May 09, 2011

The New Media: You & Me

What is the changing role of the journalist?  What is the changing role of the PR professional?  How are marketing tactics evolving?  Are PR and marketing converging?  What is brand journalism and are brand journalists really journalists?  Is there journalism on Twitter?

These are the kinds of questions that I see in my Twitter feed and in the blogs I follow on a daily basis.  They are in fact the basis for the name of this blog, Beyond PR.

I have one answer for all of these questions.

It  is based upon the virtual obliteration of the traditional roles in the news and information cycle.  These were once pretty well defined.  There was first of all the source, maybe a government official, a celebrity, a corporate spokesperson, an event driven newsmaker or just the randomly discovered “man on the street.”

The source would be discovered and debriefed by the writer, the author, the journalist.  The re-packaged information was then delivered to the editor who was the curator of what news and information would pass to the next step in the process based on some knowledge of both what the audience wanted and of what they needed to know.  The last player was the reader, the consumer of the information whose input in the whole process was largely expressed by the outlets he or she chose to buy or watch.

Source → Writer → Editor → Reader

These roles were fairly distinct.  No more.  We are now all of the above.  That is true whether you’re an activist on the streets of Cairo or the voice of the Bronx Zoo cobra.

Your job title may be reporter or editor or it may be public relations manager or marketing manager or new media coordinator or social media specialist.  The skills needed to assume these positions are becoming one and the same and the functions of these jobs are looking more and more alike everyday.  You can’t hang one of the traditional roles on any of these, at least not if they are going to effective.  They all have to be able to identify what is important or interesting, be able to communicate about it and to listen, read, consume.  What they all are is communicators.

What is most interesting is the changing role of what I described above as the seemingly passive reader.  The distribution path that news takes now in fact starts with the reader.  The cliché is “the news finds you” but in reality you determine whether or not it can find you.

Whether you call it news or information or content, it has become unbundled.  It may still be packaged by editors or curators of publications and Web sites but the most effective curation has become individualized.  So the end user has become the starting point for the dissemination chain.

Search has done a lot to expedite this.  Content has been separated from its masthead, and the digital equivalent, and rises and falls based upon what the end user wants.  Social has made us all curators.  I bundle news from media organizations, favorite brands, and old college friends all under the masthead of my Facebook and Twitter pages.

I am reminded of a character in the Martin McDonagh play “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”  Johnnypateenmike knocks on the doors of residents in his small village and announces to them he has “three pieces of news.”  He needs to secure some consideration for his efforts as source, author and curator of that news, but after getting perhaps a piece of bread and a glass of wine, he reveals three pieces of gossip.  They of course have to be good, or no one answers the door next time.

This was set in 1934.  We digitalized that process.  And we’ve linked in everyone.  We gather, we curate, we broadcast and we do it on our own network.  How big, how influential is that network?  Well, your stuff of course has to be good.

Author Ken Dowell is PR Newswire’s Executive Vice President, Global Social Media Strategy & Audience Development.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Side-2

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