Gossip is the reason why London is such a dynamic city. This is the view of London's chief town planner, interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC television program “Britain From Above”.
The town planner argues that the network of laneways and passages, some of which date back to the Middle Ages and even earlier, connect the nooks and crannies of London at a gentle, human scale more intimately than busy streets. They give people a way to duck out and catch up — usually at a pub, coffee shop or alehouse (as ironically — or maybe not, it is London afterall — most of these laneways do tend to connect the watering holes to each other).
There, over a beer, conversation starts and gossip is shared. Knowledge is power. Power makes money. The network of laneways allows the news to spread quickly to the next alehouse and so knowledge is gained, business is transacted and London thrives.
What on earth has this got to do with newspapers?
Well, it occurred to me that the “gossip as a business model” was very much applicable to our industry. We are, at the end of the day, in the business of giving people something to talk — and think — about.
Gossip doesn't just have to be about celebrities and their weight loss issues, marriage breakups and children adopted from third world countries — it's a term used more generally to capture the idea of conversations that swap titbits of information.
But I love this idea of a map or network connecting talking spots that the idea of the map of London and its laneways encourage. It reminds me of neural mapping — how our synapses make links to each other in our brains so we can remember, make connections, learn or imagine. It then occurred to me that IT use similar maps as networks to show the connections between computer hubs. All these images convey the idea of information travelling along pathways, connecting up at hubs and then going off in different directions to other hubs — where often the stories become bigger.
And surely that's applicable to newspapers?
Perhaps in our past, we have been the equivalent of roadside advertising, shouting messages from the rooftops and street corners, telling people what's happening so they could take it home to discuss and share over the back fence or in a conversation with friends.
But now with the addition of online and mobile technologies, we are very much part of a neural network — information coming in, making connections, and going out and coming in again.
Let's face it. Sitting on a mountain top and expounding The Word was really only good for one book (albeit a biggie), not a daily newspaper (or even a weekly).
Gossip being shared, information understood, business being transacted, and information shared again. Just like London, newspapers are not just one place. We are the sum of our networks and need to constantly be on the look out for new places to connect, not just on the main roads but via laneways and that will take us there.
A city that has thrived for more than 1,000 years can't be a bad example to emulate.