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Media around the world are debating the value of opinion and the role it plays in their editorial mix. Time was, the front page of a newspaper was sacrosanct. No editorial or column was to appear on such valued real estate. The idea was that by relegating opinion to clearly delineated areas of a publication, such as the back pages, then readers could read the “fair, objective” news coverage and then refer to opinion as a second option.
But that got boring, and as readers fled the staid newspapers of the past, journalists began experiment with placing columns and editorials in all sorts of places, including on the front page. Of course, these columns were clearly labeled, so readers could discern the difference between straight news and opinion.
But that got boring and now media are competing with each other for top-notch talent able to unleash opinion on a moment’s notice. And this opinion is flung far and wide, on front pages, special sections, websites, blogs, Twitter and other social media.
And that is not boring. Far from it. It is exhilarating and dangerous, informative and damaging.
Arthur Brisbane addressed this topic recently when explaining changes in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section, now called Sunday Review. The change, he note, “marks a decided turn toward more opinion journalism.”
We took note of this rush to opinion journalism at the end of 2010 in predicting that publications would make changes enhancing point-of-view journalism.
David Kaplan of Paid Content attributes the desire to insert more opinion journalism as a driving force behind changes at Reuters.com, as well as Bloomberg and Dow Jones.
“Bloomberg, Reuters and Dow Jones have been working diligently on becoming more “consumer facing,” that is, appealing to wider professional audience than the financial markets professionals who subscribe to their respective services. The feeling is that as the business of news is flattened on the web, where traditional print brands are effectively rendered equal in terms of distribution and reach, these financial information companies can expand their presence to both readers and advertisers, thereby enhancing their core services.
"That’s why Reuters has gone on such a hiring binge and has been aiming for prestigious journalism prizes with its long-form “enterprise reporting” and hiring star reporters like the New York Times’ Rohde. It’s also why Bloomberg hired former NYT op-ed editor David Shipley and one-time Clinton Administration-era Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin to run its opinion features.”
But taken to its extreme, there is a real danger to mixing the power of media with a strong, albeit clearly stated, point of view. And for a sample of extreme media, look to the disarray among the liberal and conservative newspapers in the U.K.
On Sunday, Rupert Murdoch closed one of the oldest and highest selling newspapers in the U.K., The News of the World, after allegations that the paper illegally eavesdropped on the phone messages of murder and terror victims, politicians and celebrities.
The media in Great Britain are known for over-the-top slanted reporting and exceedingly aggressive reporting tactics. The News of the World took these to an extreme that has damaged reputations, put hundreds out of work and ended an institution.
Howard Kurtz, who left the Washington Post for the Daily Beast because he wanted more freedom to express his opinion, wrote today that the U.S. media may not be far behind the U.K.’s tabloid.
So as media rush to herald “opinion-based journalism” watch for those who slip from publishing more point-of-view information to abusive, obnoxious and potentially illegal practices. To see how quickly this shift can occur, just ask former commentator Mark Halperin.
Keep today's front page someplace safe and dry. Go to the nearby supermarket, drug store or newstand/newspaper box and buy extra copies. Newspapers around the country tore up their front pages on severe deadline last night and captured a point in time you will want to remember in the years to come. Here are a some of the resulting front pages, some from around the world. Here is some more.
Say what you want about newspapers' struggle, but they do one thing better than any other medium: They capture history, one sliver at a time.
Yes, you can get fantastic coverage of Osama bin Laden's death at a variety of news web sites. But can you easily preserve the news in images you can show your children, your grandchildren?
Yes, Twitter broke the news of bin Laden's death, even the attack on his compound, before mainstream media, but does a single tweet, even a series of tweets, capture the scope of an event?
In our basement, my children will one day find front pages from 9/11, the Iraq war, the election of our nation's first black president, and more. (I must admit that they also will need to sift through some more mundane articles, although I was proud of them when I wrote them!)
So sure, newspapers are struggling to remain relevant. But today, as you review front pages from across the country and around the world, that struggle seems slightly reduced.
The best newspapers surprise as well as inform. The New York Times performed both duties Sunday when a prominent article questioned the role highly acclaimed “Washington pundits” play in forming public opinion.
Adam Nagourney asked whether the nation’s leading columnists, many of whom work for the New York Times, have they been supplanted as influencers by those who tweet, blog and podcast.
