News vs. ideas (or Miley vs. Madonna)

Sometimes a quote just grabs you, like this one from Twitter co-founder Ev Williams:

“News in general doesn’t matter most of the time, and most people would be far better off if they spent their time consuming less news and [consuming] more ideas that have more lasting import.”

The quote was in an interview Williams did for TechCrunch about his new venture, Medium, the latest entry in the (re-)emerging online long-form journalism market. 

This TIME magazine cover, with the teaser "Miley vs. Madonna," sparked an interesting discussion about "what is news."

This TIME magazine cover, with the teaser "Miley vs. Madonna," sparked an interesting discussion about "what is news."

Whether (and what) news matters is part of a discussion I have regularly with my son, Tim Rattray, who is studying journalism and screenwriting at Drexel University, like this recent one that was sparked by the teaser headline, "Miley vs. Madonna," on a recent TIME magazine cover:

Tim: "How is that news?"
Me: "It's pop culture. Magazines like TIME report on pop culture."
Tim: "Well, it's not news."

True enough. Our definition of news is changing and evolving rapidly, as is the way we consume it. There is an increasing emphasis on celebrity, pop culture and what us news junkies might call dribble. Less people read newspapers while more count on Twitter, Facebook and the Daily Show for their "news." Others even get their news cues from Kelly and Michael or The View.

But there is a movement, if you can call it that, toward longer-form journalism — what we scribes and PR folks call "thought pieces" — that slow down and really chew on topics (Williams's Medium is just such a long-form platform). In fact, Tim and his peers now probably consume more long-form journalism in the forms of both insight and criticism than actual news bits, at least on subjects that interest them. 

There is a place for both news and ideas. We need the news to keep current on what happens, but we need those big and bold ideas to provide context, clarity, consensus and, yes, even change.

Williams, again: 

“I think more people would be in a better place if more people shared their ideas.”

One thing's for certain — the sharing of ideas is making a strong resurgence. And participating in robust discussions around ideas, rather than just the news, would be a welcomed shift in our society.