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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Video Killed The Radio Star...

With all apologies to the Buggles, video didn't really kill the radio star (the title is a song reference, if you don't know the song, look it up, it's pretty good, AND it was the first ever video played on MTV...so...a little knowledge for you at RPR). 

Does social media mean the end of traditional TV news?  We say no!

There's been a ton of angst about the future of news now that social media has taken a firm grip on our society and doesn't look to be letting go anytime soon.  As a former journalist and longtime fan of the news, I have to say; I'm not overly concerned.  There's a reason for this, and I think if you ask most journalists working today, they'd also say that they're more worried about budget cuts than any impact social media might have on their end product.

To be fair, though, the emergence of social-media-as-news-breaker does confuse many small business owners and non-profits, not to mention many in the public relations field.  I can understand this confusion since social media certainly has forced traditional news outlets to change tactics.  But here's one thing you should be clear on; social media is NOT the death knell for traditional news, whether they're newspapers, radio or television.

As Americans, we seem to thrive on conflict.  We like things to be black or white, one or the other.  Republicans vs. Democrats, chick flicks vs. action/adventure, good guy vs. bad buy, traditional news media vs. social media.  But real life doesn't usually operate that way.  Sometimes both sides of the aisle actually work together, sometimes the good guy is deeply flawed and the bad guy does bad things for good reasons, and, let's face it guys, even your favorite action/adventure movie has an element of chick flick in it, deal with it.

So it's no surprise that traditional media outlets are learning to work with, not against, social media as it continues to grow and develop. 

Many of the small business owners and non-profits I talk to and work with seem to believe that pitching their local newspaper or TV outlet simply doesn't provide the same bang for their buck as it used to.  In fact, many of these organizations have turned their entire marketing and outreach focus towards social media.  This is a mistake.

Recently the BBC issued a statement following a snafu with Twitter and breaking news.  You can see the entire story here.  FOX News, CNN and other major television news outlets are following the lead of the BBC and stating that they will attempt to limit breaking news over Twitter.  The thinking behind these decisions is that breaking news on a social media site such as Twitter hurts their traditional news broadcasts.  At the same time, however, every one of these outlets admitted that there might be times when social media tools might be necessary to break new or provide information before a story can be fully vetted.

So what does this mean?  It means that you are watching the transformation of traditional news, not the death of it.

What's Old Is New Again:

Let's take a trip in the "Way Back Machine" for a minute.  At one point in our history, news was distributed primarily by newspapers.  This all changed early in the 20th Century with the introduction of radio.  At the time, many observers felt that this new, "almost immediate" form of communication meant the end of newspapers. 

Fast forward a few decades and television hit the scene in a big way.  Suddenly you could actually SEE Edward R Murrow instead of just listen to him report on bombings from a London rooftop.  He was in your living room, a trusted companion.  Again, observers cried that television rang the death knell for radio.

The thing is...it didn't.  Radio didn't kill newspapers, tv didn't kill radio and, believe it or not, social media won't kill tv.  News adjusts, it adapts.  Newspapers suffered initially, but they rebounded and discovered that while breaking news could be covered better by radio, newspapers did a better job of providing perspective and analysis, not to mention covering local stories that larger radio networks couldn't get to.

Television was able to provide both breaking news as well as some more in-depth reporting.  Radio stations, like newspapers before them struggled at first to find their niche.  They did. They switched from soap operas and stories to talk radio.  Instead of Jack Benny and Bob Hope, radio turned to talk radio and more local personalities starting in the mid-60's.  Of course FM radio helped keep radio alive until the talk radio phenomenon really exploded in the late 70's and early 80's; a phenomenon that continues today.

Now we have social media making inroads into territory that once exclusively belonged to more traditional news outlets.  But this isn't a new challenge.  Earlier this decade, heck, spanning back into the late 90's bloggers were insisting that they were doing a better job of covering "real" news than most existing networks.  And, in some cases, this was true.

The Smoking Gun site did a good job of breaking news in true journalistic style, through diligent fact checking and confirmations.  Regardless of the ideology of the site, many of the stories it reported turned out to be factual and impactful.  The problem was, bloggers had no oversight.  In many cases, bloggers were simply spewing opinion as fact and calling themselves journalists. 

These bloggers made it hard for the bloggers doing actual journalism to gain respect among the more traditional news outlets.  Now, in 2010, social media tools like Twitter and Facebook has made everybody a journalist.  We can shoot photos and videos on our phones, talk to people on the spot and post a Twitter or Facebook post almost immediately.  Much faster than most tv or radio or newspaper outlets can scramble a reporter to the scene.

Case in point.  

A month ago I was in Longmont at the Seagate facility.  While I was there, a plane towing a glider ran into another glider, resulting in a grizly crash that killed three.  The glider being towed managed to land safely.  I received a tweet on my iPhone notifying me of the crash and that roads outside of Boulder had been closed.  The Tweet came from KCNC in Denver, but it also noted that the information came from an individual on the scene, someone not working as a reporter. 

Within minutes of the crash, a Denver TV station had photos and eyewitness information without having to send out a single reporter.  In this instance, social media helped a traditional media outlet break the news within minutes of the event.

Certainly, traditional media outlets have to be careful, very careful when dealing with information being posted by the general public.  There is no editor, there is no ability to know whether the information is true or accurate until the news station does its own follow up.  However, most of the time, this kind of follow up can be done simply by placing a couple of phone calls. 


What this means to you.

For small business owners and non-profits, this new symbiotic relationship between social media and traditional news outlets means you can get a jump on pitching related stories.  For instance, let's say you use a program like Yoono to keep track of your social media postings on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. 

Suddenly, you see a post pop up with some breaking news about a deadly shooting between neighbors resulting from a festering dispute.  You just received this information and it's likely the TV stations just received it as well.  The TV stations haven't yet reported on it because, A) it's hours before their scheduled newscast, and B) they are probably still in the process of confirming the story.

Now let's say you run a non-profit tht specializes in conflict management.  This is a great opportunity to drop your local news outlets an email stating who you are and how you can provide insight and analysis to their coverage of this tragic event. 

You have just made the job easier for producers, editors and reporters.  Now, if the story is confirmed, they already have a resource they can use to help advance the story for their next broadcast.  You have helped the local TV and radio stations get ahead of the story instead of simply report on it.  You have also now made yourself known to local journalists who may come to you again for future stories.

Social media and traditional media can be friends, to completely butcher a line from the musical "Oklahoma".  News outlets are already figuring out how to use social media to enhance their coverage.  But they also know that social media really can only do so much to provide information and breaking news.  Traditional news outlets know that their job is changing to provide even more analysis and insight to their reporting and in many cases are using social media to get ahead of the news, rather than chase it. 

This means that as a small business owner or non-profit, you should be doing the same thing.  You can get the same social media feeds newsrooms get.  By watching these posts regularly, it can help you come to the aid of a newsroom as an expert or analyst.  It also means that while using social media can positively impact your bottom line, it still doesn't work in a vacuum. 

Your social media efforts should work hand in hand with your traditional PR efforts.  There is still a credibility and reach provided by traditional news outlets that you should be taking advantage of.  If you're not including PR and local news outlets in your planning, then your missing a key component.

And if that's the case, you will likely be going the way of the radio star in that classic Buggles song. 

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