Adapting to web 2.0 for traditional media brands

Today’s post will loosely pull together three very good pieces on Web 2.0 and the media and draw some probably spurious conclusions that will be nowhere near as good as those in the original posts. Probably.

Firstly, Paul Bradshaw’s extended piece on how local news is changing[1], which nicely sums up the challenges facing all media, but especially local media. There’s an especially pertinent point when he mentions Google’s Super Tuesday election mashup with Twitter and YouTube.

News, and news innovations, are no longer the sole preserve of traditional media companies and anybody going into the traditional end of the media, be it print or broadcast, needs to recognise the landscape has changed. The online startups and established brands may not always get their experiments right but it’ll only take one of them to hit upon an easy and popular idea and the whole industry could be playing catch up.

It doesn’t hurt to experiment with mapping, mashups, wikis, widgets, vodcasts, podcasts and, yes, even online video content and bulletins. The important part is remember not to do them for the sake of being able to do them, but thinking about how this will resonate with regular users of the website as well as drawing in new users and strengthening the brand online.

Getting it right isn’t an easy science and not every experiment will work. But in any media, be a national magazine or broadcaster, or a local paper or radio station, it’s vital to have somebody on board who is naturally interested in keeping track of Web 2.0 developments, like the Google/Twitter/YouTube mashup, and going: “Hey. We could adapt this for our readership.”

All of which brings me nicely to Roy Greenslade’s response to Bradshaw’s post, who also emphasises the need for investment and experimentation. His conclusions are spot on:

“Journalism is being reborn online and it requires total dedication.

It’s the failure of owners to recognise this fact that is holding back development. I applaud all the regional groups that have spent money on new kit. I am less willing to cheer them for viewing investment in kit as a substitute for investment in human beings. In this transitory stage, with papers being published on separate platforms, more staff are required.

If we want reporters to be innovative, to push the boundaries by finding new ways of engaging online audiences, then they must be given the time and space to experiment. Unless owners catch on, they may find people drifting off to non-newspaper websites.”

Finally, a slight tangent [2] from teacher Will Patterson aka J. Arthur McNumpty on teaching blogging in schools, but one that I’ll misappropriate towards journalistic endeavours.

Patterson’s main points – that blogging is a difficult thing to teach and there’s a danger of turning it into a chore; a weekly exercise – could just as easily be applied to teaching blogging to journalists or journalists-in-training.

There’s no question that journalism courses or training should include a significant element on utilising online journalism but it shouldn’t be taught as a series of tick boxes.

Most places I’ve worked, I’ve been an evangelist for blogging, encouraging colleagues to get online and get blogging. Similarly, during my postgraduate training we were required to set up a blog and update it at least every week.

The same problem quickly became apparent in both my evangelising and on the course. You got those who, for want of a better word, ‘got’ blogging and started posting on a regular basis. You got those who didn’t see the point and ended up posting nothing at all. And you got those who kind of understood that it was something they needed to know about but weren’t quite sure what to do with it, so ended up posting in a very formal structure, ticking all the boxes that were required but not saying anything very much and, ultimately and through no real fault of their own, not creating particularly interesting content. Many probably got fed up and joined the not bothered category.

Conclusion: You can take a journalist to a keyboard but you can’t make them blog.

I’m not going to pull out some wonder-solution to teaching blogging, or at least understanding blogging, because I’m not entirely sure how I’d go about it myself. Blogging’s partly about finding your own voice and in formalised settings its not always easy to do this.

The only way that immediately springs to mind, is a bit of coaxing towards storytelling behind the story by tapping into the enthusiasm for what the would-be-blogger was originally employed to do – journalism.

Some of the best posts I’ve seen have been from infrequent bloggers who’ve been out to a story or event and want to share what they’ve been to or seen, but are restricted by space in their traditional outlet. Hence turning to blogging to add depth and context to the story from a personal perspective – a little like an online version of From Our Own Correspondent.

If you’ve got somebody who’s genuinely excited by an aspect of their work, then employers should give them the online means to do this – it works much better than the formal: “This is a blog and this is how to blog.” It’s still probably nowhere near the best way to push media people into the Web 2.0 world, but it’s as good a starting point as any.

[1] A shorter version can be found at journalism.co.uk

[2] Via this week’s Britblog Roundup.

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