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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Will The Social Media Save Old Media?

Interesting talk by Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian last night, hosted by Olswang as part of it's +Technology initiative. At last it seems the Web 2.0 sunlight is beginning to penetrate the gloom of the traditional media board rooms. They accept the unthinkable is now reality, as Clay Shirky would put it.

Whether it's all too late for newspaper publishers has occupied many conferences in the past year, the latest being the American Society of News Editors’ annual convention, where Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, seemed to promise a way to enable them to make money but was thin on the detail.

Alan's view of the Guardian's future rests on journalists' expertise in finding, aggregating, editing and opining on current affairs. The mistake newspapers have made to date is to presume they have a monopoly on the 'news' (now a freely available commodity) and must only deal in their own proprietary material rather than being a lens on all the relevant material in the world. Successfully lighting up Twitter with, say, the Trafigura affair (something that Private Eye missed an earlier opportunity to do), is only a glimpse of a brave new world. The Guardian now casts its net more widely for content, beyond its journalists, staff critics and commentators, and tries to foster discussion amongst the experts on topics of the day. Apparently it even offers the opportunity for regular thoughtful commentators on its stories and blog posts to 'graduate' to being paid to write stories.

Alan's thoughts echo those of a post by Ryan Sholin, Director of News Innovation at Publish2 on why newspapers should link to the rest of the social media (my edits):
"1. Bring your readers the best links related to your story, and they will thank you by coming back to your news site, which is no longer a dead end but a point of connection where they can find other interesting streams.

2. If all you provide your readers is flat content that doesn’t take them anywhere else on the Web, or back up statements with direct sources, or provide resources for those who want to explore a topic beyond what you’ve been able to provide with original reporting, you’re just shoveling text into another bucket, labeled “Web.” Your news site shouldn’t feel like an endpoint in the conversation. It should feel like the beginning.

3. Because it’s the best way to connect directly with the online community. If you mention a person or organization, link to them. Bonus points if you dig deep enough into the local online community to link to relevant content created by them. Sometimes they link back.

4. The days of your news organization existing as a monopolistic source of local information are over, and your readers know it. They browse local, national, international, and topical news and commentary in more places than you call “news.” But you’re the person in town who knows everyone who knows everyone. You’ve got the sources. Bring what they know to your readers as directly as possible: Link to them. David Cohn of Spot.Us offered up the now-classic Jeff Jarvis line: “Do what you do best, and link to the rest.”

5. By opening a two-way channel to let your readers tell you what you should link to next, you’ll cut down on the time you spend looking for that next thing... you’ll make it easier for sources who know the answers to your questions to find you, and you won’t spend as much time trying to find them."
All these thoughts resonate especially with me in my role as a member of the Society for Computers and Law media board. For nearly a decade I've witnessed firsthand the SCL's growing pains from magazine-only publisher, to web site publisher, to the operator of modest groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, to blogger, to budding member of the Twittersphere. Even now, the debate continues about how the Society should best participate in the social media in ways that will add value to the modest annual subscription, e.g. by supporting members' research activities, and running insightful events that also help meet lawyers' Continuing Professional Development requirements.

One thing seems assured: the social media, not newspapers, have shaped the future of journalism.

Photo from KPAO
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