Five Ways Social Will Change Journalism
Five Ways Social Will Change Journalism
Five Ways Social Will Change Journalism

The tools of social media are disruptive, to say the least. But knowing where the landscape is shifting makes a big difference in finding the safe places to build your future business foundation.

Want to own a newspaper? A magazine? TV Guide sold for a dollar, but it might have been overvalued.

Here’s what to look for as journalism — both the outlets and the individuals working in the industry — go social.

More Breaks in Format

There were already enough technology disruptions in media. Consider the tremors of local television stations (finally) ditching their analog frequencies, and moving to digital transmitters. They still cling to their old digits for branding purposes, but that will continue to fade. In one way, this is an advantage to the TV newsroom, which has less reason to cling to tradition, and more energy to focus on creating something new.

Breaking formats means abandoning the emphasis on appointment delivery for news, and more real-time and on-demand models. The “there’s an app” culture wants simple information, delivered simply when the button is pressed. Those media outlets that figure out how to package their product for anytime anywhere delivery will enjoy a serious first-mover advantage.

Curation Trumps Creation

The current payroll doesn’t support enough bodies on the street to cover the news the way it’s been covered in the past — just as a swelling mob of informed amateurs begins spewing competitive product. Not competitive in quality, but in value to the consumer.

The role of the editor in the future will have less to do with with tweaking the content of your staff, and more to do with finding, discerning, and linking to material produced elsewhere. It might be professionally done, it might be linking away to full databases, or it might be linking to bloggers (and providing context about their own biases and potential conflicts of interest.) It will probably involve linking to corporate stories, and putting the objective context in. This isn’t that far off from today, where much of the content of a paper or a newscast is generated elsewhere, but the approach to the job will shift as it becomes the majority of the time spent in the editorial role.

Story Selection Favors Trending Topics

This effect will be two-fold. Wave One will be as the new generation of journalists naturally taps into their networks of friends and sources to see what “the people” are talking about. This has always been the case, although in one market, “Trending Topics” was what they talked about at Lou’s Pub, or in between breaks at the city council meeting. Now we have a real global conversation, which is a disadvantage. (A bunch of people talking furiously about a football game on Twitter can sweep a Trending Topic.)

Expect Trending Topics (and the Facebook equivalent, once someone figures out how to mine it) to become relevant not just at the journalist level, but at the newsroom level. Newsrooms don’t want to miss on delivering on the things people appear to be interested in. This will take off further when Twitter fulfills the promise of a true “local” trending topic at a market level — and when there’s enough corporate adoption that discussions are more rounded and grounded. Today’s buzz is too tech-heavy, and too limited to certain topics because other industries haven’t contributed to conversations.

Story Selection Favors Crowdsourcing

Remember, the outlets that have housed the function of journalism for the last century are still coping with fractured audiences and lower revenue. The man-on-the-street has long been a staple of filling time and creating engagement, and there will be less time to turn stories around. Watch for more success with the crowdsourcing of stories, and eventually seeking out those stories that can be more easily sourced online.

Which leads us to…

Story Production Favors Crowdsourcing

Watch for more blatant and obvious calls for interview subjects. This has both positive and negative effects. Yes, it’s wonderful for transparency to know that a news outlet was fishing for someone with that exact issue, complaint, or circumstance. When done right, it is awesome.

Have you witnessed this event at UT? Please @ reply me with any photos and/or call editor David Doolittle at 445-3671.Tue Sep 28 13:37:45 via TweetDeck

When abused, it will impact the credibility of the news organization, and eventually drive the quality of the resulting journalism down.

As a reporter, I can’t tell you how many times I went out to cover a particular story, but once the answers started coming in I realized I was on top of a much better story. When advanced and intelligent crowdsourcing techniques start sifting through the public with greater ease, you’ll see many reporters finding exactly what they were looking for — and not finding the unexpected truth.

What You Can Do To Beat The Trends?

Traditional media will not be as powerful as it once was. That’s for certain. But it’s a huge mistake to assume there will be no influence at all. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of fighting a 700-pound gorilla isn’t made any more enticing just because it’s lost 100 pounds.

Individuals and organizations would be better suited to not chase the Social-Network-du-jour, nor chase Fans and Likes just for the hell of it. Instead, take a periodic inventory of where you spend your online influence, compared to how the people who are in the news are spending their online influence. Eventually, you’ll start to see the correlations for yourself, within your home market.

The five shifts I outlined are indeed coming — but they will not come to every media market at the same time. Being too early to the party will be deflating and discouraging, and almost as bad as being too late.

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About the Author

Ike Pigott
In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.
  • I think HARO is a great example about how social and internet can help reporters and journalism as a whole.

