City of London at night
City of London ready for Olympic Business Deals (Pic. londonview.com)

Mayor of London Boris Johnson today welcomed the opening of the London Media Centre (LMC), which will host over 6,200 accredited and non-accredited journalists from 832 media organisations from around the world during this summer’s London 2012 Olympics.  The centre will be a home to journalists visiting London to capture the numerous business deals that are likely to be signed during the Olympics.

While journalists covering the sporting events will be based at The International Broadcast Centre within The Olympic Park, non-sporting international reporters and bloggers from 66 countries visiting London during the Olympics will have access to a state of the art media centre in the heart of Westminster.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: ‘This will be a summer like no other, presenting an unparalleled opportunity for London to show off its wares to a global audience of billions. An inquisitive army of reporters, camera crews and photographers are migrating to our city to see not only sporting history in the making, but everything that makes a host city tick. From the iconic to the little known, we want these media professionals to be offered an unparalleled experience of the capital and a smorgasbord of great stories. This will ensure that future tourists and businesses get a taste of why London is the best place in the world to visit and invest in for years to come.’

London hopes that this summer’s Olympics will also provide a marathon of deals that will showcase the city as a creative business-friendly destination.

The capital will not just see an influx of journalists from around the world, but of public relations practitioners who will be managing the communications for clients and employers alike during the games.

UK Trade and Investment recently stated that the games could see a boost to UK Plc worth £13bn over the next four years. But this figure might not include the deals that will be sealed during the games and will act as a tonic during the current global business malaise.

With under 20 days left until the opening ceremony, it will be the business pages that will be worth looking through during the #London2012 games.

News International journalists have allegedly gained access to details of former-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s bank account, legal documents and even his son’s medical records by masquerading as either the former Prime Minister himself or one of his representatives.

It is alleged that News International titles have used blagging to secure personal information that was then run as headlines in select titles.

Blagging is to ‘knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data or information without the consent of the data controller.’  In plain English that means to deceive somebody to get personal information that can then be used in the press.

Because blagging is to deceive somebody to gain information the practice pulls into the story organisations that hold personal information – telephone companies, banks, building societies, utility companies, anybody.  This therefore can create a firestorm for the reputations of organisations that have been targeted by blaggers, which raises the question, are PRs ready for the questions that will be asked about data protection and privacy?

While blagging is an offence under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act it has yet to be tested in the courts.  That though is an issue for those caught of blagging.

We all know how the downturn in advertising spend has affected the press and publishing industries.  Newsrooms appear to have been decimated as publishers across all sectors laid journalists out to pasture.  In far too much haste commentators wasted no time in penning the obligatory obituary for their own industry.  But how wrong they appeared to have been.

If there was one thing that came from last week’s news:rewired conference at London’s City University it was that journalism is rediscovering itself and using technology and it’s audience to do an even better job.  The fact is that while the decline in advertising has decimated newspapers and magazine, publishers have been fighting back, restructuring and getting their journalists to use social media and networking platforms not just for promoting content but for reaching out, developing contacts and finding great stories.

Professor George Brock opened the day with a series of seminal questions, is there such a thing as news, is authority in the crowd or the expert, does news stay in bundles and how do we [journalists] tell what is true?

Brock challenged the news model and gave examples of how outlets in the US are re-establishing themselves.  In his keynote speech he encouraged those present to not look at technology as the saviour of journalism, but to look backward and remember traditional journalism.

Using the 2009 Iranian election protests as an example Brock cited that while Twitter and video were important during the uprising, “it’s a less well known that one of the most effective ways of opposition ideas was slogans stamped on banknotes.”  He added that opposition messages were, “now stamped on so many banknotes that the governor or the Iranian Central Bank – not very sympathetic to the authorities – is in an argument with the authorities who want them removed from circulation.  Of course, in an economy you can’t just withdraw large numbers of banknotes [as] you will trigger an economic crisis.  So the message remains in circulation!”

Technology and social media platforms are tools that support communications.  They support journalism and public relations. BBC College of Journalism Editor Kevin Marsh highlighted how the BBC Newsroom had adopted web-centric journalism skills that allow engagement with its audience.  Something that I’ve written about before.

Kevin Marsh at news:rewired 2010 from BBC College of Journalism on Vimeo.

Marsh confirmed that new skills and platforms are just that, new.  They are there to back up traditional newsgathering skills such as organising an outside broadcast, gathering information from a court case or persuading people to talk and go on the record.

