Saturday, November 12, 2011

Social Media and Future Newsrooms

Over the last couple of years, there has been much debate about the role of social media and citizen journalism in newsrooms. The topics of debate range from the broadcasting unverified content to use of twitter photos and video feeds by large media corporations without permission. One thing is for certain, given the power and impact social media has on the general public, it is not a question of whether it should be integrated in newsroom, but rather how best to do it.

Recently, the BBC has been experimenting with some new formats for live coverage. Their trials are showing an interesting balance of traditional correspondent copy complemented with social media feeds from twitter, video clips, images and links across to related topics on the web. As is largely standard there is also an area for visitors to comment on the topic at hand. In all, the approach is definitely in the right direction and there is plenty of positive feedback given that this model in some form or other has been running for quite a while.

Given my experience with political blogging, the one area that appears to be still rather underdeveloped is that of interactivity. By this I mean not just publishing popular tweets or related facebook updates, but rather somehow allowing that social network to engage directly with both correspondents and other users through the news site. Very few readers actually wind up commenting and interacting on the news site and this is unlikely to change unless newsrooms integrate themselves more tightly with social media applications.

To prevent this getting too theoretical, here are some examples of what I believe with take newsrooms to the next level in terms of their service offering:

  1. Introduce interactive polls - these have been proven to be popular as even lazy users seem compelled to voice their opinion with a couple of clicks on blog posts (rather thank writing a full comment which is too much work)

  2. Creating mini-sites on breaking news - not just a news live coverage page, but rather a structured site of 10 or so pages including correspondent and public blogposts on the subject.

  3. Ranking of social media content - lots in the social media space is junk. It is largely impractical for broadcasters to screen all of it before publishing. So why not publish the stream and allow users to rank individual contributions. This will ensure the cream of articles on the topic rises to the top.

  4. Possibly more difficult to manage in terms of quality and appropriateness, one idea might be to allow users to upload their content - photos and video clips to the breaking news page more easily. These would then be screened for appropriateness and published by the moderator team.

  5. Encourage feed subscriptions to that news topic/ mini-site - this will make the mini-site/ breaking news pages more sticky. Suddenly this makes the broadcaster become a one stop shop for professional journalism, citizen journalism and a meter of public sentiment.. a valuable offering since news junkies have to likely go to quite a few different sites in order to build themselves a more complete picture.

  6. Develop an online journal that can be referenced - In my opinion, broadcasters have a unique opportunity to create an invaluable public resource - almost like a Wiki on a topical news subject. Most broadcasters do this already but it's published in a disjointed way - a blog post on history, a news article about the potential consequences, a public opinion page (like BBC's World Have Your Say, for example), etc. - and each of these are typically in different parts of the site that make it practically impossible to navigate to with just a a click.

So imagine if the events of this year around Libya we to be reported with the above ideas implemented. Readers would access a Libyan Uprising mini-site linked to from news pages etc. There would be tabs on that mini-site like: History; Latest news (accompanied by social feeds); Public opinion/ articles; Going Forward.

If structured properly, the mini-site would become an online journal on that breaking news subject - one that will be referenced long after the next news flavour of the month takes hold.

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In other news, South Africa seems to have been taken by surprise by the Julius Malema suspension decision this week. For once, it looks like his gamble on civil disobedience, has not paid off although it is still early days according to many political analysts in South Africa. The appeal process for the suspension decision may well extend into next year through to the ANC conference (in which Jacob Zuma would be under threat this time, just as Mbeki was a few years ago).

Given the South African political environment right now as well as Malema's backers (notably Tokyo Sexwale and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela), I would be more inclined to try my luck at a South African online casino, an international one over here, or simply even buy lottery ticket online than to bet on Julius Malema disappearing from the South African political landscape. He is just far too valuable a media resource in so many different ways.

Julius is probably single-handedly responsible for boosting newspaper sales, prime time advertising cost on TV and a proliferation of blog posts covering the impending doom of South Africa. This is one area where citizen journalism would need to be heavily screened before publication! I do wonder if the SABC would publish a mini-site on Malema - no doubt it would be a seriously popular destination!

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