Social Media, could it actually be the saviour of news?

THERE'S so much gnashing of teeth just now about whether we should charge for content online that it is easy to get lost in the hyperbole.

From those who for many valid reasons think it will "never" work to others who eulogize that it is the saviour of "quality journalism", the only common ground appears to be the fear of being the first to give it a go.

Yet is it all that different to where we've been before, from those days when papers went from black and white to colour; broadsheet to tabloid to Berliner?

Why shouldn't it work, why not charge for premium content online?

After all, we're already charging for news in print.


Every day millions of us hand over our pennies for our newspaper of choice. We do so in the knowledge that we'll flick through it, get a summing up of news that happened yesterday, and throw it away.

We do do because this is how our news has been delivered for years. 

It was for so long the only vehicle that gave us the power of choice, empowering us to choose the title we thought best suited our psyche, we didn't know any different. We were conditioned by the habit.

Now we can pick up free papers with the same outdated reports. 

For up to date information, we have to turn on the TV, radio, log on or – more and more – simply look to our mobile phone. Newspapers simply cannot keep up. 

They are fascinating, enjoyable, cherished even – but behind the times.

While I love them dearly, while I think some will survive, the fact of the matter is that newspapers are fast becoming an irrelevance.

They are no longer the preserve of news. 

They are life-style documents, written on dead trees in a style that suits best our tastes, laden with columnists to help form our thinking, stylist telling us what to wear,  puzzles that won't tax us too much.

To put it bluntly, they are a lazy way of trying to keep tabs on what else is happening outside the bubble of our own lives.

But those behind them are not.

Journalism need not be eroded because the delivery vehicle is past it. 

It can adapt and strike out for new opportunity.

Newspapers can and should still be used for in-depth analysis, for instance, almost magazine like which may be the idea behind the leaked plans for The Observer.

Quality journalism, repackaged.

How else is a paper supposed to compete when before the ink is dry hot off the presses the front page is being shown and discussed on Newsnight, Sky, radio round ups before being ripped off, tweeted and blogged across the globe?

We keep hearing the mantra about content being king.

Absolutely.

But surely in this trade of ours we have to be first with that content and perhaps just as importantly, better with it too?

Because newspapers are no longer in charge of their audiences. They cannot expected sales to follow family lines, respect socialist values, or be weaned on what ever piss poor promo has been rustled up this week.

News has to be relevant, respected and wanted.

And it has to be now.

I want to know about whatever the breaking news is, which is why my iPhone is laden with apps from the likes of Sky News and various BBC readers. 

It's a newsroom in my pocket, and boy am I pleased to see it.

I can find an article of choice and, with the touch of a finger, jump onto Tweetdeck and send Tweet, post on Facebook and blog the same piece all within a few seconds, sharing the news with like minded people.

For social media, read a new way to deliver the news.

Take this report from Mashable which tells us the next generation iTunes will not only help people like me organise my apps better, but also support Twitter, Facebook and Last.fm.

So, in a nutshell, the four things I use the most – iTunes, Twitter, Facebook and Last.fm – will be organised in one place. They will then in turn be available on my phone, laptop and my PC/Mac.

Which in turns means everything I pretty well want will be available anywhere I am, and includes the Genius sidebar on iTunes which very 'helpfully' suggests other tunes I may want to purchase.

This in turn will sit alongside Last.fm which, very 'helpfully', suggests similar songs I may like to hear or, indeed, purchase online from the likes of Amazon.

And while listening to all these suggested tunes, I can browse Facebook which will, very 'helpfully', suggest people I may know whom I may wish to add as a friend by clicking the button near  that advert which looks oh so very local and interesting.

Imagine then, if you will, having your newspapers online that will not only provided the up to date news that you select, but suggest 'other articles that you may be interested in' as many sites already do.

Articles that you can judge by keywords, images, video or because a bundle of people have rated them as must reads. Hell, you might even be able to find out that your friends on Facebook have rated them, and even recommended it to you. Digg? Delicious?

They are in effect smart papers that will watch your every keystroke, chart your every interaction, log every article you choose to buy – exactly as the likes of iTunes does now in determining your music taste.

So how bad can it be paying for content online? How many of us buy newspapers every day only to flick through a third or more because it's of no interest to us?

With content tailored to your tastes, and the adverts targeted so they are also relevant to our lifestyles, that will be minimised.

News groups will still provide coverage for free to pull us in, the general news and sports headlines that generate the traffic, which is why the BBC is tripping over itself to be that content provider.

So it's the meat on the bones, the in-depth match reports with video and slideshows; the columnists; the video interviews; the chance to comment and so on that will be behind the pay gateways.

The stand alone sites that are being launche
d this year, full of potential.

The only mistake newspapers made about online is not charging for specialised content earlier. That and being too distrusting to adopt Open API to grow and develop the way people can use their content.

We are in a generation that is used to firing up Paypal and paying for things online without so much as batting an eyelid. Especially if it can be made, easy, enjoyable and relevant.

This is the same generation that would rather stay in the house and boot up the computer or turn on the TV, than make the trek to the shops in the rain to pick up our outdated daily read.

Those of us outraged at the thought of losing traditional newspapers have one thing that binds us together in defending them from the march of the online alternatives.

Our age.

We have lived, enjoyed and relied on newspapers all our lives. 

Letting go isn't just hard it's traumatic. But the changes sweeping in aren't for our benefit, even if we are the ones ushering them in.

Deep down, I think we all know it. 

We're just the grumpy one who resent being told we'll have to pay for what was once free and potentially lose our jobs doing it.

Unless we get with the program (man) and join in the revolution, rather than being left behind.



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