Nagourney examined the public’s response to President Obama’s speech on the Gulf oil spill. Even though pundits declared the speech a failure, President Obama’s approval rating barely nudged.
“Tracking influences on public opinion has become greatly complicated now that the once-exclusive club (of pundits) has been joined by the vast multitudes blogging or posting Twitter updates or otherwise opining online,” Nagourney wrote.
He pointed out that those who tweet initiate opinion and analysis during an event such as the president’s speech. Waiting for the entire event to conclude before rendering an opinion ignores the power of the real-time tweet.
“Elite opinion still matters, but the Beltway chattering class no longer has a monopoly on influencing public opinion,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told Nagourney. “On any given day, a blogger, a local reporter or someone on Faceboook or Twitter can be as influential.”
Of course, plenty of bloggers and tweeters respond to columns the “pundits” produce, as well. Even as their influence is subsumed in the social media world, pundits help drive the nation’s commentary agenda.
So, does this mean the “pundits” who write for the New York Times, Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal have they lost their penache? Or are they simply fanning the flames in a different forum?
From the hilarious to the sobering, here are some perspectives helping us look back on the events that dominated the news and the media in 2009.
Google Wave and the newsroom from Leah Betancourt of Mashable: Newsrooms are experimenting with this melding of real time reporting and social media platforms.
Uncle Jay explains: Jay Gilbert, a longtime Cincinnati radio personality, offers a creative and funny take on the year’s events. Uncle Jay is always worth a laugh.
Reflections of a Newsosaur reflects on mass newspaper closings: Alan Mutter, businessman, journalist and consultant, details the closings of more than 140 papers, but then ends with a section titled, “The irrepressible optimism of publishers.”
More reflecting, this time on what people talked about on Twitter: Chris Crum breaks out by sector the top topics on Twitter. Iran’s election, Michael Jackson, Harry Potter and American Idol lead their respective categories.
David Carr’s review of the year in newspapers: The New York Times’ media columnist has a great line about the future moves newspapers need to make: “So what is the next step? Not to go all Mary Poppins, but with a little bit of pluck, I think the media industry can work from here.”
Joe Strupp’s review of 2009 in newspapers:Strupp’s Editor & Publisher is threatening to close in 2010 after more than 100 years in publication. This gives you an idea of his list of top 10 media events in 2009.
This is just a sample of the 2009 reviews circulating. If you have others to share, send us a link.
One of the fun things to do at this time of year is to reconnect with old friends, joke about the good times and the events of the past year and scoff about the predictions for the year to come.
I had the opportunity recently to catch up with an old friend who has remained in the newspaper business. This friend, let’s call him Mike, largely because that’s his name, has refrained from using Twitter, or other social media. As we spoke, he bragged about recording my contact information on a Rolodex card, rather than electronically. Keep in mind that Mike is an accomplished journalist. He has a Pulitzer Prize to his name. For Mike, journalism is a passion and a craft meant to serve the public. If you want to reach him, pick up the phone, or perhaps type an email on a good day. Never tweet.
Mike likely missed the CNN story this week focusing on the top viral videos of the year from YouTube.com. Susan Boyle led the pack with more than 120 million views! What Mike would give for that kind of readership, I can only imagine.
Which brings us to one of the top questions of the year in journalism. Will readers pay for online content? A Boston Consulting Group survey found that “consumers are willing to spend small monthly sums to receive news on their personal computers and mobile devices. In a survey of 5,000 individuals conducted in nine countries, BCG found that the average monthly amount that consumers would be prepared to pay ranges from $3 in the United States and Australia to $7 in Italy, according to the Center for Media Research at Media Post.
A pay-for-online-content business concept appears inevitable.
So here are a few predictions for 2010:
Susan Boyle will not repeat as the top viral video, but the winner’s numbers will exceed 120 million.
More newspapers will close, but still more will turn the corner and begin to grow revenue. A large part of this growth will come from a variety of pay-for-content plans on the Web.
As for my friend, Mike? He will get a Twitter account. And I will follow him!
You can’t help but be drawn to a headline like this: “The Future of News Has Nothing To Do With Newspapers”
The headline, and the ensuing post, can be found on the Huffington Post’s relatively new technology page.
