“Link journalism” and the future of youth media

Two articles appearing in the last few weeks in the New York Times got me thinking about youth media and its particular place in digital culture. The first was announcing the launch of Tina Brown’s new site, The Daily Beast, which the Times describes as:

an aggregation of the trivial and the momentous, the original and the borrowed… [w]ith a slogan splashed across its home page promising rigorous editing of the culture for complicated times…

When Brown was asked what makes her site different and worth reading, she answered, “Sensibility, darling,” managing in those two words to hint at the very thing she was describing–a certain vibe, attitude, voice, and rapport with her reader.

The second article in the Times I’m thinking about announced the arrival of “link journalism” in newsrooms that have until now not wanted to give away traffic (which converts to advertising dollars) by embedding links to other sites, even competitors. Seems like those days of digital protectionism are over:

“[T]he use of blogs by news organizations has helped newsroom managers accept that filtering the Web for visitors is a valuable editorial function.”

So what does any of this have to do with youth media? The idea of selective aggregation as an editorial function is nothing new for youth media sites (here meaning both physical places and web destinations). The young people we work with everyday routinely turn to friends and other trusted sources to provide referral services to original content and directions (in the form of a link) to anywhere else where they might find something interesting. But what these two articles got me thinking about in a new way is what all this emphasis on curatorial “sensibility” will mean for youth producers and audiences–especially those not well served or represented by mainstream news and culture outlets.

To the extent that sensibility is really another way of talking about taste, we know from sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu that taste creates distinctions among us and operates as a kind of cultural capital. In this sense, taste is produced and reproduced in the everyday, often unexamined dispositions and judgments we bring to every situation–what we just like and dislike, without always being able to explain why. As media in general and journalism in particular become increasingly driven by sensibility or taste, it becomes even more important for those of us who work with emerging professionals in these fields to keep checking in–with ourselves, our colleagues, our students–about just what set of “tastes” we’re producing and promoting in our media products, who by virtue of these elusive qualities is included and engaged, and who is left out.

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