A few of us recently attended an event on the Future of News and Social Media, put on by News UK (one of our partners) as part of its News 3.0 series in Charlotte Street, London.
The event was a lively conversation between Times journalists Caitlin Moran and David Aaronovitch - the former a big personality with a big voice and charming laugh, tongue in cheek, roguish ideas tripping off her lips - the latter also a big personality, but a more serious, studious one with what you could call a traditional view of journalism.
Somehow, through their hour of poking fun at, but also thoughtfully evaluating, how social media is impacting the future of news, they highlighted some credible points. The starting premise, which I agreed with, is that the kinds of readers or 'audiences' that matter engage on Twitter because they want to be involved in the national conversations that matter to them. That urge to be proactive, to listen and talk, is far more possible by the very nature of news on Twitter being social: it's already being served to you, curated for you by your social circle, so you're a lot more comfortable to speak up in that circle - as well as a lot more likely to pay attention to what's being said, rather than buying it in the paper the next day.
The breaking of news on Twitter rather than in newspapers, or even on the websites of newspapers, is a fact. We all live with that fact now - embracing it, in most instances, collectively and wholly. What this means is that the role of traditional media (TV, newspapers) is to take a step back from what is being said in social environments and take a more analytical approach. This approach should be one that curates the facts, the news and the data and formulates the best judgement, the most authoritative take on what's happening in real time. Social now serves the function: what's happening? This leaves 'news' to serve the function: what do we think about it?
Sources, on the other hand, are something that conscientious readers need to think carefully about, with the increasing ability of any personality to 'shout' down the social space. David Aaronovitch pointed out the value of specialist information sources (like blogs or special interest content) in the face of more and more self-termed 'authorities' hawking headlines via Twitter - adopting and adapting, but totally lacking the depth of perspective, resonance and reason that makes true insight so valuable.
Funnily enough, Aaronovitch mentioned, the role of journalism really hasn't changed. Journalism is content curation - it is data visualisation - it is aggregation of information. This is, actually, very 'old school' - and 'old school' is good. It's now just a matter of stepping all of that up - the trick lies in the expertise. The more expert the take, the more likely readers will be to follow the thinking of a journalist, even though they might already know the punch line.
We could say Twitter is the new global or national collective consciousness. Its real-time capabilities, and its use by journalists and media outlets worldwide, are certainly putting pressure on newspapers. However, it is time for newspaper publishers to recognise this as an opportunity - an opportunity to re-shape, re-think, re-strategize. If only, rather than printing stories that are mere echoes, shadows of what has already broken in our newsfeeds, they could provide real insight and angles, real thought and meat and clarity. Those in media, particularly print media, are certainly at a crossroads - can we make the leap to a more refined, analytical publishing methodology to keep print newspapers not only alive, but in demand, with our analysis?
If 'news' should do the analysing, then what about this special interest content, whose role has traditionally been just that? That is the space in which we operate - and specialist content must now enrich, enrich, enrich. What we are experiencing, participating in, and creating, is the new knowledge. It is layered - not uni-dimensional, not monolithic - but an increasing spiral of depth, detail and expertise that truly holds something for everyone. We just need to hope (or somehow ensure) that audiences don't stop at the headlines - and meanwhile that newspapers and specialist media sources can meet audiences halfway with top-notch content - if news, as we know it, is to hold firm and fast to the minds of our nations.
- Sabilah Eboo Alwani
Sabilah Eboo Alwani is Raconteur's Marketing & Communications Manager.