The author is Daniel Lyons, who writes a blog under the pseudonym, Fake Steve Jobs. In the post/rant, the FSJ argues that technology has outpaced the ability of journalists—particularly newspaper journalists—to provide content that will support the cool technology being developed for the media. His comments are based on the buzz swirling around Apple’s Tablet, a rumored product designed to provide newspaper and other content on a cool portable device. Here is a Mashable article on the Tablet. Keep in mind that Apple has not confirmed the Tablet exists. But that did not stop FSJ.
“We’re talking about an entirely new way to convey information, one that incorporates dynamic elements (audio, video) with static elements (text, photos) plus the ability for the audience to become content creators, not just content consumers.
“The funny thing is that the publishing guys still refer to themselves (as) the “creative” side of the business—even though they’re probably the least creative people I’ve ever met.”
Of course, there is a kernal of truth in FSJ’s diatribe. Newspapers, and journalists in general, are struggling to create information in a variety of new forms that will attract large numbers of readers/viewers/tweeters as well as advertisers.
Now consider the controversy over the Washington Post’s social media guidelines release recently. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz relays a reasonable list of requirements for the social media activities of Post reporters.
Kurtz quotes from the standards: “When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism. . . .
“Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.”
Kurtz is right, of course, when he describes these limitations as “reasonable.” Most journalists would not want to compromise their credibility through an ill-worded tweet. Put in that light, none of us would. In this blog, I represent my employer, Dix & Eaton. It would be careless and foolish of me to write something that would reflect poorly on myself, or the firm.
So why the debate over the Post’s restrictions?
Journalists use the new technology of social media to spread information quickly, to seek out new sources, to supplement their work in print or on a Web site and to interact with readers. As simple as this sounds, the dynamics can become complicated. And, as Kurtz points out, media ethics must be maintained.
But the angst also is indicative of newspaper’s unease with social media. And that feeds FSJ’s frustration.
As he writes in the Huffington Post: “My guess is that the truly revolutionary content is not going to come from the old-guard publishers. It’s going to come from new guys, kids who have grown up digital….
“Somewhere out there, a genius is waiting to be discovered—the Orson Welles of digital media, someone who will create an entirely new language for storytelling.”
If you still question the power of the media, or the role of social media in societal debate, take the temperature of firestorm U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson unleashed upon himself last night.
It was rather surreal. There was President Obama speaking to a rare joint session of Congress, when suddenly, a member of that legislative body yelled, “You lie!”
The reaction was immediate, and negative. After the speech, I went online to see who had violated the sacred congressional decorum. The New York Times was blogging the speech live, and mentioned the event on its home page. But no name. Minutes later, I learned from CNN that the suspected screamer was Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina.
It was clear Wilson was in for a very rough time.
Now if Wilson had chosen to make his outburst, say, two years ago, the transgression would have made news, been posted on Web sites and fed cable and radio talk shows for at least a day or two. But now, with the power and proliferation of social media, with mainstream media striving to keep up the pace, the duration of Wilson’s coverage may be no longer, but the intensity promises to be withering.
Here is CNN’s coverage of the social media “conversation.”
Here is a sample of tweets form just one hour this morning. I can only quote a few. Such is the crass nature of much of the commentary.
“There ought to be a reprimand or censure of Rep. Joe Wilson to discourage that kind of conduct in the future.” @SenArlenSpector, 10:36 a.m.
“Really think that the House of Representatives should censor Joe Wilson for his childish outburst at President Obama’s speech last night.” @paxki, 11:18 a.m.
“Rep. Joe Wilson, ‘You Lie,’ no true words ever spoken. Stay strong Rep. Wilson, way to stand for what you believe in.” @andrewjward, 11:19 a.m.
“Donations to Joe Wilson’s D opponent—Rob Miller—now over $200K since ‘You Lie’ ” The Fix, 11:32 a.m.
“I’m a proud veteran. I’m stunned that Joe Wilson yelled at the President. This is a symptom the problems within our political establishment.” @DonnieBrainard, 11:39 a.m
Wilson himself has a Twitter account, @CongJoeWilson, but for some reason, it was not active today.
By the end of the day, Wilson had apologized. Here is the New York Times’ coverage of the apology.
Is Wilson prepared for the vitriol he started? You be the judge. Here is how he looked on MSNBC.
There is no doubt Wilson’s life will be hot for a while. A glance at the mainstream media headlines reveals the obvious. But for those who doubt the power of 140-character tweets, or Facebook discussions, or IReports on CNN, or news aggregators such as RealClearPolitics, well, just ask Wilson. You can direct message him on Twitter, if he hasn’t closed his account.