Seminars that took place confirmed that journalists have to learn and adapt to how people are moving online.  Journalists needed to pick up new skills on how multimedia newsrooms work, the power of social media for journalists, crowd-sourcing and data-mashing.

Content and stories are online and it’s a journalist’s job is to find and report them depending on their beat.  To use content to back up what contacts can provide.

But why is this so important to public relations professionals?  Why should this shift matter to those who build and shape brands and reputations?

In my opinion it matters a lot.  It matters because journalists are using citizens as an extension of their profession.  And citizens that are happy to contribute.  They are happy to be the eyes and ears on the ground.

During the crowd sourcing session tempers nearly got the better of some who objected to the term ‘citizen-journalists.’  Some attendees coined the term ‘eye-witness-journalists’ as professionals found it objectionable that people with no training described themselves as ‘journalists’.  While it was a very well argued point, the fact is that while many people can contribute to a story it is a trained journalist that can filter out the coal from the diamonds.

All this matters to PRs because people that unhappy customers can be found very easily.  Technology has herded people into online pens and it is the job of a good journalist to find them and work them into a story.

The same people want to receive their content through their social media platforms, online and on their mobiles.  The same devices that can now capture any bit of breaking news.

Of course journalists are learning on the go as the news and publishing industry moved online.  A channel where readers and viewers are less faithful.  Loyalty will depend on the speed at which content is updated.

Award-winning videojournalist and Southbank artist-in-residence David Dunkley Gyimah shows us what can be done and possibly what journalists should be.  Watching David confirmed that journalists might have to be multi-disciplined.

A brief visual history of videojournalism from david dunkley gyimah on Vimeo.

Journalism is evolving and the new technology that for so long had been blamed for its potential demise might in fact be its saviour.  And that is important for everybody, not just journalists, and not just PRs.

Laura Oliver, Nic Newman and Julio Romo
Laura Oliver, Nic Newman and Julio Romo

Nic Newman summed up the impact that social media is having on journalism when he said that based on volume and time spent on site, “Facebook was six times bigger than CNN.”  People today spend more time on social networking sites than on news sites, with industry commentators citing this to highlight the reason for the supposed death of news and quality journalism.  For others though social media represents an opportunity – a resource that adds value to journalism, which is why the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Greater London Group (CIPR GLG) wanted to host an event to discuss how social media is re-shaping journalism and the news industry.

For this debate we were delighted to welcome Nic Newman, the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Controller for Journalism and Digital Distribution and Laura Oliver, Editor for Journalism.co.uk.

Nic had just returned to the BBC after three months at the Reuters Institute for The Study of Journalism at Oxford University where he wrote a paper on ‘The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism.’ A document that gave insight into how social media was being adopted and used within the BBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

As has been well publicised, the reach of news organisations has been in decline for many years, ever since publishers implemented a business model that gave away its content for free online so that they could get a slice of the at the time new revenue from online advertising.  Of course as we now know this strategy ended up ‘cannibalising’ revenues from print, broadcast and other news focused incomes as consumers stopped buying newspapers and magazines and moved online where news is free.

The double-whammy came with the rise of social media, as people moved to Facebook, Twitter and the like and stopped visiting news websites.  And it was through these ‘herds’ – their friends and followers – that people started to get the breaking news stories that for so long had been the preserve of news outlets.

While some industry commentators saw social media as the final nail in the coffin for quality journalism and the news industry, others viewed it as an opportunity, as it confirmed the belief that through social media journalists could ‘better reach out to people who know more about a given subject.’

Nic NewmanNewman stated that what we are currently seeing in journalism is a, “quiet revolution.”  Between 2007-2009 there’s been an explosion in participation, ‘driven by user-friendly internet tools, better connectivity and new mobile devices.  Social Networking and UGC have become mainstream activities, accounting for almost 20 per cent of internet time in the UK and involving half of all internet users.  This dramatic change has forced traditional news organisations to take note.’  And news outlets have reacted by abandoning attempts ‘to be first for breaking news, focusing instead on being the best at verifying and curating it.’

Social media expert Clay Shirky says in Newman’s report that ‘you trade speed for accuracy’ by getting updates from Twitter.  And this is what the news industry is now focusing on, accurate and in-depth reporting.

The BBC’s user generated content (UGC) hub on an average week processes over 10,000 email comments, 1,000 still images and 100 video clips.  Staffed by 23 people the hub can access breaking news images and stories, supporting news producers for programmes such as the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News.  They also act as a contact point for people with stories to tell – a case of this was when it was contacted in February 2009 by an HBOS whistleblower.  Social media is a platform that links people with quality news.

