The New Journalism: It's Audience Participation Time

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Huge Web 2.0 Influence

To a large extent,audience expectations have changed dramatically over the last severalyears because sites such as Facebook and MySpace have given consumersthe tools to become self-publishers, and, as such, they expect thistype of interaction wherever they go on the web. This type ofinteraction is what Terry Heaton, VP of Media 2.0 at Audience Research& Development, a firm that acts as an advisor to traditional mediacompanies, calls "Media 2.0." One of the issues for traditional mediatoday, explains Heaton, is that order and logic and reason defined whathe calls Media 1.0. This was a time when media companies produced newsand the audience consumed it. In the new world of media, that’s allturned upside-down and choice is driven entirely by the consumer, andto a certain extent, that makes the world chaotic and uncomfortable fortraditional media companies accustomed to controlling the entireprocess.

Recently, according to Heaton, "there has been lots oftalk about a statement a young man made in a focus group. Thatstatement was this: ‘If it’s important enough, the news will find me.’That’s the essence of a Media 2.0 statement," he says. "This young manis saying ‘I am determining what’s relevant to me in my world and Idon’t give you permission to determine what’s relevant for me. So, I amgoing to block your efforts to do that with the understanding ifsomething comes along that’s relevant to me, I’m going to find outabout it.’" In this context, Heaton says, the challenge for the mediacompany becomes finding a way to deliver that news in a way that makesit easy for this new consumer to use the news item in a way he sees fit.

MarkGlaser, a journalist who writes the MediaShift blog, points out thatthe traditional media still has a role to play in the new world order(and Heaton agrees), it just has to figure out how to navigate this newway of interacting with consumers. "If you get down to morephilosophical changes and the idea that people can create and sharetheir own media, that people have the power and use the internet as aglobal platform, no matter where they are and who they are, that’sreally changing media. The traditional media has a chance to play inthis world. The Web 2.0 world is not over there on its own and they canadapt and [some media outlets] have tried to take on its features."Glaser adds that it’s up to the traditional media outlets to figure outhow to play in this world.

Everyone Wants to be a Star

Tosome extent, this idea of bringing people into the news mix is aboutego. Everyone wants to be a star, and, for many, this means seeingtheir work in print (whether that’s online or a physical publication). However, Scott Karp, who runs a burgeoning site called Publish2, asocial networking platform designed specifically for journalists andpublications, says even the people who participate online are notnecessarily typical. Once they participate, the line between journalistand reader becomes blurred. "I would argue once you have someonewriting a blog, are they just a reader or are they an extension ofeditorial staff?" What’s more, he says, "The reality is people who havebecome successful bloggers are not average people. Average people don’tblog. Most people I know don’t have a blog. It’s not actually anactivity of average people. People who do it well and do it withsomething that approaches a journalistic ethic is a very small ringout."

Karp believes that the problem with the current web, andwhy he sees a need for his product, is that there is no quality controlin the system. He describes two extremes: On one hand, you have alimited
circle of highly trained professionals inside a newsorganization. On the other, you have a wild west where anyone andeveryone, including spammers, marketers, and people with individualagendas, can participate. He thinks there is a third way. According toKarp, "You are expanding the ring, but it’s not a free for all. Youexpand the ring of people you want to include in that journalisticendeavor—but deliberately and carefully."

Glaser, however,believes it’s more about community, inclusion, and making people feel apart of the publication. He also thinks that this attitude can benefitthe bottom line, which is the goal of any commercial endeavor. "Whenpeople contribute and feel they are part of a community, there is aloyalty that comes from that. You get people who are more interested inwhat you are doing. They are going to be a repeat visitor. They aregoing to be more deeply engaged," he says.

Heaton takes this astep further when he says, "News in the 21st century is not a finishedproduct." He says it’s a new process where people are creating theirown media and sharing it with each other. "How do we make it availableto use it in the sharing process, because that’s the only way we aregoing to stay relevant. The idea that a story’s not a story until it’sfinished flies in the face of the chaotic nature of Media 2.0," he says.

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