Originally posted on the blog of Havas PR North America.
This is the first in a five-part series about how the news is being redefined by today’s real-time creative culture.
Not all that long ago, fiction and nonfiction were two separate takes on how we tell stories. News was news, facts were facts, and creativity barely entered the picture. In the past couple of decades, though, a number of trends have come together to make that distinction all but meaningless. The “emo” trend of the ’90s paved the way for intensely public airing of the most private emotions. Social media took that radical transparency to unimaginable heights and made it available to everybody.
Now creating media content is no longer the job of one person or one team, and it’s no longer a static thing. Old-fashioned values such as objectivity, definitive reporting, authority and accuracy are becoming less important than timing. When there’s a de facto understanding that the story is going to be told correctly eventually—or that it isn’t, and that doesn’t matter—what starts to really count is timing. And now, in this post-Kardashian age of famous for being famous, there’s also the new phenomenon of “leaking” personal information in the hopes of remaining part of the pop-news-infotainment culture. For people from Kate Middleton to Pope Francis, personal narratives today, like everything else, are a hybrid of news, speculation and reality TV.
The distinction between fiction and nonfiction was embedded in the slow, deliberate nature of the work that went into crafting those stories and the two types of professionals who specialized in them. In the domain of nonfiction we had broadcast news segments, documentary films and newspaper articles, which were the jobs of professionals who had undergone specialized training and had a clear mandate to report objectively on the world. The domain of fiction was clearly something different: Short stories, blockbuster movies, theatrical productions, television shows, movies and novels were the work of different people, a creative class whose mission was to inspire, to captivate, to invent alternate realities. Their work might have had some real-life relevance or offered some meaningful insight or education along the way, but that wasn’t its primary goal.
Now fiction and nonfiction increasingly flow together. As in so many other domains of life, radical developments in technology through the 1990s and early 2000s have transformed the way the world consumes, creates and cross-pollinates personal narratives, news and entertainment.
Maybe some of us are nostalgic for the old days, when news was a static, factual, inarguable thing that a reassuring anchorman read to us, or that we read to ourselves while getting newsprint on our fingers—proof that we had consumed our serving of news for the day and could turn our attention elsewhere. If so, it’s time to get over that nostalgia. Real time has rebooted everything. News, like all else we consume, is now a dynamic, constantly shape-shifting work in progress. We need to embrace the idea that news is fascinating and informative to watch as it’s created and spread. We need to realize that we are active participants in the news and not just passive consumers getting a steady fix of facts and opinions.
In my next posts, I’m going to explore the various trends behind this tectonic shift in what news means now. I’ll consider their intersection points to look at how creativity and real time are redefining everything else.