We were told by Newman and Oliver that social networks allows journalists to find and tell better stories and engage with new audiences.  I asked if this meant a reduced role for PRs as journalists could go ‘straight to source’ through social networking channels.  “No,” we were told.  Just as journalists could use social networks to gain facts, insight and case studies, PRs could and were bypassing the media and taking their messages direct to their audiences.  Oliver added that, “PRs would always be involved in the conversation.”  The right to reply we should remember is to a certain extent enshrined in journalism and the editorial guidelines of many news outlets.

Newman pointed out that “as if to add insult to injury, these new networks and individuals are also acting as a check on traditional media, questioning our accuracy and standards, and forcing transparency.”

Laura Oliver tells us about journalists use of social media

Oliver confirmed that outlets are having to be more transparent.  I asked if social media is opening journalists’ notebooks.  “Yes,” was her answer.  In Oliver’s case, and from what she knows from journalists in nationals and business-to-business titles, there is a lot of sharing of links through social bookmarking sites and the like.  Links that allow people to build a better picture of a journalist and their ‘beat.’  It also allows readers and PRs to build better relationships with them, which can only be a good thing.

But how is social media being used in journalism?  Laura Oliver confirmed that journalists now use sites to gain opinion and case studies on stories that they might be working on.  People can be found on networking sites discussing most subjects and this is invaluable to journalists.  These people are consumers, potential customers and stakeholders.  They share thoughts and knowledge with other people.  If they complain about a bad experience with a brand, they’ll share it, and journalists will hear it and if it’s newsworthy enough report it

Journalists and media outlets know that people carry mobile devices with which they can stay in contact with their networks.  They know that people can now compliment a story that they are working on as these devices can capture images and audio.

The new tools of the trade for journalists include Tweetdeck, Facebook, Audioboo – an application that allows users to post and share audio files.  Newsrooms I am sure also have the ability to monitor conversations through Viralheat, a social measurement platform that covers hundreds of viral video destination sites, Twitter, and millions blogs & websites.

News outlets like the BBC for example use Twitter to get case studies for news packages about any story.  Newman gave the example of how the BBC Ten O’Clock News wanted case study that related to an engineering story that they were putting together.  News producers asked Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones if he could help.  Rory obliged by putting a call for help on his Twitter feed.  Within minutes his request was met by numerous offers of help, one that was local to London was used.  It was that easy and by the look of it not a PR in sight!

As PRs we have to remember that thanks to social media journalists have better access to the opinions and comments from consumers and stakeholders.  Social media is not just a platform for technology story, but a platform through which people can have conversations about any given subject.

The one thing that is certain is that social media is here to stay. It is even influencing journalism training and editorial control as the industry evaluates how to meet the changing dynamics of how and from where people get their news.  Griffith University in Australia has even made Twitter part of the mandatory course load for journalism students.

And it is affecting how we PRs do our job.  It isn’t just an add-on for monologue campaigns that we have been so used to developing.  It is a platform through which our clients can better engage with current and potential consumers.

Social media is open, it is transparent.  The conversations that our customers have can be seen not just by us, but by journalists that judge and hold us to account, and that does not have to be an issue.

This evening I have the pleasure of hosting a CIPR Greater London Group event on journalism and social media at Hill & Knowlton.  As speakers we have Nic Newman, the BBC’s Future Media & Technology Controller, Journalism and Digital Distribution, and Journalism.co.uk Editor Laura Oliver.

Journalism has been changing for a number of years, with many people claiming that news and media as we know it is dying.  A slight exaggeration.  Social media though is having an effect of newsgathering and it is this and what PRs should know about it that we’ll be investigating this evening.

Amongst the many questions I’ll will be asking:

  • How the BBC and other news outlets use social media to research stories and generate contacts?
  • How social media is being integrated into the newsgathering process?
  • How journalists use social media to share content and links with their audiences.  Is social media opening up journalists notebooks and making newsgathering more transparent?  And what can PRs learn from this?
  • Importantly, given that social media is about the now – feelings and reactions of people, what do journalists look for online and on social media sites to generate a story and what can PRs learn from the change in power and how this helps journalists?

Social media is not just redefining news but changing how PRs work.  Long gone are the days when the reputation was at risk of a negative piece in the media.  Now people, consumers, on social networks can generate a feeling that can affect a brand.  Power is moving to the people and this is something that as PRs we need to understand.

If you’d like to know more then guests will be twittering live from the event using the #LondonPRlive hashtag.

I’ll be updating my blog tomorrow with my thoughts.