…was one line that stuck in my head after a BBC blogging "think tank" session at Broadcasting House on the 30th October. I was invited along by my friend Robin Hamman to talk about how a blog is (kinda) like a living breathing thing and how social media – in it’s broadest facebook, twitter, flickr, youtube, dopplr, linkedin sense – functions in a dramatically differently way from traditional top down media.
I used a very short presentation, and some nifty graphical webbiness, to illustrate this difference. Once that was done, my one sole argument was that there was all this "stuff" going on independently of professional, established media outlets and the challenge isn’t really to become "a part" of what’s going on, to become a part of that conversation – as a journalist wouldn’t become "a part" of a story he or she is reporting – but more a question of how and when to filter and process social media to enhance a particular story.
Access to people using and creating social media is not the problem, receiving and responding to it is. I argued, I think, that the key challenge is for journalists to learn the skills needed to access this information, to receive it automatically via RSS, to filter it, to process and verify the nuggets that deserve a wider audience in a way that enhances and informs a particular news story.
At present the basic skills to do this are not that difficult to learn technically, although they are a little clunky and they get increasingly clunky the deeper you go. However, the real problem is journalistic culture – how long does it take to immerse yourself in blog culture – for want of a better word – to come out with a real understanding of how the sphere works and how to interact with it? And how many journalists are that keen, or have enough time, to really get to grips with it?
There are a tonne of pseudowank arguments about how journalists should be doing a million different things in the name of "the story" these days. The journalist has enough to do – and for what the British press pay, that’s arguably already too much to do. Anyway… the social media space, the internet, is so vast, so multi-faceted, are we not already at a point where it is impossible for a single journalist to be expected to do a regular reporting job, to access and filter all the hip social media stuff and get a coherent job done? Maybe the geeky journos could handle it, but certainly not Joe Journalist at the Hicksville Gazette who’s still struggling with email.
The internet is not getting smaller which means that it’s only gonna get harder and harder for journalists to filter and process this stuff. Until such time as journalists and editors have the tools to efficiently and nonclunkily filter the social web, I think we might have arrived at a point where a new editorial level needs to be created – effectively a social media editorial filter – and yes, I do realise that sounds like total pants, but what the…
Talking to a group of journalists in London, I heard a couple of interesting stories about how some bloggers had been hired on a freelance basis to do this very job – filter social media stuff for journalists. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Many bloggers are experts in navigating social media and are definitely more adept at finding the most important stuff than pretty much any journalist.
Whether there’s the will and/or the cash to go this route, or whether there’s already some startup designing idiotproof social media filtering tools for journalists which will make any new editorial layer obsolete before it is created I have no idea. But, it’s a thought, innit.