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  • Loved the post, Ike. Got me thinking–not only about the changing nature of journalism. But, also about how this will all impact our jobs as PR folks. And how corporate storytelling will change, too. I really think we've just seen the tip of the iceberg with the whole “embedded journalism” approach. More corporations will learn to produce their own news with a more third-party viewpoint in the years to come.

    I also loved your point about curation vs. creation. In fact, there's a news organization here in the Twin Cities that has embraced this model: BringMeTheNews. Check it out–pretty ahead-of-the-curve-type stuff.


    • Thanks, Arik.

      Also check out in the DC area.

      (Have you noticed that Embedded Journalists and Corporate Storytelling are two of my favorite themes?)

  • I don't necessarily like all that you've pointed out, but I also don't disagree. We are entering an age of decreased originality, but increased participation in what's already been created. There are pro's and con's, but you're right. Curation matters!

    • Thank you, Brandon… Well put.

      We don't have to like it, but ducking our heads under the dashboard and pretending we're not on this road isn't a solution.

      What is the solution? We — as individuals and as organizations — have to step up and tell our stories. Technology empowers us and dares us at the same time.

  • Nice post Ike. Boy, what a nice name for TV, short, but with a punch.

    I read your post with interest, given that I spent 10 years in journalism myself, at three daily newspapers.

    The one thing I struggle with is this statement:
    “The role of the editor in the future will have less to do with with tweaking the content of your staff, and more to do with finding, discerning, and linking to material produced elsewhere.”

    In most American communities, if the one reporter doesn't show up to the school board meeting, no other news outlet will. There's going to be no “linking” to other sources. That news will simply disappear. On the International/National/Regional and even the state fronts, I think you're right on. But my struggle is with the many stories that are and will get dropped, simply because the one reporter from the one paper quit attending the meetings due to cut backs etc., or the paper decided Kim Kardashian supposedly being spotted at a gas station just off the local Interstate is trending better online, so that has to be the story the reporter focuses on. Journalism's future is murky indeed (Not necessarily bad, but certainly unclear.)

    • Patrick, thanks for weighing in.

      I used to think that too, and I agree that the quality and objectivity will certainly be compromised. However, the idea that Tomorrow's Editor will link to the narratives and accounts of interested amateurs (bloggers) is just another step down the road we've been on for three decades.

      How much of what appears in newspapers and in broadcast is driven by news releases? Editors (through the declining revenues and penny-pinching ownership) have been ceding control of the content creation piece for a while now. Twenty years ago, a network news division would rather go without a story than use “b-roll” from a tainted flack for the PR department. Now, the networks will run cell phone video taken by a punk kids who was in the right place at the right time.

      Look at this piece from Good Morning America in March. The producers of that newscast are already allowing amateurs and outside parties to join in the creation — they are accepting the role of curator and providing context.

      You're going to see this enter into the print realms, too. Reporters who start citing bloggers who are known quantities, and who have developed reputations for their own ethics, conduct and accuracy. Eventually, editors may lean on them to link away, adding their own historical context (or even a debunking, if that is needed.)

      We didn't just arrive at this cliff overnight. We're just become so accustomed to the slope, we forgot we were angling down.

      • Ike,
        I certainly agree with what you're saying, and personally don't mind a whole lot bringing in other video/audio/blogs, because in many cases those amateurs bring in angles and views that normally wouldn't be covered.

        My point is just that a lot of the boring but important work newspapers especially do, simply won't be covered at all, even by amateurs, for the most part. And that's where corruption sneaks in. When I was a reporter, I probably attended hundreds, if not thousands of council meetings. Rarely if ever was there a blogger or anyone else attending, to report on the events, because they were largely dull. But if I never came, who knows what the councilors would try and pull? Take a look at that town in California, Bell City, where a lot of the public officials and city workers gave themselves six-figure raises. And the outrage and news didn't spread until the LA Times did a story. Not sure if any amateur covered the story at all, but the public at large didn't know about it until the LA Times did a story. I fully embrace amateurs, I'm just afraid they won't be there, in many cases.

        • Patrick, back in the early days of my career, I would be allowed to actually attend those meetings to see what happened. If something newsworthy popped up, we were all over it.

          It hasn't been that way across the industry for a long time now. These days, the newsrooms are so poorly-staffed that every person who goes out the door is responsible for turning “something.” If you want to go to that school board meeting, you have to guarantee that something will come out of it. In fact, you often have to know what's going to happen in the meeting and sell that angle prior to going.

          In other words, the very speculative due diligence that you're talking about has been dead for quite some time.

          Stories like this one, whether involving municipalities or school boards, most often come to light when an insider tips off the reporter. That's still going to happen, but now more and more of the people who used to just make those tip calls to the newsroom may end up posting it on their own sites first.

          It's been decades since journalism did things “right.” Real news happens slow.

          Thanks for pushing the conversation!


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