Serving the people

Cardiff Media Blogs

Journalists may enjoy the thrill of racing the clock to break a story, rising to the challenge to be creative in the space of a few inches of newspaper, breathing life into the mundane or even attracting people’s attention with pictures.

But is that what journalism is really all about?

Is it not about serving people?

Joanna Geary a social media guru at the Times challenged trainee journalists at Cardiff University to write down their reasons for chosing journalism as a career, providing an uneasy moment for those whose job is to ask questions rather than answer them.

“It’s not about us getting the story,” says Geary, it’s about the audience.

In fact, its not about getting your name in print, or attracting any sort of reader, but meeting their needs of people. Newspapers who look down on their readers can have no hope of ever succeeding as a business.

As the internet is changing the news-scape, users now have more control than ever before. Audiences can challenge journalists and pitch their own ideas. A community forms and people that care about an issue are forged together, forming a niche area where people can collaborate.

So as and where communities form, journalists must interact with them. These audiences have news ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. And now, thanks to the internet, they can communicate directly with the content provider to express their appetite for news. Anyone reading this, for example, can leave a comment or write to me on twitter.

But if editorial staff play to the ‘wants’ of people to attract more views could, however, lead to myopic news values. Will news shrink entirely to the tune of its readership?

Have a look and see what the most popular stories are now on the BBC’s counter. The most popular videos on youtube contain Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga – an indicator of what people want. Let’s hope newspapers don’t give in to online peer pressure as revenues crumble.

Obviously there is a necessity to attract an audience, as audiences bring revenue. But as there is so much choice on the internet, does it mean news sites becomes more about a brand than news per se?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation:

I am a businessman and so I am interested in business news, changes in government policy and anything that might affect my business. I could go to any number of outlets or news sites. But I will decide to go to one that I am familiar with. I will go to a source that I can trust and with whom I share news and/or political values. I choose the Times online.

I used to enjoy this source for free. But unfortunately now I have to pay for it because of a paywall.

The leads me to a crucial question:

Is the Times business news so unique and useful that I will not go anywhere else to find out what is happening in the business world? Do I trust the journalists and enjoy their writing style, find their analysis helpful and understand the way they present data? This is what you might call added-value journalism.

News in the future could well be based on brand, reliability, but also about online relationships. I am much more likely to read a news site that listens, interacts and cares about my business needs.

A news outlet will need to have a pre-defined model, niche strategy and brand. For if it does not, I will simply take my business elsewhere.

It poses a great challenge to journalists: be informed, inform, be reliable and accurate, be trustworthy, listen, serve your audience and interact.

Is it possible to be and do all these things?

With a smart use of technology, a solid grasp of social networking, such as the use of Twitter for tip offs but still hold onto the fundamental skills of journalism of robust tradecraft, strategy, good contacts and accuracy it is still humanly possible do all of these.

It’s about building a personal brand and serving people.

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