Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Is Amateur Hour Over?

Posted on: April 13th, 2011 by Geoff Livingston 26 Comments

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Image by Graymalkn

Cluetrain Manifesto Co-Author Doc Searls recently observed that the Web has moved from personalized postings and unique micro-publications to an over-commercialized web. Perhaps Searls point is indicative of a larger trend of amateurs losing power online. In the professional Internet communications market, we see a similar movement away from amateurs, too. As someone who straddles both sides of the fence, this professional evolution is welcome.

For a good long period, the amateur has been able to bluff their way into the wallets of corporate clients. Large follower counts, content marketing expertise, social media trailblazing guidance, all yours for $9999.99! Desperate companies that wanted to take part in social media hired these people, many with mixed results. Consider that in 2011 most CMOs still don’t understand how social media fits into their communications mix.

The result has been a burned business and nonprofit marketplace that rightly questions the bejesus out of its independent online practitioners, and demands answers for measurement and ROI. The answers are not necessarily forthcoming either. It does indicate there may be a social media marketing extinction event.

Over the past five years, there have been many teaming opportunities with social media (or even more specialized) communicators. Some have been great while others struggled. Invariably, though great at making themselves famous, the strugglers lacked the communications fundamentals necessary to build online communities that actually want to do things with the company or nonprofit.

This is not an isolated talent management issue. The back channel is full of stories about big A-List names, New York Times bestselling authors (note the plural) that when hired crashed and burned. These personalities trade on what their microfame can bring to the engagement, and their ability to build follower counts and momentary attention. But the emperors have no clothes. What happens? The engagement ends, the client pays out tens of thousands of dollars, and real communicators are called in. Some of us jokingly call ourselves the plumbers that clean up the social media ninjas’ messes.

This brings up the Before Social Media (BSM) problem. What did these so called professionals do BSM? Were they journalists or marketers or PR pros or some other media-related professional? Did they have an understanding of the basic fundamentals necessary for communications success before hanging their social media shingle?

Zoetica recently posted a job description. Note the focus on writing as a primary skill set, and an ask for journalism and prior agency/consulting experience. Without an understanding of basic fundamentals in communications and business (for or non-profit), it is hard to imagine success. Communicating with people from an organizational standpoint requires deep understanding of motives, the media forms themselves, and an organization’s role as a media presence within larger Internet communities.

Doc’s point is a sad one. Strong amateur content from the Fifth Estate has and continues to play a great role holding traditional media and companies accountable, creating real social movements, and yes, forming fun, interesting content niches to dive into. However, let’s hope that amateur hour is over, and that unknowledgeable social media communicators go the way of the dodo bird. Unfortunately, while some will be forced to shutter their doors, the real answer lies in educating the marketplace and upcoming professionals about the basic fundamentals and ethics of communications.

As Journalism Weakens, the Fifth Estate Strengthens

Posted on: March 23rd, 2011 by Geoff Livingston 12 Comments

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MediaConsumption

The weak economy and the evolution of Internet media have done more to shake up traditional journalism than any other events in the past 60 years. Online news is now surpassing almost every media form in the United States with the exception of local TV, according to Pew. And in 2010, forty seven percent of Americans read news on their phones! As the traditional print, cable and broadcast media weaken, online content creators, the Fifth Estate as dubbed by Stephen Cooper in 2006 strengthens.

This has not been a pretty evolution to watch. The journalism field has yet to successfully adjust to the new economic realities of shrinking print ad budgets and online media consumption. Perhaps the greatest test of the new economic realities will be the NY Times paywall for their most loyal readers. In the interim, individual voices alone or in aggregate are stepping up to fill the void left by a shrinking Fourth Estate (a centuries old term for the press).

What does this mean for information consumption? So far, it has created a degradation of content with a smaller and increasingly inexperienced journalism corps that attempts to do much more with less resources. Yet several trends indicate the tide may be turning with a focus on creating stronger hybrid journalists and Fifth Estate voices.

Media companies are now investing in new tablet based start-ups and purchasing higher quality social channels like the Huffington Post. Further, next generation trade journals are moving online with the likes of POLITICO now rivaling the Washington Post. While some of these properties are social in nature and feature bloggers, they function more like hybridized journals. Only the best content is featured on the top layers, creating an expectation of quality.

More interesting are the pools of Fifth Estate bloggers and citizen journalists that use a variety of social media tools, including mobile phones, to report from the field. They are filling the void left by reduced journalist staffs. There is no better example than the job that citizen journalists have done in the Middle East, most recently in Benghazi, Libya.

Of course, citizen journalism of this sort creates questions about credibility and information quality. In many ways, the “Twitter (or Facebook) breaking the news first meme” has jumped the shark several times due to inaccuracies. This has in turn validated the need for fact verification and has contributed to a growing decline in peer trust. It seems as the Fifth Estate grows its weak underbelly of opinion and shoddy reporting has been exposed.

Creating a Stronger Fifth Estate

Ben the War Journalist

Ben, the War Journalist by Andrew Mason

Andy Carvin’s well discussed effort highlighting the many brave people protesting and fighting for freedom in the Middle East blends the best of the new and the old. An employee of NPR, Carvin retweets and highlights news bits that trickle out on Twitter via his various sources and hashtag searches. But rather than blindly retweeting information, Carvin sources and triangulates data via his networks to ensure information quality.

In many ways, Carvin shares stories in a timely way while incorporating journalistic questioning. This method is creating a new paradigm for speed and validation. Yet not all people have these kinds of journalism skills.

Creating a wider field of hybrid journalists, or at least spreading the principles of journalism throughout our society via education and training remains the great challenge and key to an increased level of quality information from the Fifth Estate. Here are several organizations that actively develop citizen journalists:

  • Small World News is teaching citizens in the Middle East how to use mobile and social to report
  • Internews funds training and infrastructure projects across the globe for better media. Increasingly, their efforts focus on citizen journalists
  • AllVoices and Global Voices provide portals where citizen journalists can socialize their content
  • The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity provides investigative reporters and non-profit organizations training and support to pursue journalistic endeavors

Additional movements within corporate and nonprofit organizations have internal content producers increasingly called corporate journalists. While objectivity may be compromised from the onset, this career paid Fifth Estate member sheds a new more fact-based light on the term content marketing. And as former journalist and now corporate social media pro Ike Pigott likes to say, the trend provides a welcome return to a deserved salary for information producing skills.

What is clear is that the Fifth Estate is evolving with increased attention focused on quality information. How the media and these new voices evolve together remains to be seen. In the current online world the old and needed journalist mastheads and new roving citizen reporters are intrinsically tied. Watching them continue to influence and blend into each other will be an unfolding and captivating story.

What do you think of citizen journalism/media and its evolution?