The New Journalism Rules: Learning to Fly in the Modern Mediasphere™

At first glance, The Naples (Fla.) Daily News web site looks like any other newspaper site: Articles include a local twist to a national story on declining home sales; a car crash that killed a local resident; and a cold front moving into the sunny Gulf Coast enclave of 20,000 retirees and not-so-idle rich.

But look deeper and you quickly learn that this is no ordinary newspaper web site: It is print gone wild. The site features online video, audio and podcasts; blogs and photo galleries; and news alerts about local high school football games delivered to subscribers’ mobile phones.

We have seen the future of news, and it is in South Florida – and, by the way, in Delaware, where the News Journal produces a daily, network broadcast quality video news show online; and it is in Columbia, Missouri, where the Missourian newspaper is available for download in PDF or QuickTime format, and the online “My Missourian” is produced almost entirely by local citizen journalists.

These are just some of the old media/new media marriages that, instead of diminishing the print product, actually enhance it with features not available in the version that lands on the driveway. And if newspapers are to survive in today’s Modern Mediasphere™, they need to embrace the “all media is multimedia” mantra, involve the news consumer and deliver the news in new, compelling, personal ways.

CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, “old media” is not dying – but it is changing.

•    According to the most recent Pew Internet Study, more than 50 million Americans get their news online each day, up from 27 million less than three years ago.

•    The New York Times combined its print and online newsrooms into one staff, smashing the wall between journalism old and new; USA Today followed suit;

•    The Los Angeles Times eliminated most of its daily stock market tables, rationalizing that most people nowadays go online for that information. And the paper just began offering daily summaries of news available only on its web site, directing readers to put down the paper and pick up the mouse for more information and special web-only features;

•    VCast from Verizon Wireless now delivers CNN, ESPN and NBC News daily to mobile phones, and live sporting events are coming soon.

Still not convinced? Just follow the money – according to an article in Red Herring magazine, while media giant Knight-Ridder’s traditional revenue rose 3.1 percent in 2005, revenue in its digital division grew nearly 55 percent. And venture capitalists have poured about 50 million dollars into new media companies that enable readers to organize, rank and edit the news within a kind of volunteer journalism co-op.

Social Media Rules
There obviously are many changes afoot, and big dollars to be had in the “zeros and ones” of digital data. But what we are seeing is not one media form replacing the other, but rather a sense of cooperation, mutual dependence, and excitement about the future of news.

Why else would The New York Times buy About.Com, a “non news” site? Maybe because “About” gives the Times’ content a consumer-focused kick – not to mention millions of new users. Other major “old media” companies now own pieces of the new media pie, from news aggregators like Topix.Net to job boards and online shopping portals.

The most intriguing “mashups” of old and new media, however, are the Web 2.0 social networks – sites where news from mainstream media, citizen journalists and bloggers is submitted, organized and voted on by thousands of amateur editors, also known as “the audience.”

Audience: The Missing Ingredient
The content of social news sites like Newsvine and Digg is not much different than that of traditional sites, except for one very important thing – the audience now has a voice. And, therefore, the content becomes both more powerful and personal.

The audience is as much a part of the mediasphere as anything else, with as much to say and, because of new publishing tools, the ability to say it and be heard.

This is what “old” media needs to focus on the most. Not technology or how to use the new tools of the web, although providing news in different ways such as video and podcasts, or via personalization like text messaging, is still critical to engage and attract today’s and tomorrow’s audiences.

What truly matters is the ability for media to listen, involve and engage these audiences, and the willingness to share the news with them. As a journalist you may write a story, but it doesn’t belong to you. And the more journalists who involve the audience before, during and after the process, the better those stories will be. Bloggers understand this – after all, blogging is all about sharing information and connecting with others. Journalists need to do the same.

Newspapers and mainstream broadcast media can’t survive without the online audiences made possible by social networks, and sites like Newsvine, Digg and even Google News can’t survive without the content and vast resources supplied by mainstream media news organizations.

There is room for both in the Modern Mediasphere — and as communicators and marketers, we now also need to put the audience front and center. We should have been doing this all along, but better late than never.













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