignore traditional news outlets like CNN and Fox News. But we put them in their proper place. We expect them to help us sort out what matters most and to help reveal things that only well-resourced news organizations with bureaus around the world can do.
There is a lot of change happening in the information dissemination business today, and a lot of jockeying among individuals, outlets and organizations as each tries to find its proper place. Only a few will have the resources to build big, popular brands. But there will always be a place for CNN. And, like the Huffington Post did so successfully, many of these “big brand” outlets will increasingly fill their channels with content curated from other, narrower specialist publications. And the beat will go on.
So I will continue to watch, fascinated, as the forces of fragmentation and consolidation wash across the news business, forcing change and evolution. And I will occasionally cringe when some of these outlets try to push out of their swim lanes and get whacked by the Jon Stewarts of the world. It’s one of the things that makes the world we live in so exciting and makes my job so fun.