Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Can Newspapers Break News Anymore?

I recently got into an argument (if you can call less than 140 characters long an argument) over whether or not newspapers can still break news due to the explosion of social networking, specifically Twitter.

At this point, everyone should know what Twitter is all about or maybe at least know that it exists and all the tech geeks, PR-types, marketing gurus and journalists are salivating over it. If not, you're way behind the eight ball. Step your game up. Seriously.

The argument stemmed from some Twitter chatter at the "Change dot gov" event at MIT yesterday, or better known as #smcboston in the Twittersphere. The event was about the government's use of social media and the information sharing that should and does go on between citizens and those that run this state. Long story short, one of the panelists was an editor for the Boston Globe who apparently was complaining about the pressure to get news out faster and how that pressure eats into follow up time (probably a subliminal message to all the PR folks in the room saying that, "yea, I got your email/voice mail, but sorry dude, I can't call you back. I'm too busy twittering").

Regardless of realistic or unrealistic time constraints to push out news, I still believe that newspapers can "break" news, specifically in two ways:
  1. The first is through investigative journalism. We still need news outlets to be our watch dogs. We need them to ask the tough questions; do the longer, three-part series on government corruption or financial shadiness by big companies. These are the "gotcha" stories. These are the stories that truly showcase a reporters talents - writing and reporting (not to be confused with one another because each is different from the other and are unique skills). My point is that news can still be "broken" in the long form. Yes, I agree that it's tougher to do, but it is still a viable option.
  2. The second way outlets can break news is how everyone else is doing it these days - social media channels. News outlets need to stop pushing out headlines just to drive website traffic. Yes, that has a place, but man up guys. Get real people behind your social media brands. Hire young, aggressive news-minded journalists who are social media geeks and can become the first "Social Media Reporter" for the Boston Globe, for example. Instead of pumping out Twitter headlines, why not assign reporters to be your online news voice, pushing out breaking stories, interacting with readers, cultivating sources, gathering news intel for your longer-lead writers, etc. News outlets need to stop using social media channels as content marketing tools and put real resources behind them in order to break news via Twitter for example.
Part of the reason I think newspapers and magazines are struggling to survive is because they were too late to the social media party. They are still outside the club, waiting at the back of the line, 100 people deep. They assumed their product would stand the test of time - similar to the print business and the threat of TV news. I really do think the opportunity exists for the print medium to survive. Old school print cronies need to take off their blinders and push the envelope aggressively in terms using technology to create, deliver and market their content to readers and advertisers.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Girla Obscura


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