Saturday, March 9, 2013

Attn: Up or down?

First, test your top-down attention:

It seems to me the idea of where to focus our attention can me applied in myriad of ways. I think the idea of where the mass media takes our attention is an important one. It raises all kinds of questions. Who chooses what is newsworthy? How long should you cover a story? What kinds of news are more important than others? What does an audience want to pay (as currency) their attention to in the news? Does what the audience wants matter? Should it? What other factors should have an influence on what is put on the news and where? Should profits have an influence?

These questions are pondered, answered, unanswered, asked, re-asked and more every day in newsrooms of all kinds all over the country. All kinds of theories are thrown at these questions. Some work, some don't, and others are so-so. For example, some say never let business get in the way. Some say act as if the news is a public service. Others may assert that the business is entertainment driven, so "if it bleeds, it leads."

However, it seems one of the bug questions should really be, is news today a function of top-down or bottom-up attentions?

An interesting visual from Visual News:

I take this illustration to imply people watch the news in bottom-up form, allowing whomever is in charge of the gate-keeping function to determine what is important to them. It shows Libya, Bradley Manning, the economy and healthcare being overshadowed on purpose by the tribulations of Anthony Weiner.

So what is the right answer? I would argue it is up to the individual. 

If you watch the news in a passive way, you are probably bottom-up. If you watch the same news every night (like myself at various points), you are probably bottom-up. If you get your news in only a few ways and don't follow up on what is being reported, you are probably bottom-up. Even if you have an RSS reader, if you read (like I do) by scanning headlines all day, you are probably bottom-up.   

If you watch various news networks to get the best coverage/angle, you are probably top-down. If you actively search out news each day, you are probably top-down. If you ask questions and do your own research on hot topics, you are probably top-down. 

There is no right answer, as both leave you susceptible to misinformation. For bottom-up folks, you could be leery of the media showing you what they want you to see (or are most likely to stick around for). If you are top-down, you possibly could miss a lot by focusing on too little. 

Either way, Winifred Gallagher's point in clear, there is too much going on to know or see it all. We have to be aware of the challenges we face in getting our news and that we can't know everything. We must also understand news organizations have their limits and therefore cannot present all the information about every topic. I hope there's a balance in there somewhere. For our sake.


  1. The moon-walking bear...freakin' genius Wade...freakin' genius.

  2. Wade - I really liked your application of bottom-up and top-down and examples that you gave. I was thinking of a few more that might be considered top-down: twitter (as you select who you want to follow and what information you're exposing yourself to) and Pinterest (you're pinning items you like and following people by your choice). Another bottom-up might be lectures (as the professor chooses what to teach) or seminars where it's up to the speaker.