Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Extra! Extra! Tweet All About It: The News Is Social
By Joe Marchese There is no content in the world more inherently social than the news. Be it local or international, the news binds people together. The news begs for people to discuss and share it. Long before we had the tools offered today by Twitter, Digg, Facebook, blog commenting or email, people found ways to share the news -- and, more important, their interpretation of the news -- with each other. In all its forms, the news is a baseline for a significant portion of all conversations. Can anybody really argue that job number one for news media outlets is to better understand and utilize the tools that will change the way news is socialized?
Sure, I know there is that pesky little matter of making money, but staying the course isn't exactly solving that issue. Why would people pay money, or tolerate their attention being traded to advertisers, when the industry isn't providing them with the best product? That is, when the industry isn't delivering to the fullest potential, given available technology.
In his keynote at the American Association of Advertising Agencies in New Orleans, Bob Schieffer said that if the railroad companies had thought of themselves as being in the business of transportation, rather than just the business of railroads, they'd likely own all the airlines today. If the news media believes itself in the business of selling newspapers or aggregating television viewers, rather than being in the business of delivering the highest quality news experience over the best available media, they have already lost. Even worse is if news media outlets believe themselves in the business of delivering advertising rather than news.
A few weeks ago the New York Times was the news, when it appointed Jennifer Preston ( http://twitter.com/NYT_JenPreston) its first Social Media Editor, to mixed reviews (to my surprise). To me it made an immense amount of sense for the Times to establish a role like the one described for Preston in a leaked internal memo.
Figuring out social media isn't as easy as understanding what tools are out there and how they work, and even that is a tall order with how fast the social landscape changes. For the Times, this means understanding how to better serve their readers using social media, while establishing a business model that can sustain a world-class news organization.
In a recent segment ("End Times"), "The Daily Show"'s Jason Jones delivered scathingly funny and at times overly harsh commentary on how dated particular methods of news distribution are fast becoming. As it's said, it hurts most when it's true. Interviewed by Jones, Bill Keller, the Times executive editor, noted that the paper is "the best package of firsthand witnessed, thoughtful analysis, intelligent commentary on what what's happening in the world that you ought to know." RIGHT. And nowhere in that sentence did Keller point to the Times' ability to distribute newspapers or sell advertising, nor should he. The winning combination would be for the Times to deliver the package that Keller describes in a way that takes full advantage of the all the mediums at the paper's disposal.
Sure, there are times when the idea of news outlets using social media goes totally wrong -- usually when the outlets use social media just because they can, regardless of whether it adds value to the delivery of the news. CNN is probably guilty of this more than anybody, but that's OK. It's better to be misusing/overusing it, rather than not using at all. Trial and error is the best way to learn. Even local news is tapping into social media's potential and starting to see some success -- maybe.
I don't have answers to how the business model evolves for news media, but it seems to be clearer every day how the consumption of news will change -- or more accurately, evolve. I am a huge believer in the need for news organizations like the New York Times, which can afford to be an unbiased, well-informed -- and, most important, accountable -- voice. So, knowing that you can't fight the social nature of the Web, and the social nature of news: What's the best way to be in the business of delivering the news, and not end up owning all the railroads?
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Joe Marchese is President of socialvibe.
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