Blogs and Mainstream Media: Semi-Live Coverage of the Oxford Social Media Convention 2009

Breaking news: the changing relationship between blogs and mainstream media Panellists: Richard Sambrook, John Kelly and Jonathan Ford
Chair: David Levy

Richard Sambrook, of the BBC:
The impact of social media is overestimated in the short term, underestimated in the long term. They are adopting comments, they’re blogging, but he thinks they’ve only taken a few steps on a longer journey.

“We don’t own the news anymore.”

When you scratch below that and talk about citizen journalism, we mean a lot of different things. Sending pictures and video to news organizations? “Opinion, debate, and discussion on blogs is starting to get absorbed”, and to him this should be a big part of what’s offered by the news service, and it’s got further to go. Sky News has a twitter correspondent, apparently, but the potential of the internet has not nearly been reached. As far as network journalism, it’s not really established, but it could very much help to improve quality, to involve more people in covering events.

There’s cultural shift:
“Transparency is the new objectivity.”

BBC tries to show people how they arrived at the conclusions, “open the bonnet on the news operation.”

He thinks things are going to have to go a lot further.

“Information is not Journalism.” He’s proud of that one he came up with.

To him, you can get information from Twitter, but journalism is judgement, analysis, context, and other important ways of treating information that makes the difference. To him, the fundamentals of journalism have not changed.

“If you find yourself in competition with the Internet, find a way out.”

We assume collaboration and openness won’t change, but it might, especially as billions more come online, as politics censor, and other ways.

The way we gather news is shifting. Sending someone to a place they don’t know well to investigate was fun, but is a bit stupid at this point.

John Kenny is a columnist for the Washington Post:
Newspapers could be a nice old-fashioned boutique, one day. He says he thinks in 800 words at a time, given his column.

Citizen journalism came from technology and a mistrust of the media. In the economic climate in which we’re working now, newspapers have trouble being viable industries, and that the degree of citizen journalism wasn’t the deal-breaker.

When he used to come here, he used to say that people would say “Oh you have fact-checkers in America, we don’t have those.” Not true!

Does mainstream media see blogs as threats? Competitors, yes, but not in a journalistic sense. The Huffington Post competes with the Washington Post not with journalism, but on a business visitorship level. Social media, therefore, is critical as an audience building service.

80% of the Telegraph’s traffic comes from Twitter, Facebook, etc., so they are exploring social media to drive traffic. As far as incorporating social media into their sites, they’ve done a bit. They did not have success with their hyper-local experiment, but not for journalistic reasons; the audience was growing, but they couldn’t sell ads for it. As far as putting citizen work in the paper, they’re not as advanced as some other papers. They aggregate verified NFL player tweets. Yay.

Journalistic quality? The news cycle sped up, and as you make your stuff public and transparent you have to be clear about the type of information, too, and how reliable it is.

There is a lot of debate about comments, and the Guardian has more, more intense, and higher quality comments than many North American counterparts. With Facebook using real names, and with more cross-platform connections, you might be more careful when commenting.

As far as the potential of citizen journalism, he finds rhetoric needs to be toned down. MSM saying democracy will fail is we fail is too far. Saying social media will save everything is too far, too.

Jonathan Ford, of Reuters:
This guy got Reuters into a discussion platform around financial blogs. Reuters used to be closed, so this was difficult for them. With 3,000 journalists all over the world, things are very structured, and citizen journalists have changed things.

So why did Reuters change? He says social media is having a major influence on how finance news is reported. To him, blogs in the financial space have done well because there is distrust in the MSM, and there is more colourful language. They want to not just reach a wider public, but sophisticated users. In fact, blogs let you get more sophisticated.

Other reasons why finance journalism isn’t trusted:
He says most financial news is underemphasized, and it’s often a training ground for news people who want to report on other things. Also, anyone who knows anything about finance is better off doing finance things rather than report about it, since they’ll make more money. Hedge funds started recruiting journalists to write articles for the press.

A well-informed core of citizen journalists started to contribute to the debate, which readers liked, and played in opposition to consensus, since the bigger names were bought out. Bloggers were often the firsts to see the twists on stories, and starting to critique MSM and their news interpretation.
Reuters is interested in blogging because it recognizes the value of communities. In finance, there’s a race to create the ultimate online portal, an aggregation, in large part. It also makes for good branding.

Q&A, in clusters:
Q: Has blogging really affected, never mind replaced, the craft of journalism?
Richard Sambrook: Citizen journalism has increased accountability, contributed sources, and more.
Mod: Yeah, but people trust big brands more.
RS: That’s true, but still people are willing to question us.
Q: The pursuit of putting a price on the news, and Google books?
Some Google guy in the audience: The heart of the commercial book debate, is about books that are commercially available, but out of print. Will be a paid access model.
JF: Rupert Murdoch is appealing to congress to help struggling news agencies, especially as you go more local.
Q: News is not just facts but there’s a growing disenchantment about the credibility of MSM, especially internationally.
Richard Sambrook says that the age of the fantastic international correspondent is drawing to a close, and that if you want to hear about Africa, you want to hear from Africans.
Q: On MSM blogs, what’s the difference between an article and a blog post, really?
JK: Don’t focus on the term, focus on what the system offers.

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