When Newspaper Execs Talk Social Media

I haven’t been in Washington for most of the last week on vacation, but there was one story that was hard to avoid throughout my reader and streams from back in the District: the backlash against new social media policies for Washington Post reporters. The long and the short of it is that the journalists who use these sources must treat their new, unfiltered mouthpieces as they would an edited, long-form story; that is, they must continue to embrace neutrality and fact-based reporting as the only ethical way to talk about the news.

The anger arises from those who look uphold the core of “social” media: it is unabashed about its biases, uncowardly about its  uncouth behavior. The social channel of media, the one that we create and the one in which the audience says who is the authority, relies more than anything on transparency. Those who are almost to devoid of opinion or commentary, because of the rote simplicity of these channels, are as suspicious as those who let their lack-of-neutrality fly high.

The question becomes what to make of a policy that almost neuters the essence of this form of communication.

When it comes to an insider of old media and its changes, one of the first sources I turn to is usually Howard Kurtz. The fact that he’s with the Post made it even more likely to flip over to his page to see where he came down on these policies:

Not to put a damper on a great fuss, but I think this is entirely reasonable. I don’t see it as a corporate attempt to crush creativity and sap the soul. People follow journalists on Twitter and Facebook because they’re interested in what the person writes, blogs or says on television. We can’t pretend we’re random people who can just pop off at will.

No one is saying we can’t engage on these sites, or that some Post editor has to provide tweet-by-tweet approval.

I think there’s plenty of running room to be insightful and entertaining — within the confines of 140 characters — and engage in dialogue with people who care about politics and journalism.

Translation: wet blanket.

The move, as explained in Andrew Alexander’s (WaPo Ombudsman) piece this morning, is to preserve neutrality and credibility. He even goes as far to site examples of a reporter who used Twitter to make statements about the political viability and circumstances of health care reform issues.

To both of these men, here’s what I say: tough.

We are not in an age where distant reporters are what people ask for. Yes, Mr. Alexander, you will continue to get people who send you e-mails each week complaining about a newspaper’s bias. However, the difference is that the audience finally has a way to “change the channel” of print media, so do what you can to keep your audience focused on you (hey, it may even drive Web traffic!) No one wants to follow a bland person who just links to their own content. Engaging is important – albeit risky because it requires transparency – and it is a must-take proposition.

You actually have an opportunity to show that your reporters are human, that they have opinion and willing to engage in smart conversation. Why would you throw that away?

Image: Brian Lane Winfield Moore’s “Loose Tweets Sink Fleets” via Flickr

News Aggregators Have A Good Day

A couple of developments on the news aggregator front today that will have a chance to play out over the next days.

Item number one: for 12 years, Slate Magazine (owned by the Washington Post) has run one of the oldest “aggregators” of news content through a section called, “Today’s Papers.”  It’s gone, as noted in this morning’s Times, and replaced with something that Slate’s editors hope reflects the changing news cycle. The Slatest will be updated three times a day and also highlights the Twitter streams from columnists.

Check this screenshot and look how Slate is filling out the page to bring in revenue on the thrice-daily updated page:

News Aggregators Have A Good Day

The move is designed to fit better with the new news flow that is not contingent on just morning papers, but on an ever moving cycle that goes far beyond those daily headlines. As Editor David Plotz wrote in an announcement post earlier today:

Overnight, newspapers launch the news. They publish stories clarifying the events of yesterday; they break their own investigative stories; they print zeitgeist-defining feature articles and op-eds. The morning brings Phase 2, when Web media reacts to the news. Bloggers and other sites respond to the news that broke overnight, and newsmakers push back against or try to exploit these stories. Phase 3, the buildup, comes in the afternoon, as the events of the day unfold—congressional action, a presidential gaffe, turmoil in Asia. The media break this news, and analyze how it fits together with yesterday’s top stories. Opinion makers try to shape how the day’s events will play on the night’s cable shows and in tomorrow’s newspapers. The next morning, it all starts over again.

I’m a Slate fan, so I like the move from both a content and awareness of the news cycle standpoint. I think with smart sponsor recruitment, there could be a marginal amount of revenue for the Washington Post Co. if they continue to be non-intrusive with placements while providing good real estate to advertisers. This is a decently captive audience that is just narrow enough that a spotlight on the right group could sink in.

Is the future of the media something closer to Slate than WaPo? Blue sky notion: if you take WaPo’s bureaus and tuck them into the outward looking Slate model, you would have something closer to where the newspaper/journalism world needs to get to online. To me, it seems very much like a battle of the brands and institutions that is keeping the line drawn very clearly in the sand. Dealing with an ad is a small price to pay for me to get a nice overview of content, and this is a lot of rich content from dozens of places.

On the other end of the Internet media sphere, there’s a new little feature buried in Google News. “Interesting Reads,” as first noted by Google Operating System, is beginning to populate the server in a new way: recommend news items from the search giant. It’s certainly a hodge-podge of things from New York politics to Facebook, but there’s an outside chance that this becomes a lot more (Google’s Meme tracker, or even, agenda setter?). From GOS:

It’s not exactly Arts & Letters Daily, but it’s an interesting departure from Google’s goal of aggregating and clustering news stories.

As some commenters noted on that post, though, this is still very much a beta and potentially a big step for the Google beast to try and set the zeitgeist intentionally instead of letting it happen by way of search trends. While some joke that Google is a media company by accident of collecting, this would be a prized possession of links and what is displayed may trump even Twitter trends as Google says what should be discussed, not what is being (or has been) talked about recently.

Just remember, don’t be evil…


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