BBC Social Media Summit – joined journalistic forces analyse the new content phenomenon

In these times of insecurity, journalists urgently need to know what’s coming for their industry. Social media(SM) seems to be the answer. But the traditional media-makers aren’t quite able to put their finger on where exactly this phenomenon is going to take them.

People tweeted as fast as they thumbs would let them. See all the tweets under #bbcsms

That is why they all gathered at the first BBC Social Media Summit to look into the crystal ball of their experiences.

UK speakers representing ‘traditional media’ like the BBC or theguardian suggested a rather cautious approach to SM.

“This is all new stuff,” Peter Horrocks, of BBC Global News, said. “We are debating it and we need to define it,” he added.

Meg Pickard, head of digital engagement at theguardian, said: “Media have to support the idea that it is ok and even important to spend time on social media.”

“It is something that is easy to overlook: the idea that social media is something we do to and not with an audience,” Pickard emphasised – which, if she meant that in the literal sense, is a perspective that neglects the core functions of SM and underlines the still persisting self-image of traditional media as the gate keepers of news.

On the other hand she probably wanted to point out that other media (not theguardian) overlook the co-operative and linking function between SM and news desks.

However, during the course of the discussions journalists, bloggers and start-up people seemed to agree on a need of a role-re-definition for journalists as SM grows stronger.

Traditional media will have to find ways to further implement SM-content in their daily work, to interact with SM-sources in order to add value by providing context and explanations.

How traditional media use/ can use social media

Everyone on the summit was totally aware that SM cannot be ignored. “Numbers show that the penetration of social media is much higher than it was when TV and radio first started,” an audience member pointed out.

“If you’re going for a journalism job and you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account you might not get hired,” Raju Narisetti, Washington Post, said. And Peter Horrocks summed this up with “Today it is ‘tweet or die’ or ‘tweet or get sacked’.”

Having your Twitter name on the badge suddenly became a must.

Funnily, during the next discussion break everyone added their Twitter account to their little name badges to prove that they know what it is all about and probably would get hired after all.

Traditional media mainly use SM to drive traffic to their sites. “You can’t expect users to come to your website anymore. Your content has to be on Facebook,” Nasiretti said.

The start-ups proposed a more active kind of SM-use. “It is all about collaboration between sources and users,” Mark Little, founder of the SM based news agency “Storyful”, pointed out.

Mark Rock, inventor of the platform “Audioboo”, summed up the pattern with which traditional media approach SM in general: “First, media companies ignore a new trend, then they try to build their own version, then they fail and then they have to try and catch up.”

He added to this comment by pointing out that even though the BBC has won an award by using his platform they still refuse to have it embedded on their site.

Al Jazeera’s hands-on model of social media use

Esra Dogramaci told the summit that during the revolution in Egypt, Al Jazeera‘s coverage benefitted greatly from the use of ‘eyes and ears on the ground’ via sm.

That is why Al Jazeera created tutorials which are little ‘how-to’s for the use of SM. Also, they started to hand out Flip cameras.

“We decided to train people how to contribute content to our various platforms in order to give them a chance for their voice to be heard,” Dogramaci said.

In cases when journalists can’t access a place or situation, non-journalist SM-users are the only source.

Even though there were some sceptical voices from co-journalists as to whether it is right to encourage people to gather material in dangerous situations and probably endanger them of being arrested or hurt, Christian Payne, “Documentally”, said: “Handing out cameras is just like handing out phone numbers these days – it is a way to contact media and tell a story.”

Future trends

“There will be a time when Facebook will not send people to our websites anymore,” Nasiretti predicted. “Will we still be talking paywalls then?”

Nasiretti also made another vital point concerning the popularity of SM which could brighten up the glum picture journalists so often paint of their industry if they only embraced using it more: “It is a good time to be in journalism. People are consuming more journalism than ever.”

Alan Rusbridger, Editor in Chief if theguardian, proposed a change of terminology that really sums up how to deal with SM: “I think, we shouldn’t call it ‘social media’, we should call it ‘open media’.”

This would be opposed to ‘closed media’, the traditional media. That means: the concept of traditional media is to be a closed institution where professional journalists are in charge of news, while social media promote a democratic, immediate, un-moderated distribution and contribution to the news discourse.

Based on what I have heard and my own experiences, I think that traditional media will have to adapt to the force of SM and new media in general. They will have to open up a little and overcome the strangling fear of becoming superfluous one day.

Journalists will have to accept that in the future their role will change to that of context-providers, adding value to a story in whatever form it is delivered.

Read April Whitzman’s blog on the world of social media here.

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5 Responses to BBC Social Media Summit – joined journalistic forces analyse the new content phenomenon

  1. Sebastian says:

    Don’t worry, journalists will never be superfluous, it’s just that they might no longer be the ones collecting the pieces of a story. The way I see it, the problem with social media is that it’s too much information provided by too many different people – it’s hard to see the bigger picture if all you have is a huge stack of small ones. If, however, journalists think of themselves as ‘context providers’, they will still be the ones who arrange the bigger picture for us, because frankly, who wants to do this on their own, every day, with every news story popping up in social media?

    • Thanks for the very good summary, Sebastian. This is exactly how I feel about this whole situation. But, I think, it is going to take some more time until journalists can let go of their curent role (and egos) and become the context-providers they will need to be.

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