Social Media and Journalism


A strategic overview of new media in journalism, the relevance of digital skills and why it’s important to embrace new technology.
Short talk given to the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

Here’s the long version.

Holly Came From Miami, Fla
Hitch hiked Her Way Across The USA.
Plucked Her Eyebrows On The Way
Shaved Her Legs And Then He Was She – She Said:

Hey Babe, Take A Walk On The Wild Side,
Said Hey Honey, Take A Walk On The Wild Side.

Holly, Candy, Sugar Plum Fairy, Little Joe, and Jackie
Characters, storyline, a vivid description of a world most of us had no experience of.

When I started out in radio in the late 70’s in my mind journalist reported the news. I was a dj. In the radio station where I worked, there were journalists – and the rest of us.
Then in the early ‘80s, a time when Radio 1 had magazine programmes about music on Saturday afternoons, I heard someone describe Lou Reed as a journalist. A light bulb above my head went ‘Bang’.

Lou Reed had the eye for a story, the skills and talent to tell it well. He had a means of distribution and – with record producer – a sort of editor.
Of course he was a journalist! He was reporting his world to us.

Whether we are in an analogue world where I’m cutting audio tape with a blade and waiting for the postman to deliver the information I requested Or in a digital world where communication is faster than ever and where there is so much information it’s hard to filter, The key journalistic skills pertain;
– Listen
– Confirm
– Analyse
– Report

The digital tools journalists need to support those skills are cheap, available to everyone and they allow everyone to report the world around them.

Once the means of distribution was the bar to entry, now it is the starting point. As consumers (the readers, listeners, viewers) learn to filter the noise, how do you ensure what you have to say is being heard?

As a journalist how do you report the Tower of Babel that digital technology has created?

The fundamental shift in technology has happened in the last 10 years. And it is accelerating. The Post PC Era is dawning. Gartner predicts that sales of Smart Phones and Tablets will overtake the sales of PCs and Laptops this year.  But that is to put laptops and PCs in the same category. By their very nature Laptops can be fixed but are more likely to be mobile. Therefore Mobile Computing has already overtaken fixed home and office computing.
Delivering the story from the scene of the action – as it happens rather than reporting post-fact, is not the preserve of the TV or radio outside broadcast anymore. If the journalist has the training – and the kit (an iPhone and web connection) the story can be delivered as it unfolds.

With Twitter in particular, but also Facebook and Live Blogging, a journalist can report the Meta-Story – reporting on the reporting of the story. A lot of journalists’ time is spent waiting. But that story – if told well in a Twitter feed or Live Blog – can be as compelling as the main story.

In October 2011 The Economist reported that HTC shipped more than 22 million phones in the first half of this year more than twice as many as the first half of 2010. Gartner Research estimate that 1 billion will be sold in 2015.
IN 2020 where will we get our news – from a broadcast network – or from our personal network?

Once newspaper journalist took notes in shorthand, typed the report and delivered it by hand or by post. The radio journalist recorded on tape, spliced to edit it. The TV journalist’s technology was so complicated, a whole team of specialists was needed on site.

The New York Times and other newspapers – have been producing video for years. The New York Times now has scheduled news programming every day at 1.00 pm.

The Wall Street Journal is training journalists to shoot video on iPhone and how to tell stories in video format and then to send the video to the desk.

Clay Shirky – author of Cognitive Surplus – asserts that even the most inane forms of creation and sharing are preferable to the hundreds of billions of hours spent consuming television.

Some people use that creativity to produce journalism – some produce LolCats. They are not formally trained; most don’t do it particularly well. They use text and video and photos and music to describe the world around them, to ask questions and to challenge authority. Oh and there is opinion. Lots and lots of opinion, often poorly informed, often with a particular agenda, often transmitting noise rather than light. Like a lot of traditional media.

In their book The World in 2020 Tim Jones of Future Agenda and Caroline Dewing of Vodafone write about Seamless Media. By 2020 – they predict that our PCs, mobiles and TVs will have merged and become integrated with a host of new devices that allow us to access a global library of information and data. They surmise that your technology will know you and fetch information that it understands you want.

If consumers become even more passive in their media consumption, what challenge does that present to journalists? Will we – the public – just have an echo chamber of media that supports our prejudices and petty obsessions? How can the dissenting or challenging voice be heard?

There are some people who say that the internet will change journalism the same way that My Space has changed the role of the record companies’ A&R departments. Having come up through the ‘alternate’ music of the late 70s and the 80s I say that’s wishful thinking. Which has had more impact on the UK music industry – My Space or X-Factor? Which has more impact on the Newspaper industry, come to that?

Myspace was owned by News Corp for 4 years and is now owned by Specific Media. Who are Specific Media? It says on their website – “Specific Media is an innovative global interactive media company that enables advertisers to connect with consumers in meaningful, impactful and relevant ways.”

Yes, new threads of journalism will develop through new and social media. But the big players will still be there – and that is likely where the investment will come from.

Social Media makes a great scapegoat for some journalists and politicians. Unquestioningly they blame social media for the ills of society.

You remember the riots in England? Starting in Brixton, they moved to Southall, Toxteth, Nottingham and Manchester. There were also smaller pockets of unrest in Leeds, Leicester, Southampton, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Bristol.

This was not the riots of this summer. 30 years earlier in 1981 when these events occurred, there wasn’t even 24 hour TV.

The 2011 London riots were not the fault of social media. Blaming social media on social unrest is like blaming the brick that breaks the window.

Whether Arab Spring or London riots – social media speeds up the communication. It’s people who make change. Journalists need to understand social media – even if they are reluctant to use it.

There are a lot of social media tools – how do you choose them? Beyond Twitter and Facebook, don’t get caught up with shiney new toys.

If you don’t already know Kevin Anderson – ex BBC, once the Guardian’s Digital Research Editor – then get to know him – @Kevglobal on Twitter.

KEVIN’S KEY QUESTIONS when choosing the right tool for journalism:
• Does it make a journalist’s job faster and easier?
• Does it help us make money or save money?
• Does it help bring audiences to our journalism or our journalism to audiences?
• Does it allow us to tell stories better, more easily or more engagingly?
• Does it build audience loyalty and keep people engaged with our journalism longer?

Strategy used to be the domain of senior executives in business. As we become our own publishers, we become our own editors and strategists. We all need to think about not just the tools but about our social media strategy.

What’s yours?

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