Five Ways Social Will Change Journalism

by Ike Pigott |

The tools of social media are disruptive, to say the least. But knowing where the landscape is shifting makes a big difference in finding the safe places to build your future business foundation.

Want to own a newspaper? A magazine? TV Guide sold for a dollar, but it might have been overvalued.

Here’s what to look for as journalism — both the outlets and the individuals working in the industry — go social.

More Breaks in Format

There were already enough technology disruptions in media. Consider the tremors of local television stations (finally) ditching their analog frequencies, and moving to digital transmitters. They still cling to their old digits for branding purposes, but that will continue to fade. In one way, this is an advantage to the TV newsroom, which has less reason to cling to tradition, and more energy to focus on creating something new.

Breaking formats means abandoning the emphasis on appointment delivery for news, and more real-time and on-demand models. The “there’s an app” culture wants simple information, delivered simply when the button is pressed. Those media outlets that figure out how to package their product for anytime anywhere delivery will enjoy a serious first-mover advantage.

Curation Trumps Creation

The current payroll doesn’t support enough bodies on the street to cover the news the way it’s been covered in the past — just as a swelling mob of informed amateurs begins spewing competitive product. Not competitive in quality, but in value to the consumer.

The role of the editor in the future will have less to do with with tweaking the content of your staff, and more to do with finding, discerning, and linking to material produced elsewhere. It might be professionally done, it might be linking away to full databases, or it might be linking to bloggers (and providing context about their own biases and potential conflicts of interest.) It will probably involve linking to corporate stories, and putting the objective context in. This isn’t that far off from today, where much of the content of a paper or a newscast is generated elsewhere, but the approach to the job will shift as it becomes the majority of the time spent in the editorial role.

Story Selection Favors Trending Topics

This effect will be two-fold. Wave One will be as the new generation of journalists naturally taps into their networks of friends and sources to see what “the people” are talking about. This has always been the case, although in one market, “Trending Topics” was what they talked about at Lou’s Pub, or in between breaks at the city council meeting. Now we have a real global conversation, which is a disadvantage. (A bunch of people talking furiously about a football game on Twitter can sweep a Trending Topic.)

Expect Trending Topics (and the Facebook equivalent, once someone figures out how to mine it) to become relevant not just at the journalist level, but at the newsroom level. Newsrooms don’t want to miss on delivering on the things people appear to be interested in. This will take off further when Twitter fulfills the promise of a true “local” trending topic at a market level — and when there’s enough corporate adoption that discussions are more rounded and grounded. Today’s buzz is too tech-heavy, and too limited to certain topics because other industries haven’t contributed to conversations.

Story Selection Favors Crowdsourcing

Remember, the outlets that have housed the function of journalism for the last century are still coping with fractured audiences and lower revenue. The man-on-the-street has long been a staple of filling time and creating engagement, and there will be less time to turn stories around. Watch for more success with the crowdsourcing of stories, and eventually seeking out those stories that can be more easily sourced online.

Which leads us to…

Story Production Favors Crowdsourcing

Watch for more blatant and obvious calls for interview subjects. This has both positive and negative effects. Yes, it’s wonderful for transparency to know that a news outlet was fishing for someone with that exact issue, complaint, or circumstance. When done right, it is awesome.

Have you witnessed this event at UT? Please @ reply me with any photos and/or call editor David Doolittle at 445-3671.Tue Sep 28 13:37:45 via TweetDeck

When abused, it will impact the credibility of the news organization, and eventually drive the quality of the resulting journalism down.

As a reporter, I can’t tell you how many times I went out to cover a particular story, but once the answers started coming in I realized I was on top of a much better story. When advanced and intelligent crowdsourcing techniques start sifting through the public with greater ease, you’ll see many reporters finding exactly what they were looking for — and not finding the unexpected truth.

What You Can Do To Beat The Trends?

Traditional media will not be as powerful as it once was. That’s for certain. But it’s a huge mistake to assume there will be no influence at all. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of fighting a 700-pound gorilla isn’t made any more enticing just because it’s lost 100 pounds.

Individuals and organizations would be better suited to not chase the Social-Network-du-jour, nor chase Fans and Likes just for the hell of it. Instead, take a periodic inventory of where you spend your online influence, compared to how the people who are in the news are spending their online influence. Eventually, you’ll start to see the correlations for yourself, within your home market.

The five shifts I outlined are indeed coming — but they will not come to every media market at the same time. Being too early to the party will be deflating and discouraging, and almost as bad as being too late.

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About the Author

Ike Pigott

In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.