Copenhagen: It’s the future of news

The future of the world’s industrial economy, and the health and well-being of its inhabitants, is under debate at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen this week. The future of the world’s news and knowledge system isn’t. But it’s on full display in and around the stories from Copenhagen. The future has arrived.

The UN Climate Summit revolves around whether or not the world’s national governments can agree to goals, rules and meaningful collaboration to prevent the planet from overheating. The climate story involves science, statistics, economics, business, finance, diplomacy, governments, laws, politics – a perfect storm of journalistic complexity married to the dark arts of spin and power – with monumental consequences. More crudely, I’m also curious about what’s really going on in Copenhagen. A two week conference? Seriously?

The climate talks are important. So is the public’s understanding of them.

What’s extraordinary about the news and views coming out of this year’s climate summit isn’t that they are social, multimedia or online. Of course they are. That’s expected.

But we’re also seeing, clearly and on an unprecedented scale, the chaotic and competitive clash of interests among our news and knowledge sources. Meaning: Among ourselves. Murdoch vs. Google, or vs. Sulzberger, is quaint, and the old bloggers vs. journalists trope from the earliest We Media debates seems like baby talk compared to the Dupont vs. Coke vs. Greenpeace vs. GE vs. Microsoft vs. Save The Child vs. Guardian vs. News Corp. vs. Chevron hailstorm that’s raining down on us from Copenhagen this week and, soon enough, from everywhere about everything. Now it’s everyone vs. everyone.

Copenhagen illuminates the rising tide of everyone as media – We Media in its deepest, most difficult sense – and the challenge and responsibility we’ll face to curate and judge the truthiness of news as fog – enveloping us in a shroud of data, images, stories, information, misinformation, disinformation.

With the exception of Google, the connected society isn’t shaking out or slowing into something stable, predictable and manageable. Our systems are not resolving around a small set of institutions that will dominate the others, and us. It’s exploding into something expansive, radical and challenging – a roiling kettle of voices, interests, angles, interpretations, recommendations. Some may be bigger, some louder, some better financed, some familiar, some obscure – but they’re all in there, boiling.

Take a tour of assorted signals for news, information and commentary about what’s going on in Copenhagen this week. Take your pick first from your favorite news providers, whoever they are. You could, for instance, get your fill from The New York Times, The BBC, The Guardian, or get closer to the action with Denmark’s Politiken. Want news with a green tint? Try Treehugger, Grist or Or get a blogger’s perspective, or follow #cop15 updates on Twitter.

It turns out the universe of news and knowledge is expanding. This is encouraging and should give hope to out-of-work journalists, idealistic journalism students and news doomsayers who think the downfall of traditional media means the downfall of news. It doesn’t. The breadth of choices and voices reveals the scale of investment possible around news and knowledge – and also how news and knowledge is inextricably linked with movements, causes and advocates for actions that could bring about positive changes for the world.

But they also reveal the caution, care and critical judgment we’ll need to apply, as individuals, to ensure we trust our new information partners, and the wide-open field for innovation that might help us precipitate the fog of news into a narrower stream of knowledge.

Here are four other outposts that, when considered as a group, illuminate the expanding universe of news.

  • Hopenhagen: Sponsored by the UN itself, funded by Coke, DuPont and other corporate partners, produced by Participant Media (the company that brought you Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, with, at last count, more than 1.8 million online “votes” for a successful climate conference. It’s also nearly identical to …
  • tcktcktck: Claiming 11 million + signers of a different memo urging world leaders to do something “ambitious, fair and binding” about climate, and funded by 200+ partner organizations, such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International, World Wildlife Fund and Union of Concerned Scientists. Despite the different coalitions of backers, the similarity to Hopenhagen is striking. Both sites have the obligatory Facebook and Twitter streams and background briefings on what the Copenhagen conference is all about. Both sites are offered in multiple languages. Both present the story of Copenhagen as a call to action.
  • The Climate Pool: This is a curious experiment in global, social news distribution, albeit entirely in English, orchestrated by 20 news agencies, including The Associated Press, Agence France-Press, The Canadian Press and Russia’s Rianovosti. It consists entirely of a page on Facebook, where stories from all the partners stream for easy sharing and discussion by anyone who declares themself a Fan of the site. (Disclosure: The AP is a strategy client and a global partner of iFOCOS. But I wasn’t involved with building this particular experiment). It’s a news feed – something you might cobble together on your own with an RSS reader, with the added value (and ugliness) of being within Facebook. The Climate Pool illustrates a more social and collaborative approach to news distribution – far less obsessed with the brand or destination web sites, more obsessed with aggregation from multiple sources, and distribution and conversation through social networks.
  • Consequences by Noor: Rather than drawing attention to the people and action (and carbon footprint) of the climate summit, photo agency Noor tries to tell the story of climate itself through a series of visual essays produced by a world-class team of photographers. The subjects include: a massive pine beetle kill in British Columbia, genocide in Darfur, the rising sea level in the Maldives, Nenet reindeer herders in Siberia, Inuit hunters in Greenland, a looming crisis in Kolkata, India, coal mining in Poland, oil sand extraction in Canada and the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest by Brazilian cattle ranchers. Sponsors included Nikon, Greenpeace, Oxfam and the Press Photographers Association of Denmark. The work was also featured in a series of photo galleries published by, where I first saw it. Here social networking and chatter take a back seat to traditional values that have become rarer in a world of perpetual status updates – and shrinking investments in news: craft, viewpoint and images that convey the weight of change. For all the glitz, calls to action and social verve of Hopenhagen and tcktcktck, this speaks to me most clearly, most poignantly.

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