Personal vs. Corporate: Six New-Media Principles, No. 3

In last Wednesday’s post, I described how new media make the reader an equal partner in journalism, able to talk back to, as well as compete with, the journalist. The same dynamic similarly changes the journalist’s relation to his or her employer. Journalists no longer need a traditional publisher in order to talk with readers.

Formerly, most journalists were, to readers, little more than a name on a page. But in the social media world, they have an increasingly personal and direct connection to their readers. In the terms of commerce, journalists are becoming brands, potentially the equal of their employer’s corporate brand.

Having a personal, conversational relationship with an audience inevitably means having a distinctive voice and point of view. To traditionally trained journalists, this may seem not simply unfamiliar, but unprofessional. Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalism program manager, puts it this way:

“As journalists, we often squirm at phrases like ‘personal branding.’ But the reality is that social media, and the social Web in general, have created a shift from the institutional news brand to journalists’ personal brands . . . [and] a consumption environment that encourages conversation as much as content, and the personal as much as the professional. It’s a shift from the logo to the face.”

As all forms of media become more personal, the bonds that link media professional to corporate employer become weaker. At the same time, the connections to social networks grow stronger. For journalists the implications of this trend are simple: embrace social networking, or say goodbye to your career.

Collaboration vs. Control: Six New-Media Principles, No. 2

In yesterday’s post, I described new media’s foundation in conversation, the preference for dialogue over monologue. Today’s principle is closely related. Conversations are only truly conversational when they are collaborative. If anyone controls the conversation, it ceases to be one.

But for traditional journalists and marketers alike, the notion of giving up editorial control can be challenging. Many print veterans, for instance, have difficulty accepting the idea that good editorial content can be provided by readers volunteering their work. As one prominent B2B publisher put it earlier this year,  “people who write for free will give you exactly what you pay for in the long run.” (Ironically, he made this statement in a presentation he was giving for free.)

Behind this perspective is a bias to professionalism. In this view, journalism is a complex product that can only be produced by trained career journalists who are paid for their work. It’s their job to write, the readers’ to read, and the advertisers’ to pay for it all.

But in the social media era, roles and responsibilities are not so clear-cut. When journalism’s role is seen as enabling conversation in a community, the journalist’s voice is no longer privileged. Others may speak with as much or more authority and insight, and without needing payment to do so.

The print veteran’s tendency to discount contributions from users is amplified by the form of those contributions. In keeping with the nature of online media, they tend to be decidedly unprofessional: incomplete, unpolished, and personal—in other words, conversational.

To survive in the new-media era, journalists must not simply accept user-generated content, but enable it; they must aim to collaborate in the conversation, not to control it.

Tomorrow: The personal vs. the corporate.

Six New-Media Principles: Introduction

This month, besides writing these time-limited daily posts, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on an e-book to be called the New-Media Survival Guide: For Journalists and Other Print-Era Refugees. If all goes well, it will be available next month. Stay tuned.

Like many posts on this blog, the e-book aims to help traditionally trained journalists, marketers, and content creators understand the ideas and values that differentiate new media from old. It doesn’t try to be the definitive word on the subject, or to offer step-by-step guidance in using new-media tools. Instead, I hope, it will provide a succinct, readable overview of the key principles driving the evolution of new media.

In the introduction to the guide, I identify and explain six key principles of new media. Both as a preview and as an invitation for your feedback, over the next week I’ll review each of those principles in a blog post.

For most people, the challenges in adapting to new media are not practical or technical, but attitudinal and intellectual. Once they understand the ideas behind new media, the hurdles, if not always the objections, largely vanish. And the first thing to understand about new versus old media is how much both have in common. Their shared concern is communication, and they involve many of the same concepts, methods, and values.

But what differentiates them is where they place their emphasis. Though not the only ones, the following six new-media preferences are to my mind the most significant:

  • Dialogue over monologue
  • Collaboration over control
  • The personal over the corporate
  • The open over the closed
  • The transparent over the opaque
  • The process over the product

For the rest of this week, I’ll share a few thoughts about how these preferences underlie new-media practices. Tomorrow I’ll discuss the first, dialogue over monologue. And in the spirit of dialogue, I hope you’ll share any thoughts you have on this topic in the comments section, both today and during the rest of this week.

