The Old News and the Good news: Engaging the Digital Native in the Value of News

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Creators as Consumers
The NAA's "Youth Media DNA" report states that "respondents were more likely to recall reading school newspapers prepared by their peers ... rather than newspaper youth content prepared for them." For Digital Natives, content written by their peers is good, yet content that they can become actively involved with is even better.

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's "State of the News Media Report 2009" demonstrates how social media has become a genuine force: "What began as a few podcasts, RSS feeds and e-mail alerts a year or two ago has mushroomed into a more serious emphasis on developing multiple forms of distribution. One form involves helping citizens grab and share information with one another. ... Most news websites now have links attached to stories so readers can more easily share that content, and many have gone further, creating their own Twitter or Facebook accounts to put more content into consumers' hands and allow them to pass it along." Pew also points out that this "movement represents a dawning realization that the nature of the Web is something the news industry cannot fight and might even begin to employ."

We Are the News
Today's information consumers have the tools and the desire to participate, and increasingly, they demonstrate their ability to contribute valuable newsworthy content. Consider the U.S. Airways crash in January 2009, in which Janis Krums of Sarasota, Fla., posted the first photo of flight 1549 on Twitter from his iPhone. About 30 minutes later, MSNBC interviewed him as a witness live on TV ( 2009/1/us-airways-crash-rescue-picture-citizen-jouralism-twitter-at-work). Similar cooperative coverage of terrorist acts in Mumbai in 2008 and of the 2009 Iranian elections, and even MTV's deployment of a "street team" of 51 amateur journalists (one in each state and the District of Columbia), demonstrate the way in which traditional media can leverage community contributions to enhance professional content offerings.

Facilitating this sort of open content exchange goes well beyond the content itself, however. For a generation that expects to read about itself, reported on and written by itself, enabling its members to easily contribute content to a site in the form of photos, video, and commentary will go a long way toward developing a relationship with them as readers.

News media mogul Rupurt Murdoch was quoted in 2005 at the American Society of Newspaper Editors as saying that young readers "don't want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what's important. ... The digital native doesn't send a letter to the editor anymore. She goes online and starts a blog." Murdoch bought one of the most popular online communities, MySpace, that same year. In October 2009, MySpace continued to rank in the top five social networks in the U.S. (http://

The Pew Internet Project's director, Lee Rainee, suggests that media outlets focus on assisting younger readers in acting on information by offering opportunities for feedback, remixing, community building, and by being "open to the wisdom of crowds." Specifically, Rainee points out that to get the Digital Native's attention you should "find pathways through his/her social network, offer ‘link love' for selfish reasons, and participate in the conversation about your work."

Thus, this interaction with the content consumer cum creator means media companies must give readers (more aptly, content users) control. Content must be linkable, bloggable, and shareable so that it becomes integrated into the fabric of readers' online activities. This also requires delivering content into the places where emergent readers "live" such as Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and whatever the latest tool, informational, or social hub is.

However, it also means inviting readers to participate in the creation process, not only by seeking their potential contributions on sharing sites (when you need them) but by making it easy for them to help shape ideas as you develop them, to submit video and photos for consideration, and to contribute raw content itself.

News organizations are beginning to realize that the best way to build a loyal reader base is to connect with readers and build a relationship-something that requires honest, genuine interaction. This sort of connection will become essential as Digital Natives become the dominant content consumer. Luckily, all over the world, media brands large and small are experimenting with community involvement and interaction and are providing inspiration for further innovation. In the full chapter "The Old News and The Good News," which will appear in the book Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step With the Generation That's Transforming the Way Business Is Done, I take a closer look at some of the best examples of media engaging audiences through social interaction, as well as reveal some alternate routes that will deliver value to the bottom line-and help support the evolving media business.

Please note that the print edition of EContent magazine includes previews of some of the examples of emergent revenue streams for news that are covered in detail in the forthcoming book Dancing With Digital Natives: Staying in Step With the Generation That's Transforming the Way Business Is Done, edited by EContent editor Michelle Manafy and Heidi Gautschi, which will be published in 2010 by CyberAge Books. Click Here to see the full chapter preview that appeared in EContent magazine's January 2010 issue.

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