Why the News Media Became Irrelevant-And How Social Media Can Help: 'Only the Savviest of Journalists Are Using the Networks for the Real Value They Provide in Today's Culture-As Ways to Establish Relationships and Listen to Others.'

Article excerpt

Journalists are truth-tellers. But I think most of us have been lying to ourselves. Our profession is crumbling and we blame the Web for killing our business model. Yet it's not the business model that changed on us. It's the culture.

Mainstream media were doing fine when information was hard to get and even harder to distribute. The public expected journalists to report the important stories, pull together information from sports scores to stock market results, and then deliver it all to our doorsteps, radios and TVs. People trusted journalists and, on our side, we delivered news that was relevant--it helped people connect with neighbors, be active citizens, and lead richer lives.

Advertisers, of course, footed the bill for newsgathering. They wanted exposure and paid because people, lots of people, were reading our newspapers or listening to and watching our news programs.

But things started to change well before the Web became popular. Over the past few decades, news conglomerates took over local papers and stations. Then they cut on-the-ground reporters, included more syndicated content from news services, and focused local coverage on storms, fires, crashes and crime to pad profit margins. The news became less local and less relevant, and reporters became less connected to their communities. Surveys show a steep drop in public trust in journalism occurring during the past 25 years.

As discontent grew among the audience, the Internet arrived. Now people had choices. If the local paper and stations weren't considered trustworthy and journalists seemed detached from what really mattered to them, people could find what they wanted elsewhere. What's more, they could stop being passive recipients. They could dig deeply into topics, follow their interests, and share their knowledge and passions with others who cared about similar things.

Connecting Through Trust

The truth is the Internet didn't steal the audience. We lost it. Today fewer people are systematically reading our papers and tuning into our news programs for a simple reason--many people don't feel we serve them anymore. We are, literally, out of touch.

Today, people expect to share information, not be fed it. They expect to be listened to when they have knowledge and raise questions. They want news that connects with their lives and interests. They want control over their information. And they want connection--they give their trust to those they engage with--people who talk with them, listen and maintain a relationship.

Trust is key. Many younger people don't look for news anymore because it comes to them. They simply assume their network of friends--those they trust--will tell them when something interesting or important happens and send them whatever their friends deem to be trustworthy sources, from articles, blogs, podeasts, Twitter feeds, or videos.

Mainstream media are low on the trust scale for many and have been slow to reach out in a genuine way to engage people. Many news organizations think interaction is giving people buttons to push on Web sites or creating a walled space where people can "comment" on the news or post their own "iReports."

People aren't fooled by false interaction if they see that news staff don't read the comments or citizen reports, respond and pursue the best ideas and knowledge of the audience to improve their own reporting. Journalists can't make reporting more relevant to the public until we stop assuming that we know what people want and start listening to the audience.

We can't create relevance through limited readership studies and polls, or simply by adding neighborhood sections to our Web sites. We need to listen, ask questions, and be genuinely open to what our readers, listeners and watchers tell us is important everyday. We need to create a new journalism of partnership, rather than preaching.

And that's where social media can guide us. …