The future flexible

Recently I’ve been thinking back to August 2005. I had just moved to Chicago to start a masters programme at the Medill School of Journalism in Northwestern University. It was the first time I had my own wifi network, which changed the way I used the internet and subsequently the amount of news I consumed. At the same time, my roommate suggested I join Facebook, which had just been made available to US universities. Then I started getting those ‘sent from my blackberry’ messages at the end of emails sent to me and I realised how many people were taking the web with them in their pockets. Every day and everywhere they went. And lets not forget the blogs. Tonnes of people were turning to simple content management systems like WordPress to communicate their news and views to the world one post at a time. Even prompting editors to say they wouldn’t hire new journalists who didn’t keep a blog. Wifi, social networks, smartphones/mobile internet, blogs and its relative microblogging are things we are all exposed to (some might say over-exposed to) these days. But just six years ago, at least in Ireland, they were not yet commonplace.

Now most people have a wifi network or a good broadband connection (heck, it’s so well established it doesn’t need a hyphen between wi and fi anymore), they are on at least one social network (2m people, that’s half the population, are on Facebook in Ireland and counting), smartphones are becoming universal and thousands of people microblog and read others’ microblogs in Ireland several times a day every day.

Sitting here taking stock, six years on from my own technological awakening, I realise how blinded we often are to the big developments. Six years ago, sitting in a newsroom who would have believed that some newspapers in the US would be serving their entire digital audience just through Facebook, or that businesses would be set up to curate those microblogs, or that thousands would use an app to watch presenters like Bryan Dobson read the news on their smartphones (the concept of an app economy hadn’t even struck).

It should be acknowledged, the underlying driver of all this change is digital distribution via the internet and how that facilitates peoples’ imaginations, their experiments and ultimately their innovations.

So what are we going to be doing six years from now. And how the hell do news organisations prepare for it?

The first thing to accept, and to become comfortable with, is that we don’t know what’s coming next. There are low barriers to entry for innovative ways to deliver news and news content. In the next six years at least one person will come up with a another novel way to deliver news in a way that people want it. Upsetting organisations’ strategies and plans.

The only way to prepare for something you can’t prepare for is to create and foster a culture that values flexibility and has a desire, even a hunger, to work on the cutting edge driven by its audience’s demands. It must be a culture supported by everyone not just driven by a few digital leaders.

The only future a news organisation can plan for is a future of flexibility.

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My fast growing appreciation for Facebook

I always believed Facebook was a great platform for news organisations but even more so following RTE’s social media coverage of the General Election. Analysing the stats post-election was really interesting and revealing.

Neworld Blog reports 77% of all Irish internet users use Facebook, according to recent figures from Comscore.

(The) average Irish person spends 4hours 10 minutes on Facebook per month, well ahead of competitors Google sites (2hrs 51mins), Microsoft sites (1hr 36mins) and RTE.ie (22 mins). (Comscore)

According to Ipsos MRBI, 1.75 million or 50% of the entire Irish population, over the age of 15 years, use Facebook. 175,000 new Irish users joined the site in the last six months.

Facebook’s own figures estimate there are 1,865,000 Irish accounts on the social network.

With 1.8m Irish accounts and growing it’s hard to argue about Facebook’s dominance.

So we know there’s an audience, but what are they looking for?

Vadim Lavrusik over at Mashable has a very interesting post about Facebook’s growing role in social journalism. It even points to a news organisation that is moving its community news website totally over to Facebook. (Note: Lavrusik has just been appointed Facebook’s first journalism programme manager)

CyberJournalist has a post with some nice quick tips for publishing content to Facebook (this link has five tips,  there are eight if you download the document).

After using Facebook successfully during the General Election and seeing the power of the platform first hand – I’m hoping to experiment even more with it soon.

-B

Read All About It – Social Media, Citizen Journalism, iPad and US Presidential Press Corp

Here are links to four articles that I think are worth reading.

First off, some interesting analysis of research carried out by Pew on the types of stories consumed on various new media platforms versus ‘traditional’ media.

It seems to me that news organisations will have to take a different strategy with each platform if they are going to succeed on it. You can’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, which is bad news for budgets and resources. If new platforms continue to emerge how can news organisations adopt a successful platform-neutral approach?

Next up, here’s a nice post from Kimberly Wilson (follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wilson) about crowd-sourced websites. She has reviewed six examples  (from Washington DC, Chicago, Minnesota, Canada, Grand Rapids, and Sonora and Tuolumne County).

Yesterday, Peter Preston had a piece in The Observer about the iPad and newspapers. His thesis is that iPads won’t be the saviour as some have enthusiastically predicted, more just one small revenue stream. He uses numbers and anecdotal evidence to support this theory and asks some good questions along the way.

Finally, Brian Stelter has an article in the New York Times about the decreasing number of journalists travelling with the US president when he goes on trips. The obvious downside mentioned is that news when he’s outside of Washington DC is now coming from fewer and fewer sources.

Have you seen any interesting articles about the industry?

B

Foursquare – is it useful for journalists?

Journalism lecturer Jeremy Littau’s thoughts on Foursquare and how it might be used by journalists:

Foursquare is a platform full of journalistic potential because adding information to the record is what we do. Did a local business fail a health inspection recently? Right now we put that in the newspaper, which people are reading less, or on a Web site, where people don’t know how to find it among mountains of information. There is value in journalists adding news and verified information to the record (including links for more information) that would enhance a person’s knowledge and ability to experience (or avoid) a place.

Foursquare has been tipped as the next big thing in social media – so it’s worth getting acquainted with it.

Read the full post here