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July 28, 2009

Social media puts fortress journalism under siege

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In a recent report by Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC World Service, it is clear that as society becomes more networked, the fortress mentality of the mainstream media is increasingly under siege by social media, but they are adapting. There’s a lesson for us all in this.

For so long now, Web 2.0 has been working in the background to subtly but unwittingly undermine mainstream media, especially in America where, for example, RSS is understood and used far more readily than in most other nations. In this, the role of the “fortress journalism” is being steadily eroded as the nature of RSS feeds allow you to choose the BBC for video news, the New York Times for international news, the Guardian for ecological reports and ESPN for sports — so storming the gates of the fortress has been around for some time, but it is only now that publishers are seriously looking at new dissemination models in a more integrated and enlightened manner.

The main problem for the newspaper industry is that journalists have been very slow to recognise the changes that have been happening under their noses, and whilst the major players have all installed news feeds on their websites, they still continue with the assumption that their news product provides a complete set of information for their readers.

However, in the world of Web 2.0, the choices available for a total news information set is beginning to change journalists’ collective mindset: as Jeff Jarvis, Professor of Interactive Journalism at the City University of New York, described it: “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.”

Social media websites now have millions of users using Web 2.0 platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and, with the immediacy of Twitter alerts, this is now what news consumers are tuning in to.

In a recent article by the Economist, Twitter 1, CNN 0 on the protests in Iran, 10.5 million American TV viewers turned to CNN, but instead of protests many of them saw a repeat of Larry King interviewing “burly motorcycle-builders”. The article went on to illustrate a typical post: “Iran went to hell. Media went to bed”.

This realisation is already transforming the face of journalism, which means building public participation in generating user content and making a paradigm shift from being a “manufacturing industry” to becoming a “service industry”.

But this too has its drawbacks as, without moderation, blog commenting can often descend into a low common denominator that is sometimes determined by tasteless or asinine comments. In one such instance, a group of aboriginal leaders from Canada requested that hate charges be laid against CBC because of some poorly-moderated user comments which escaped into the public domain.

However, it is all too easy to sit back and mock the fortress mentality as outdated but these organisations have always protected good journalism and have also sheltered and given legal protection to journalists from the likes of powerful businessmen and politicians.

So, simply replacing fortresses is not how it is being thought through. As modern society becomes ever more highly networked, the fortress is opening up and is lowering the drawbridge to allow the public inside its walls.

The BBC’s Peter Horrocks states in a recent 92-page document, The Future of Journalism (www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/future_of_journalism.pdf): “Reducing effort in any journalistic section is anathema to the old fortress mindset. Even more disturbingly, it might also mean co-operating explicitly. If the BBC is best in news video and the Telegraph best in text sports reports, why shouldn’t they syndicate that content to each other and save effort?”

By better understanding the medium of change, journalists have their role to play: while the public are still demanding diversity and choice, they also want powerful features and editing that journalism provides best.

What we cannot do away with is investigative reporting and analysis. Now, more than ever before, news organisations need to invest their talents intelligently in and amongst the new media web platforms, or they risk being ignored by an ever-growing number of young people for whom television and newspapers are irrelevant.

So journalism is changing and with it, social media: it is now about being permeable, interactive, 24/7, multi-platform and converged. The best approach and leverage for businesses using Twitter is by providing valuable information to your consumer base via links to relevant articles and helpful advice. And in time your “followers” may well make up your real “customer base”; it is far too early as yet to predict.

New media and Twitter in particular is a wake-up call for all mainstream media outlets and as SEMs, we lead the charge in that we inhabit their world to the extent that we blog, write articles and tweet.

So, on a regular basis, we should aim to:

  1. Write about your industry in a way that is useful to your audience, especially with articles. Keep on subject and submit it to the major article sites. If your blog has an associated RSS feed, such as WordPress, all the better. Enter it in the major social media sites as well. Then Tweet it.
  2. Twitter is in its infancy, albeit a precocious little chap, and you may see no point in publishing your story as your “followers” are mainly unknown to you and therefore unlikely to read about what you have to say. Do not be deterred as this is the wrong approach: Twitter is here to stay and develop. If the Economist is backing Twitter against CNN, this medium has to be taken seriously.
  3. Blogging and article writing should be done regularly. Just writing the odd story on a casual basis is not good enough. You should be consistent in the posting your articles and thorough with your research.

John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build (http://www.v9designbuild.com) and an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.

6 Responses to “Social media puts fortress journalism under siege

    avatar CarolAnnB says:

    I believe, John, that you’ve coined a very important phrase in this article: “Fortress Journalism.” Too often, television/cable network news’ channels have been able to corner the market (so to speak) on news — noteworthy or not. Depending on what their advertisers (or lobbyists) want, is what the public gets to see. That’s the brilliance of web 2.0 — there are no barholds on social networking sites like twitter and Facebook; it’s all user-generated. Great post, btw! – Peace

    Excellent column which is a refreshing pointer to the potential future of journalism rather than the depressing and repetitive predictions of its imminent demise.

    No, They still don’t get it, The reason the mainstream media is falling is because people are tired of the BS they bush. People want the truth and you never have and never will get it from main stream media.

    They will always try to push their propaganda through so we must be vigilant. I myself, will never watch the main stream media again. Just look how they manipulate elections, for their keepers. enough is enough…

    avatar S.E. Cook says:

    John, You only briefly touched on the effect of “uncontrolled journalism.” The fact that anyone with access to a computer can say anything they want to without backing up their assertions with accurate facts is a major handicap of the Web…that includes, or is especially true, of venues such as Twitter.

    That kind of writing is neither journalism nor does it enhance the reader’s understanding of a subject.

    Conventional wisdom to the contrary, not everyone can write. People who are legitimate journalists spend lots of time and money learning how to communicate accurately and how to investigate stories to ensure their veracity and therefore their usefulness to an audience.

    If people are only interested in gossip, sources like Twitter are fine…if they’re interested in learning the truth and adding to their knowledge base, then they’re better off with more traditional news sources, in my opinion.

    That doesn’t mean that the Internet isn’t a legitimate source of news, but it does mean that we need to be sure that what we’re reading is real journalism. Attaining that state is fodder for future comment. :-)

    avatar kitchenbuilder says:

    If the simple question “What are you doing?” threatens to topple the walls of the major fortress then it is too late for them to rebuild!

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