Friday, May 10, 2013

Is this the future of News?



Didn't realise there had been another Social Media Summit. These are organised by the BBC Academy and others as a sort of "state of the business" for those mainly working for mainstream media organisations. Elements of the summit are usually quite interesting, especially as speakers reveal statistics. This last one was in New York.

This time the summit included a conversation on the future of news organisations with 


  • Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC Global News (i.e. BBC World News (TV) and BBC World Service (radio)), 
  • Mark Thompson, President and Chief Executive, The New York Times and 
  • Janine Gibson, Editor in Chief, Guardian US based in New York. 

The session was moderated by David Carr, Media Columnist for the New York Times. What you're watching is simply a registration of the panel session. It's not produced at all. Sound levels are all over the place.

But still.

The first bit of the discussion is rather dry, They simply argue about the effectiveness of media. Is TV news losing out to social media feeds (especially Twitter)? 
Yes in terms of speed, argues Mark Thompson. But other platforms are ahead of rolling TV news broadcasters. Then it gets interesting.

Jonathan comments: I would argue that curated feeds and contexts in live-blogs on sites like the New York Times and the Guardian are giving me a better overview of major news stories than the rolling news channels. Many of these channels are simply looking at the same social media feeds that I can see in Tweetdeck. It reminds me of the 1990's when satellite enthusiasts, like myself, would watch the analogue satellite news feeds. You could see what Eurovision or Reuters was feeding from its various bureaux around the world, often getting news hours before it appeared on YV news bulletins - and in an unedited form. Most of that has gone away since digital technology has encoded the feeds and it's not worth the financial effort to try and break in to them. Besides, I was simply curious. The better TV channels give context to global events, doing their own investigations and reporting the result.
 Twitter is a great medium for sharing the headline alert and a link. There are a few people I follow for insider gossip. But it's all work related. Really don't care about their private lives. If they think I do, then there is the un-follow button. 



I have drastically reduced my viewing of the rolling news channels. I'm tired of continual updates on events which don't concern me or seeing advertorials disguised as news. They distract me from tracking far more important issues. I get frustrated when we get wall to wall coverage of a particular incident (like Kim Jong-Un apparently saying in March that he is going to target Austin, Texas with his missiles). This is followed by complete radio silence on the story until the climb down leaks out.








For me , the video gets interesting around 16 minutes in, when Mark Thompson starts talking about the appeal of Twitter is its lack of filtering. Peter Horrocks argues that some kind of reputation system on Twitter might interest users. How do we know that tweets from person A are credible? I side with those who want to keep Twitter unfiltered. There are plenty of tools out there that claim to measure reputation. But so far I don't trust any of them. I just follow a few trusted sources and see whether what they tweet turns out to be true. 

BBC has changed its requirement that news stories had to be "broken" by a broadcast piece. Now journalists are  encouraged to file a headline as text in a form that can easily be used as breaking news on air and/or as a tweet on Twitter/ post on Facebook. 


Why is Mark Thompson putting more emphasis on video. Video is so much part of consumer expectation. Bandwidth restraints were the challenge in the past, both contributions and delivery. The award winning Snowfall series was a recent example of a 17,000 word cross media project where a strong narrative was spiced with animations and videos, It worked because it worked in harmony. . 


Peter Horrocks talks about the success of interactive elements on BBC websites. He refers to the British Class Calculator, launched in 2011 but still on line. 

Jonathan: Personally I prefer the consumer based elements to create loyalty  Whilst this app is fun, it's a bit like a quiz in a fashion magazine. Enabling you to calculate whether its worth renting or buying a property would be much more of a public service. Obviously this could be linked to programmes like More or Less or In Business.

Lessons Learned: 

  • The Guardian keeps running the numbers on paywalls. For the moment at least, the value of the reach without the paywall (important for on-line advertising) is higher than the expected revenue from a walled garden approach. It might work for the New York Times, but they are probably the exception rather than the rule. Interesting that at times of what they regard as important breaking news (Boston bombings) the first thing they did was to take down the paywall.
  • Getting the impression that the Guardian is taking the lead on educating the media in other countries on the value of live blogging, data journalism, and reader involvement. This seems to be taking the place of activities formerly carried out by the BBC Training or BBC World Service Trust.
  • TV is still a powerful storytelling medium. BBC believes it is easier for broadcasters to learn to understand text. Newspapers have a tougher time making and understanding video. 
  • The value of the home page is still there. But more and more people are interested in live blogging events and find these through social media platforms or Google.
  • People who comment on articles on the NYTimes.com turn out to be 50% more likely than other heavy users tp become a subscriber. Some people clearly want to influence as well as engage.
  • Interesting to hear the kind of resources the Guardian is putting into live blogging teams and video. It is still tiny compared to print journalism. But it's quietly growing. 
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