It’s a common question: Can social media save——-? You fill in the blank. Can social media save newspapers? Magazines? Mainstream media in general?
The real essence of this question is, can social media techniques make mainstream media more profitable?
And just which techniques are most effective? All of them?
These questions are challenging journalists worldwide, as they strive to produce stories and reports that go viral, stimulate conversation and make a connection.
John A. Byrne, editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com, provides a valuable glimpse into this strategy in an interview with Ben LaMothe, a blogger with Econsultancy.
“What journalism needs to become in this digital age is a process that embraces and involves your audience at every level, from idea generation to reporting and sourcing and finally to the publication of the article when the journalism then becomes an intellectual camp fire around which you gather an audience to have a thoughtful conversation about the story’s topic,” Byrne told LaMothe.
Byrne also reported that BusinessWeek now has more than 60 journalists on Twitter. The magazine and Web site engage readers in numerous venues, encourage a dialogue with the public and invite them to take a subject viral.
Speaking of going viral, Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times offered another example this week of content so compelling and controversial, that it enjoyed a digital takeoff. Her article examined the demographics of Twitter, and she reached a surprising conclusion. I won’t ruin it for you, but suffice to say, a certain younger generation was not happy with the result.
Here is just one example of the conversation Miller’s one article triggered. The Twittersphere also had plenty of commentary on the article. Think the New York Times didn’t benefit from the numerous links and references to Miller’s article? Miller generated the type of interaction Byrne refers to in his interview.
Also this week, Brian Tierney, the man trying to keep Philadelphia’s two newspapers afloat, discussed that he is going to depend, at least in part, on social media to assist.
“Tierney, a newbie publisher but longtime PR whiz, launched a campaign with full-page ads, buttons, a Twitter account and a Facebook page to drum up public support to keep the Inquirer and Daily News under local ownership,” wrote the Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmunds.
So, is all this energy, hope and even angst over social media warranted? This fast-moving video titled “Is Social Media a Fad?” addresses the question as it provides a powerful grasp of the growing power of digital communications.
So, what is your favorite social media technique in the mainstream media. Or, better yet, what technique do you think the media ought to utilize better?
Speaking of social media, some former colleagues of the Boca Raton News reached out to me backchannel after my blog post on the demise of our Palm Beach County, Fla., paper. Nice to hear from old friends who have moved on. Many remain in journalism, and that is a good thing.
1986: My first magical, energizing newspaper job. General assignment reporter at the Boca Raton News. Determined to become a great writer, win awards and help improve the community.
Realized newspapers were in a struggle to attract readers and remain relevant. Learned how to write for, and at times, touch the community. Won a few awards.
1991: Accepted a job as night metro editor at the Akron Beacon Journal. Excited about working at the first Knight Ridder Newspaper.
Met my future wife. Helped the paper win a Pulitzer Prize for public service while it changed Akron just a bit. Realized the newspaper industry was in a fight for its future. Survived the sale of Knight Ridder, and the resale of the Beacon Journal. Accepted a buyout.
2006: Entered the world of PR and was pleased to join Dix & Eaton. Excited about embarking on a second career. Concerned about colleagues struggling to reinvent journalism.
— Boca Raton News closes.
—Former colleagues at the Indianapolis Star face some tough contract numbers today.
—Media who use Twitter. Even an audio interview on how one journalist uses Tweets on the job.
In 1986, the world of journalistic promise was filled with such wonder.
Today, the feisty little Boca newspaper is no more.
Journalists use 140-character messages as a reporting-communicating-fact checking cool tool.
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Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times wrote a fascinating article on how social media such as Twitter has changed how businesses get out the word on their new products or start-up operations.
Miller portrays how through a start-up company called Wordnik used Twitter, Digg and other social media outlets such as bloggers, to alert hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people about its existence. This, without communicating with one major mainstream media outlet. In fact, professional jouralsiists were not involved in any of the initial coverage.
“The publicity sent 40,000 people to Wordnik’s Web site to perform 170,000 searches the following week and caught the attention of reporters at USA Today and The Wall Street Journal who hoped to write articles.” Interesting use of “hope.”
Even with social media tools, Brooke Hammerling, a PR professional widely quoted in the Sunday article, says business relationships remain the key to successful contacts with the media.
Is this so?