There was a great post by Kevin Bakhurst on the BBC editors’ blog the other day explaining the changes to the nature of the newsroom in the post-social media age. Bakhurst gives a pretty considered rundown of the challenges posed by social media, not least the fact it almost always has someone else be first with the scoop, as well as its benefits for newsgathering, research, and understanding the zeitgeist. It’s great to see journalists so honestly and humbly engaging with the great communications innovation of our time.
However, I think what really needs to be assessed- not just by journalists, but by all of us in the communications industry- is what exactly the social media landscape means for our role and our image. Journalists no longer find the scoops, PRs no longer control the conversation, Marketing people no longer enjoy hegemony over public information. These are no longer problems to be considered: they are facts, known to public and media alike.
As a consequence, how do the communications industries present themselves and their function? If the newsmakers are, often, not seen as sleuths and explorers, then what are they?
Over the next decade or so, we will most likely see a shift in the role of the respected journalist from content generation to a mixture of content generation and a healthy dose of content auditing. Instead of getting the scoops, they’ll be checking their validity. Instead of generating the content, they’ll be sifting through it, distilling it, re-presenting it. Instead of giving voice to the zeitgeist, they’ll be working out how that voice sounds.
The role of the media professional in the future is, therefore, practically bureaucratic, certainly organisational and analytic.
This will affect the PR and communications industry too. While historically the function of the PR has been to dream up the stories and then spin and feed them to journalists, who in turn feed them to the public, this hierarchy could soon be totally obsolete. However, the PRs do have one advantage over the journos: since our stories often come straight from the people making them, we can be first with the scoop.
Our function is therefore set to become, perhaps already has become, twofold. On the one hand we become infiltrators; experts in the social environment who know where to place stories to gain maximum traction in the constant conversation. On the other, we become supervisors to the analytic and summary process of new journalism, ensuring that the stories we create fit with those being collated and confirmed by opinion monitoring auditors in the media.
The public are becoming increasingly more aware of the huge role social media plays in newsgathering and broadcasting. Major international networks like CNN are among the most followed information providers on twitter, and the BBC’s follower profile has increased enormously (almost exponentially) over the past year.
There’s a danger here that they’ll come to associate the PR world with the old journalism- cast it as part of the defunct hierarchy. Agencies need to work hard to make sure that potential clients understand that, in a media landscape dominated by assessment and analysis, PRs are the ones with the know-how to act on and add to that analysis in the most targeted manner.