[Dais View of attendees at WeMedia, Miami. Photo by Shel]
I skipped the second day of the WeMedia conference yesterday to get home early and use a pillow to wage my battle against fatigue, a crippling ailment that is easily cured. JD Lasica has a wonderful wrap of Day #2. It kind of makes me wish I had stayed just to hear what young people had to say about their social media habits to many folk in the audience representing traditional media.
I was on the opening panel on social media, a subject very dear to my heart. I don't recall everything that was said, but Alice Eddie Backer of Global Voices live blogged the session and her post seems very accurate to me.
During our 90-minute town hall type discussion, there were at least three references to the "elephant in the room." I'm not quite certain just, which elephant we were discussing--big media vs. social media, the imminent death of media companies who depend on the arcane distribution methods attached to paper and one-way broadcast boxes. I'm not certain.
But in the discussion between our five-member panel and about 150-200 attendees from big media, academia and assorted other places, I kept hearing from people who claimed to understand the current transformational period which will probably culminate on the inevitable day that newspapers die. They used words like "allow" "brand extension" "control," "company initiative." These to me are words that have lost their fuzz, like some kids toy whose battery has run down.
It seemed to me that some members of this audience should worry much less about elephants and a lot more about being dinosaurs. After my talk, a representative of one of the most powerful media companies in the world told me, "every year, for three years, we gather together and talk such a good game about the changes we have to make. Then we go home and do almost nothing until the next WeMedia, when we gather together to talk a good game... ."
In the course of the day, there was much talk about the need for the senior editor who can filter and decide what people should see as news. They extolled their professionalism in making this decision, but the walkaway line of the day came from David Parmet, who observed that all this self-congratulations was going on on a day when a former WalMart employee who married well, then became widowed and then died herself dominated American news pages and programs throughout the land. So much, it seemed to some attendees, for the discipline and wisdom of the news gatekeepers.
Before it sounds like I'm an ungrateful guest, trashing my hosts, this was a good conference and I met a number of extraordinarily wise people. But, I am of the mind that the world will not be a better place without traditional news gathering organizations and that is where we are headed. Their problem, for as many years as I can remember, is that they are in love with the wrong aspects of their organization. They think they have authority over what is interesting or valuable when they don't. They love the process of publishing or broadcasting, processes which have aged faster than Dorean Gray's portrait at the end. They need to embrace citizen journalism, rather than try to compete with it and they need to do it soon before they become irrelevent
Traditional media has budget--albeit it, a dramatically reduced one, to actually send people out to cover news. All too often, those reporters have limited time to dig, so they get information from "official sources" who tell them what a great effort is being made by official channels. Meanwhile their are people with blogs, and cameras and eyes and voices who are there when news breaks. Next time, instead of sending an outside reporter to a second or third world locality, they should turn to the blogs on Alice Eddie Backer's Global Voices. They should use their media to amplify the voice of people who have been there and lived that and experience life from a different perspective. Then maybe they will be equipped o ask the official sources better and more difficult questions.
Likewise, there was much talk about local news coverage. That gave me an interesting twise, because on my panel, I met Rich Skrenta of Topix.net, who turned out to live a couple of miles from me in San Carlos, CA, a community whose local newspaper died years ago. We quickly realized that we shared several issues in common. I have often thought of starting a local blog to put pressure on the rascals and scoundrels who think they run our community. A newspaper is too expensive to start and the ads would cost too much to get most local merchants to support it. But if this were all online then the economics would change and micro advertising, based on click-through revenues could make the model work better for both a news organization and a local advertiser.
Now San Carlos is small potatoes for a large news organization. We are located in between San Francisco and San Jose, two urban centers with newspapers whose voices and influence, revenues and community reach are accelerating toward vanishing points. These papers stuff the space between ads with wire copy. The only good news about their thinning classified ad sections is that fewer trees are dying in the name of used cars and apartments for rent. These two papers have tried just about everything they can think of to survive, everything except reaching out into communities, using bloggers as stringers, forums for community discussions, and yet that is where their readers are heading toward.
There is still hope for media companies. They are lost on what to do online. They have not figured out how to leverage the power of a news gathering organization into a world of bottom up conversationalist who have usurped so much power from the institutions of a few years ago. The media companies have little time before a new generation comes of age, one that doesn't read newspapers, doesn't listen to the radio, nor does it watch much television anymore. They have a Teflon(r) resistance to advertising and they don't pay much attention to authority figures. When these young people come into the workplace, that is the day the the big media companies will have little choice but to drive off to Jurassic Park to join the other fossils whose time has past--unless they very shortly get a clue that they are not in control and they never were.