Consider it a classic conundrum between capitalist ideals and social(ist) media – but no matter with which side you affiliate, quality content will always rule.
I saw both sides of the spectrum today: London Free Press reporter Kate Dubinski wrote a piece about the citizen journalist which I found betrayed a more-than-a-little condescending attitude towards bloggers and the like. At the very least, she is guilty of not displaying the balance that she advocates as a benefit of the newspaper industry, painting an awfully wide swath with one brush.
On the other hand, I attended a presentation by someone involved in social media marketing who drew comparisons with the publishing industry, enthusiastically stating that social networks eliminate the middle-man – the publisher – allowing all of us to be the publisher. Unfortunately, I can’t get as excited about that idea because, as I’ve said before, just because everyone CAN write, doesn’t mean they SHOULD write.
Dubinski and her ilk have a vested interest in protecting the status quo when it comes to reporting. And while her intentions are sound, her execution is lacking. The fact is that there are several citizen journalists (which, in itself, is a demeaning title) who take their roles very seriously. Yes, you have a few whackjobs out there who write without thinking, but there are a number of people out there who take pride in their work, do the research (which Dubinski suggests is lacking), and comment based upon a foundation of knowledge. Responsible journalism is not the sole domain of the print media; in fact, we’ve seen several examples where social media has gone where print refuses, and has been right.
However, where I agree with Dubinski intersects exactly where I fundamentally disagree with the presentation I attended later this same day. The advantage that newspapers and other forms of traditional media hold is the vetting process. From fact checkers to editors, there are a number of people through whom articles and commentary must pass. The direct-to-publish model may open accessibility to the masses, but it’s also incredible open to abuse.
Look no further than yesterday’s column to see what can happen with self-publishing. This is not to say that everyone’s like Howett, but I’ve seen enough blogs (and even Facebook posts) filled with libellous statements and inaccuracies to know that there are a number of people who are abusing their keyboards.
There are also several bloggers out there who are nothing more than YesAnds. By that I mean they offer no unique content, no particular form of expertise or perspective. Instead of offering unique commentary or perspective on a field of their interest, they essentially take existing work and say, “Yes, and here’s something else…” That something else could be a witty retort, a smart-ass comment, or nothing at all. It’s like they’re taking a Jerry Seinfeld approach to commentary, effectively saying only “Did you read that story? What’s up with that?”
Of course, those YesAnds need content upon which to comment – and that’s usually delivered by established (and paid) reporters like Dubinski. There will always be a market for journalism; it’s just its delivery that may have to change.
Which brings us to the business world. Many companies simply are afraid of social media. They’re afraid of straying from the traditional “talking-at” formula to actually engage their supports. And they’re afraid of actually engaging their supporters by creating content that’s not just selling something.
After all, to many businesses ROI is king. Reputation and favourability are nebulous concepts, but dollars in the bank account are pretty clear. All this talk about community building and engagement sounds too lovey-dovey and can’t be directly measured in dollar signs.
In the end, content truly is king. If you create good quality content, your supporters will do just that – support you. And telling the truth is clearly the easiest way to ensure quality content. Readers will stop reading if they feel they’re being sold a bill of goods, whether you’re a business that’s only paying lip service to community building, a blogger who spreads falsehoods, or a newspaper that clearly displays a bias.
It’s all about trust. When you lose it, you lose a reader or a customer. But if you create honest content, the relationship will grow based upon that foundation of trust. Honesty in social media? What a capital idea.