At Book Expo America, I interviewed the Peabody award-winning journalist and media analyst Brooke Gladstone.  Gladstone hosts NPR’s On the Media and is co-author (with cartoonist  Josh Neufeld) of The Influencing Machine, a book about the relationship of press and society.

To Gladstone, writers need to understand that social media has changed the roles of readers and content creators.

Readers are no longer mere consumers of information, but they now are active participants in its creation and dissemination.  People continually tweet and post information, during newsworthy events, or even while enjoying a work of fiction or a sports game.  And as events unfold, spontaneous communities coalesce around issues, such as when Twitter communities formed spontaneously following the Arab Spring.

As a result of so many people reporting and contributing to the story, magazines and newspapers truly “break” news less frequently.  With so many information providers, we suffer from what Gladstone calls “filter failure,” as we’re bombarded with information without knowing which is the most relevant, trustworthy, or accurate. So rather than just needing the facts, we need filters and aggregators.  One way to sort through the information is through crowdsourced trust ratings – like group editing on Wikipedia, or user ratings on YouTube or comments on major newspapers.

And this means that content creators no longer merely provide information, but they filter and interpret it.  Their role now is to provide a fully contextualized story, from headlines to their own twitter feeds.  Readers seek out people with expertise to contextualize and sort through information.  By following a hashtag of a certain subject, people begin to know and trust certain other tweeters and learn which providers are good, rather than mere “re-tweeters.”  For example, Andy Carvin, NPR’s chief twitterer, filed his mini-“reports” from Washington – about events from all the way in Tunisia and Egypt.

So whether through columns and books, the writer is not only providing information.  Even on Twitter, by becoming a trusted filter, aggregator, or writer, one can become an opinion leader – even if at only 140 characters at a time.

– Brian Felsen, President, BookBaby

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