There are many industries battling to come to terms with the new digital, connected, social media world we live in. Books, music, retail stores and agents of all kind spring to mind. And so do journalists. It’s not just that magazines and newspapers are under threat from online competition, but actually the very nature of journalism and its purpose, too, need to be reimagined.
A few months ago, Seth Godin made the point that a lot of journalism today is just plain lazy. I couldn’t agree with him more. He said:
When journalism was local, the math of reporting was pretty simple: you found a trend, an event or an issue that was important and you wrote about it. After all, you were the voice to your readers. Being in sync with a hundred or a thousand print journalists around the world was important, otherwise your readers would be left out of a story everyone else knew about. And being in sync let a reporter know she was working on the right stories.
It wasn’t lazy. It was smart. Your job was to report to the people in your town first, and to report what would be important tomorrow, which was the same thing everyone in every other town was doing….
Of course, now there is pretty much no such thing as local when it comes to news. Anyone in the world can read about anything in the world. As a result, this habit of being in sync completely undermines what we need from professional journalists….
Did I need a newspaper to write precisely the same story days after I read it for the first time? How much do we care about the race for ‘first’ when first is now measured in seconds or perhaps minutes?
We don’t need paid professionals to do retweeting for us. They’re slicing up the attention pie thinner and thinner, giving us retreaded rehashes of warmed over news, all hoping for a bit of attention because the issue is trending. We can leave that to the unpaid, I think.
The hard part of professional journalism going forward is writing about what hasn’t been written about, directing attention where it hasn’t been, and saying something new.
Yesterday, one of my South African colleagues, Mike Saunders, added to these thoughts with an excellent article on How Social Media is Changing Journalism.
In their latest book Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, these two men explore the new role of journalism that has been created due to the way that people aggregate news today.
Social media has opened up a world where peers and colleagues decide what news is valuable and important. Articles that are shared most by your friends on Facebook show up in your Facebook news feed and Google+ highlights search content in Google that has been shared by your Google circles. Most social networks use this algorithm to highlight news. The higher the ‘share’ volume the more popular the article and the more exposure it gets on the networks. The problem is that these articles may be popular but they are not necessarily providing verified facts about the news subject.
Twitter has gone a long way with their new Twitter iPhone app by identifying trends in the most tweeted keywords and then linking that trend (or news item) to a reputable news source like CNN or BBC. This bridges the gap by highlighting the most ‘shared’ content on twitter and providing the best, most reputable source of news available. Two thumbs up to Twitter.
Aside from the steps Twitter has taken, most networks have become aggregators of popular content instead of good, reliable and verified journalistic content. This presents two scenarios that need to be addressed:
1) News readers need to learn how to apply journalist type skills in reading content online in order to make a judgement on its validity. The book discusses these techniques in more detail and is well worth the read.
2) The role of journalists must change because news readers are no longer need ‘gate-keepers’ of new content. Our social networks have become those gate-keepers for us.
The new roles that are suggested by Bill and Tom are:
“Authenticator”–The press will do more authentication of reported facts and will gather evidence in more transparent ways. In the information age, news consumers want to know not only the evidence in a report but also the process of uncovering it.
“Sense maker” – With updated news available all the time, even the slightest change in a situation can command a headline. This promotes a fragmented understanding of the world. Journalists can transcend “incremental” coverage by connecting threads in multiple reports to produce broader coverage that makes sense of the news.
“Investigator”–The news media traditionally have served as a public watch dog, alert to possible government malfeasance. Some reporters, editors and producers will play this role more vigorously, while others will avoid such verification-based journalism.
“Witness bearer” – The presence of the press at public meetings is a pillar of democracy. It shows elected officials that they are doing public business in full view. New ways of covering local government may involve partnerships between news media and part-time correspondents with no formal journalism training.
“Empowerer” – More journalists will empower their audience by providing self- service tools for learning about any subject. Journalists offering stories online now can choose among many reporting assists, like links to related data.
“Smartaggregator”–Collating online content allows news organizations to purvey information about the best websites and to offer unique news-filtering services.
“Forum organizer” – News outlets now have opportunities to distinguish themselves by producing fact-based discussions of public issues and presenting a diversity of opinions.
“Role model” – More professional journalists will become role models for citizens enlisted by the news media, part time, to extend their coverage base.
I would recommend reading the book if this topic interests you, especially if you are a news publisher looking to socially reinvent your business model to survive the social media revolution