It’s not Gossip, Girl – it’s the future of hyper-niche citizen journalism

I have a confession to make. I love cheesy TV dramas. The unenlightened among you might call them “chick” shows, but as a regular viewer of many such programs, I can assure you that they do have entertainment value for the discerning gentleman – just sometimes it’s a little harder to spot. In spite of this confession, up until this week I had managed to avoid a program that all the ladies seem to be talking about these days. A little show called, Gossip Girl.

The show was actually named for a pop-culture term that I always thought I understood. But on a visit to a friend’s home last Monday, I was enlightened by his wife as to how much more this term actually means – and I began to realize, there’s a lot more going on here than candy-coated story lines with the requisite, “sexy results”.

Allow me to explain myself (bear with me guys):

Ladies and gentlemen, the future of journalism?

Ladies and gentlemen, the future of journalism?

For the purposes of the series, “Gossip Girl” isn’t really a girl at all – she’s almost what story writers call a “MacGuffin“. Nobody in the fictional world knows Gossip Girl’s identity, and they don’t really spend any time talking about who she is or why she exists. They simply know her URL, how to get in touch with her, and that Gossip Girl always has the latest dish. That’s right, I said dish. Now anyone who’s at all familiar with “dishing” knows that its most tantalizing when it’s fresh. This is where Gossip Girl truly shines.

First of all, her blog accepts submissions from an entire student body of “reporters” nosing around for their upper-crust classmates’ shortcomings and dirty secrets. However, what’s even more powerful is the primary distribution channel in place – SMS. Whenever Gossip Girl posts to her blog, the messaging is instantaneously distributed to, what seems like the entire student body on their cellphones. Scandals break school-wide with shocking immediacy and to overwhelming interest. Of course, this makes for many dramatically charged situations in the wealthy Manhattan high school where the show takes place – but once you get beyond the inherent drama of the show, its idealized representation of citizen journalism shines through. Just as American Idol “taught America to text”, Gossip Girl actually has the potential to show America what journalism could look like in the socially-networked information age.

What the Gossip Girl achieves with her blog is the type of reporting that news outlets have been dabbling in for some time now. Perhaps the first really tangible example of this came in the 9-11 attacks when the tourists roaming the streets of Manhattan were better positioned to deliver images of the day’s shocking events than the news media could’ve possibly been. It’s a concept that’s been adopted with some earnest by CNN and, here in Toronto, CityNews.

While both outlets do a great job with these services, and even a respectable job promoting their existence, they don’t go as far as our friend, the Gossip Girl. Of course, that’s partly because they can’t. Even if we ignore for a moment the fact that credibility of sources seems to be of no concern to Gossip Girl (why should it?), CNN and CityNews are catering to larger audiences of millions of people. Even in a “local” setting like a metropolitan area, what is considered news varies greatly from region to region. It’s only when we get down to the hyper-niche level that the power of the Gossip Girl’s journalism model can truly be felt.

So is it possible that a trashy teenage drama could be shedding light on the future of journalism? I’d say, highly.

Already we see examples of the hyper-niche, the hyper-local and the immediate as we use Tweetdeck to monitor specific conversations on the real-time web. We see this as we log into facebook and comment on a friend’s updated status that they’re heading out to see a movie. We already embrace this information delivery model from our social networks – aren’t we racing towards a time when we’ll be able to receive all of our news at the community level, and at the drop of a hat? We’ve heard time and again about the seemingly insurmountable struggles of the newspaper industry – could Gossip Girl’s model of content synthesis from the masses and immediate delivery to the community be the future?

I think so. I you wanna discuss – then let’s dish…

  • Megan

    OK so I just read your blog post. However , your comments about gossip girl are a little overdue. We all know WHO gossip girl is. New York Magazine now has a point system for everything that happens on the blog. I however agree that it can dimish the true value and importance of real journalism entries. But, I agree that this IS the future of communication, mass communication.

  • Andrew Lane

    It’s interesting you say “mass communication”. I’m not sure this model works in a mass setting. What a community this small would consider news would likely fall on deaf ears among the masses as anyone outside that community would likely have no context. With any form of journalism, context is key. Thanks for the comment Megan!

  • arthritistreatment78

    i love this show and my day is not complete if i have not watched Gossip Girl. Blake Lively is certainly the most beautiful actress on Gossip Girl.