Shakespeare Was an Aggregating Social-Media Pirate

Portrait of Shakespeare

Aargh?

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, theater critic Charles McNulty wrote a marvelous column inspired by his objections to the Roland Emmerich movie, Anonymous. Though he disputes the movie’s thesis that no one with Shakespeare’s lower middle class roots could have written such great masterpieces, that wasn’t his aim in writing. His goal, rather, was to remind us that the Bard’s works were not simply the output of an individual, but the result of a collaboration with a crowd of other writers, actors, scholars, and editors.

Nothing McNulty tells us would surprise even a casual student of Shakespeare. But without perhaps meaning to, he offers some enlightening arguments against those who doubt the validity or value of social media.

While Shakespeare “is indisputably the master architect of his work—the genius in chief, if you will,” McNulty writes, “his plays took a literary village.” His plays, that is, were the result of collaboration and conversation with predecessors, contemporaries, and even later generations. His plots and characters were frequently borrowed, his words undoubtedly shaped by interactions with his actors, and the final form of his output determined by later scholars and editors.

He was a master aggregator, one who would certainly be accused of plagiarism if he was a 21st-century artist. But the accusation would be false. As McNulty writes, what “we would call plagiarism today was considered borrowing back then, a practice cradled in the curriculum.” Shakespeare didn’t simply borrow, though: “Whatever he touched, he alchemized. His poetic and dramatic instincts could spin gold out of dross.” A useful reminder, perhaps, that the best aggregators improve the things they borrow.

Not only would our age treat a contemporary version of Shakespeare as a plagiarist, it would also spurn him as a copyright pirate. The Renaissance, McNulty notes, was “an age unconstrained by modern copyright laws.” As Mike Masnick asked earlier this year, would Shakespeare today “be able to produce any of his classic works, since they’d all be tied up in lawsuits over copyright infringement”?

No, I’m not defending plagiarism, or opposing copyright. But I am saying that an excessive focus on those issues is bad for our culture. Accordingly, I will borrow as my own McNulty’s eloquent conclusion: “Shakespeare’s legacy is pretty much assured. That of our own age is still up for grabs.”

Three Ways to Make Media More Personal

MUD day 20:

Back in the late 90s or early aughts, one of the hot topics in the Web 1.0 world was personalization. On the industry portal site I ran for much of that time, we had what seems now like a pretty lame concept of personalization. We wanted to let our registered users select their interests from a predetermined set of categories, then present a customized home page when they logged in.

We never implemented our plan, but it hardly mattered. The onset of Web 2.0 and social media, along with the impact of Google search, would have rendered our efforts irrelevant.

But the need for publishers to think about how to make media more personal is, if anything, more important now than ever. There are many ways to go about that, but here are three that should be at the top of every publisher’s list for consideration.

1. Aggregate. Personalization means giving readers the information they want. And they don’t just want your own, original information—they want all the relevant content they can find, regardless of where it comes from. So you must point them to it by identifying and aggregating good content from other sites—even from competitive sites.

2. Treat your editors and other content creators as publishers. The old editor-in-chief, top-down, command-and-control approach to managing a content team doesn’t work in an era of personalized content. To make your content more personal, you have to empowever every person on your staff and give them a bigger role in deciding what content to create and curate. You need to encourage and promote their Twitter accounts and other social media outlets, even at the risk of allowing their personal brand to outshine your own media brand.

3. Treat the readers as your staff. The people formerly known as the audience aren’t just your readers anymore. They are participants in creating and disseminating your content. They are in some ways functionally indistinguishable from your own editors and reporters. In practical terms, this strategy means encouraging and responding to comments and highlighting them when appropriate, offering readers platforms for their work (as the Huffington Post has done for its commenters), and even perhaps hiring them are fully-fledged, paid staff.

As I’ve suggested, these three tactics are neither the only nor the required ways to make content more personal. But any publishers who aren’t thinking hard about how to make media more personal are putting their futures at risk.