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Return of the water cooler

“When it comes to news, we want to know what everyone else knows, to make sure we’re seeing what we think we should.”

The mania for creating personalized news products will wane, eclipsed by a renewed understanding of the role of news in pulling us together around common interests. It’s not that we’ve given up on personalized news — but individualism only goes so far. We’re social animals. In 2019, we’ll see a growing recognition of news as an essential part of our social lives.

The quest for personalized news was always driven more by tech capabilities and VC dreams than consumer hankerings, anyway. Sure, we saw our News Feed on Facebook — and then came to distrust it as something manipulated in order to manipulate us, the antithesis of ethical journalism. And most Americans still prefer getting their news by broadcast — personalized not a whit and requiring no engagement beyond choosing the channel.

When it comes to news, we want to know what everyone else knows, to make sure we’re seeing what we think we should, that when our neighbor asks about the headlines of the day, we know what they are talking about and can return all the right social signals. And we want to be surprised, delighted, outraged by the story we didn’t expect, didn’t know we cared about, the paths we’ve never crossed but get to follow in the news. We want to gather around the proverbial water cooler and share these stories.

Because news has never really been about “me.” News is about me in the world. And in 2019, it’s about news that comes from people and sites we know and trust, sites that say what they stand for, tell us how they choose what news to report, who are upfront about what is news and what is opinion. These are sites that don’t try to custom-fit news to individuals’ quirks but ask for our trust on behalf of our communities.

Sue Cross is executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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