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.
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.
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.