Media organisations are still barely getting their heads around social media. They look at a conversation and see ‘vox pops’; they look at a community and see a market. They ask for ‘Your pictures’ and then complain when they get 1000 images of a mild snowfall.
They ghettoise viewers into 60 second slots at the end of the news bulletin, or ‘Have Your Say’ sections on the website. They can see the use of blogs and Twitter when they can’t access a disaster area and are desperate for news, but the rest of the time complain that they’re ‘only for geeks’ or ‘full of rumour’. And they advertise, when they should socialise.
So my first wish for 2009 is that media organisations stop complaining and start building the frameworks for a genuine participatory media. If they want good quality blogs, then show people how to blog. If they want to be able to spot breaking news, then show people how to Twitter. If they want user generated content then provide training.
The rewards are clear: if you teach a man to fish, they not only eat for a lifetime, but you’ve just created a market for fishing rods, bait and angling magazines. When the story breaks, they come to you. And if news organisations are hoping to replace the thousands of journalists they’re losing with user generated content, they need to be investing in that or that ‘workforce’ will go elsewhere.
So here’s my second wish: go offline.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned about social media and online communities is that meeting someone in person is a more effective way of building relationships than any other. Online, the interesting stories will find me. The really interesting stories are offline, in the places where people don’t blog, and in 2009 I’d like to see those stories in a place where people can search for them.
There are some encouraging signs: in the Midlands, Trinity Mirror is giving multimedia reporters a web-enabled mobile phone and wifi laptop and sending them out of the office, reversing the office-bound trend of recent decades. Reuters and Gannett have been experimenting with similar forms of mobile phone journalism. And I’ve been working on a project – Help Me Investigate.com – which aims to give an online presence – and power – to offline voices.
My sister has never owned a computer, doesn’t work with one, and has no interest in technology. This week I found out she is social networking via her mobile phone. For me that is more significant than any number of stories about Twitter and the Mumbai attacks. We are barely at the start of an enormous change in how we communicate as a society, a change which is already meeting resistance from entrenched powers.
My 3rd wish is that 2009 sees that change take a proactive move in a democratic direction. Conversation is good, but if I’m always listening to the same people, I’ll never learn anything.