June 24, 2011

Journalism and the social media revolution

Jolie O'Dell
Jolie O’Dell of Mashable at “Journalism and Social Media.”

JD LasicaLast night I attended a nice gathering at the San Jose Mercury News, organized by Social Media Club Silicon Valley, called “Journalism and Social Media.”

The organizers put together a powerhouse panel made up of:

• Kym McNicholas, anchor/reporter, Forbes Video Network.
• Jolie O’Dell, reporter and editor, Mashable
• Chris O’Brien, business columnist, San Jose Mercury News
• Julie Watts, award-winning consumer reporter/anchor, CBS5
• Brian Shields, online news manager, KRON 4

I got a few nice photos in this Flickr set, though in general did a poor job with the settings on my new Canon 5D. (And a disclaimer: I’m friends with several of the panelists.)

And much of the discussion was intriguing and noteworthy, if thematically scattered. For instance, it was fascinating to hear Jolie O’Dell, the social media rock star who’s a journalist with Mashable, take down the recent trend toward opinion-driven news reporting. She went on to say, “Sharing is the wrong way to judge social media news content. The trashy lame content gets the most shares.”

Still, I came away disappointed, for a few reasons. First, because I’m giving a keynote in Santiago, Chile, in August to a group of journalists running the new media programs of Chile’s major news organizations and wanted to get some insights about where this is all heading.

And second, because I’ve moderated or participated in many panels like this one over the years and wanted the conversation advanced. Instead, we were moored in misplaced conventional wisdom and rivers of meaningless generalizations about “bloggers” as people who only spout opinions — a 2002 cartoon caricature of what bloggers are all about.

What the conversation could have been

But poor framing by the moderator, and an odd decision to rely on Twitter questions rather than the audience right in front of her, sidetracked what could have been a deeply thoughtful conversation about how social media is transforming journalism as a craft and as a business. So we got a half-hour discussion about press releases (are you kidding me?) instead of delving into the really key issues of the day:

• How is the increasing emphasis by some successful sites on making news reports shareable, bite-size and formulaic (Top 10 Everything) affecting news reporting?

• Where was the discussion about the real-time Web (there’s even an entire conference devoted to the topic!) and how it’s affecting journalism?

• There was only a passing reference, by Brian, to the need for news consumers to learn how to differentiate between trusted, credible sources of news and information vs. rumor and misinformation.

• I don’t remember hearing the term “citizen journalism” used once throughout the evening. Continue reading