Emergent Journalism

Reports from the front line of journalism instruction

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Messaging apps, news distribution and paths of least resistance

In graduate school  30 years ago I recall reading an intriguing little book called The Path of Least Resistance. It was a personal productivity, self-help offering along the same lines as Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And it was all about, as the title states, finding the most friction-free way to accomplish creative results.

It strikes me that one of the hurdles evolving journalism faces is finding the least-resistant paths to new modes of delivery, as the business models of the old ways continue to crumble.

A new feature from the instant messaging app Snapchat, which debuted this week in partnership with several well-known news organizations, may be an example of one of those low-resistance paths. The Discover feature was released by Snapchat on Tuesday and has already been gaining a lot of attention.

An excellent review of what it could mean for news by Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab focuses on the least-resistance concept in a couple of different ways. As Benton notes, Discover

  • Puts news where the audience already is — a reference to the 100 million users Snapchat has, many of them young people who are still developing their news consumption habits; and.
  • Is completely native to mobile, not (quoting from Benton) “newspaper stories or TV pieces stuffed awkwardly into new containers.”

One of Benton’s key insights is that “the share of consumers that regularly, purposefully seeks out news for news’ sake is relatively small … a large portion of the audience has always encountered news through a mix of adjacencies, social vectors, habits, and accidents.” That’s true not just in the present age, but historically as well. News dissemination has always benefited from word of mouth (“social vectors”). Reading the newspaper or watching nightly TV news was very habitual, but a habit that younger generations just never developed.

So in the information-overload world where the mobile device becomes both access point and filter, as Benton continues, “it makes sense that news will have to be integrated into how people are already interacting with the broader universe of information.” He also notes that in a column a few weeks ago he wondered aloud “What will be the laid-back, low-effort experience that replaces TV news?”and speculates that Discover may be an example of one.

In other words, what path(s) of least resistance are going to emerge as news and journalism continue to evolve? We may have seen the initial blazes along the trail for one such path this week with Snapchat’s Discover release.