My earlier exchange with Stephen Shankland got me thinking about how we triangulate news.
Once upon a time a single news story from a single news source would influence audiences in a profound way. Media relations pros obsessed over the big hit in Forbes or the Wall Street Journal – we argued for hours over who would lead with a story. Sometimes this lead was negotiated as an exclusive. Other times as an advance. Inevitably, outlets targeting narrow audiences (Slashdot for developers, for instance) ranked way down the priority list. They were dealt with but normally after the news broke elsewhere. And normally in anything but a timely fashion. Inevitably this resulted in calls from extremely pissed off journalists.
To some extent SOX and other forces have dealt to this phenomenon. But news aggregators and bloggers are a more powerful force in the transformation of news delivery. They’re turning the business of news – and the business of public relations – on its head.
In my RSS reader the New York Times feed is followed by NPR. Then Dan Gillmor, Slashdot, C/Net, Tekrati and Pressthink – Mark Cuban and Tom Peters follow somewhere after that. I’ve got well over 100 feeds and generally step through them over my morning coffee – well before looking at the Google News NZ edition. Glancing at Google, my news sources range from Reuters and BBC News to The Pakistan Daily Times, The Malaysia Star, and National Geographic. I have a very unique ability to triangulate news.
But, the engines that underpin the news portals don’t necessarily reflect the logic or prominence of the media. Nor do the blogs. Blogs tend to be a useful source for triangulating breaking news – wired news. Google news tends to be a little more tired. Their utility is that I can triangulate news in a nanosecond.
As a result, the effectiveness of the leader and media selectivity for public relations practitioners is dead. You could work hard to negotiate the ‘positive’ exclusive with NewsWeek or Time, but if sitting right beneath the story in my RSS feed is a sneak preview from a geek at Gizmodo, the strategy starts to fall apart. And some of you are smart enough to know that a geek review at Gizmodo is as authoritative and credible as any mainstream journalist (most of the time and with the exception of Mossberg at the WSJ). And if they aren’t, I could quickly triangulate it anyway.
In fact, the blog is (arguably) quickly becoming a more credible source for ‘fresh news’. I’m really interested in the new Treo 650 (why they wouldn’t put Bluetooth in the Treo 600 is beyond me). I don’t look to mainstream tech rags or even the company’s web site. I look at Gizmodo where an early preview resides. A quality look in fact with a link over to treocentral. and suddenly I’m in not such a rush to own one.
While I haven’t seen any research that supports this, I suspect readers instantaneous ability to triangulate news places an even greater onus on media relations teams to get the news out to all the outlets relevant to their audiences in a fairer and more systematic way. If you look at the example above you will also see the need to manage a much deeper and more powerful ecosystem. Content isn’t buried in newsgroups any more, it’s on the web in living color.
Non traditional news sources are now need to be a key component of companies’ communications strategy. Not doing so in my mind reduces the credibility and impact of not just the news but also the company.
And as readers, we will look for diversity of opinion and reporting style. There couldn’t be a greater contrast than The Register and The Wall Street Journal but I value them equally as sources. And they are one tab, blog – and one RSS feed, away from my cursor. Media are coming under greater pressure to report accurately and with smarts. Dan Rather can’t hide from sloppy journalism. No one can.
New news channels call for new strategies. Effective communicators will increasingly look to instigate a direct dialogue with their audiences and communities outside of the press release or any particular media outlet.
Enter the blog. And as the blog spreads virally through the media food chain the reader can triangulate content, determining the credibility and importance of the news on their terms. News will become less engineered by public relations teams and much fresher.
A new information ecosystem is emerging with new critters altering the food-chain. And some will end up extinct.