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.

Social Media and the future of journalism

Cardiff Media Blogs

Labour Politician Harold Wilson once said: “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”

BBC social media trainer, Dr Claire Wardle (@cward1e), told JOMEC post-grads at Cardiff University last week about some of the changes facing Journalism. It certainly seems that if Journalism (especially print journalism) does not change soon, it will begin to decay.

Social media is changing ‘news’ as we know it, bringing a new level of immediacy to the consumer while new technology has blown the traditional economic model of news to shreds.

It allows companies and famous personalities to leap-frog the traditional methods of news transmission. Just take the rise of Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook and other online phenomena that have allowed news seekers to obtain what they want to know about directly. I can think of at least one example this week when Dmitri Medvedev and Arnold Schwarzenegger broadcast humorous exchanges on twitter about working out. http://twitpic.com/2wpsuz

Eighty-five per cent of people in the UK have access to the Internet, and have free, unlimited and direct access to news that they want: they can follow their favourite celebrity on twitter or check the stock exchange on an iphone application. As the number of people reading newspapers falls, so does income, and subsequently advertising. The economic model of print media is crumbling.

But does this mean social media eradicates the need for a journalist to interpret what is going on in the world?

Traditionally, the journalist has written stories in a particular house style, often in narrative form, having obtained news from public, official and private sources.

But now, with so many alternative generators of news such as hyperlocal blogs and tweets, one could argue that the modern journalist is just another Internet user, presenting lists of facts wrapped in prose. Some might say the only distinguishing features of journalists are that they write in a prescribed news style for a particular organisation and get paid to do so.

Yet there is still a need for professional journalism.

For a start the internet is chaotic.

Social media does not construct news in an authoritative or organised structure. It is unstructured, unchecked and often unreliable.

Secondly, the immediacy of social media means that people miss out the ‘big picture’ of news if they are not up to date with what has been happening previously.

In a blog about the future of media, Media Consultant Michelle McLellan had this to say:

“Journalists would be better suited by developing skills to fill the information gaps, offering broader perspective and context on the information, and fostering conversation around it.”

Thirdly, social and online media can equip the modern journalist with some extremely powerful tools to educate and involve communities.

In fact, Dr Claire Wardle said that the powers of social media will not drive journalists out of the news production process. Instead, social media can make their jobs easier for connecting people, collating sources and developing interactive news.

So perhaps the most important function of the contemporary journalist is to involve communities in a bigger picture; one that is polyphonic and constantly changing. Journalists can use facebook to find case studies, twitter to collect statements from celebrities or political figures and quote blogs for local news. It involves the same roles as traditional journalism: only now there are more sources available and there is more transparency.

While there are many positives to bring out from the changes in journalism one fundamental question remains:

How can journalists develop profitable models for on-line media to ensure the survival of professional, balanced and transparent news?

What is Social Media? http://slidesha.re/bb1ydV

Vadim Lavrusik on The future of Journalism, Michelle McLellan: http://mashable.com/2010/09/13/future-social-media-journalism/

Claire Wardle http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/skills/citizen-journalism/citizen-journalism-guide/social-media-tools.shtml