The currency markets of news

In a Friday post, Dan Conover writes about “10 reasons why newspapers won’t reinvent news.” It’s an interesting list, but I found more provocative his answer in the comments to the question of what can be done: Newspaper companies should get out of the news business.

It’s a little off my topic at hand, but read that one.

One of his 10 reasons is that:

Newspapers have already lost one of their key selling points: Social currency. In 2008, all meaningful political discourse — the essential element of social currency — takes place on the Web. Print (and televised) political coverage is now but a pale shadow of the real action online.

I’m not so sure all the election social currency has moved to the Internet, but certainly a lot of it has.

Slate media critic Jack Shafer wrote about the bankruptcy in social currency for newspapers in August.

But first, what the heck is social currency? Wikipedia doesn’t even have an entry for it.

Shafer says “the phrase, which comes from sociology, is often used to describe the information we acquire and then trade — or give away — to start, maintain, and nurture relationships with our fellow humans.”

Douglas Rushkoff put it this way in a broader context:

Social currency is like a good joke. When a bunch of friends sit around and tell jokes, what are they really doing? Entertaining one another? Sure, for a start. But they are also using content — mostly unoriginal content that they’ve heard elsewhere — in order to lubricate a social occasion. And what are most of us doing when we listen to a joke? Trying to memorize it so that we can bring it somewhere else. The joke itself is social currency. “Invite Harry. He tells good jokes. He’s the life of the party.

David Warsh of says newspapers are still the central bankers of news social currency.

In fact, the role of newspapers with respect to social currency in many ways resembles that of central banks with respect to money itself – just as central banks expand and contract credit in accordance with business conditions by manipulating lending bank reserves, so newspapers ultimately determine the amount of attention given to a particular story by the resources they commit.

But either that role is changing or stodgy old central banks just aren’t as important as they used to be.

In a Beet.TV post today, CNN’s Campbell Brown talks about how a site that didn’t exist the last presidential election cycle,, is now one of the most influential sources of election news, one of her daily must reads.

Sites like and political bloggers are where much of the social currency has moved for this election. By the next presidential election, the amount of money spent on Internet political advertising should handily top the money spent on TV political advertising.

Certainly the social currency will be there. You can bank on it.