by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – Digital technology, changing customer demands and a younger perspective to change the mindset. That’s a description of many industries right now but, especially in Missouri, that describes how the news media is evolving.
Those of us who grew up waiting for the 6:00 news to tell us what happened now get the story updated dozens of times a day through the web or Twitter. Our children have no idea what we’re talking about when we refer to the morning and evening editions of the newspaper. They want to know where to find it on Instagram.
The changes aren’t just about accessing information faster, though. They are also creating more opportunity for journalists to make mistakes and for news consumers to get information from unaccountable, un-vetted sources like some bloggers. It’s a changing marketplace of technology, ideas and ethics.
That impacts all of us because information is powerful.
Sometimes, new media’s reach means journalists have an opportunity to build a career outside of the traditional workplace. That’s what Eli Yokley has done with PoliticMO.com. He’s built a reputation as one of the most-read reporters in the state and he’s done it online, without the support of a traditional newsroom.
“I started PoliticMo when I was getting out of high school and that summer we started covering the [US] Senate campaign and all these state races and it just kind of blew up from there. One of the things, I think, that allowed me to do that was Twitter and Facebook and social media and people being able to find you easily and have access to it so quickly.”
That speed of the story is what is changing. No longer do media outlets compete only through the content of their reporting at set times; they compete to be the first to report the story 24 hours a day. Increasingly, that’s leading to errors in reporting.
Yokley thinks one part of the news business won’t change any time soon and that’s the part that separates the best reporters from the lackluster ones.
“I think the journalists who are going to be most successful are the ones who are going to maintain their reputation and don’t get themselves into messes online and don’t succumb to the urge to re-tweet something if you don’t know that it’s true.”
Still, when news outlets and independent bloggers compete during a breaking news situation, the crossfire of information can leave the audience confused or, worse, misinformed.
“As quickly as social media moves, the ‘first draft of history’ is getting messier and messier each time.”
To Yokley, that means there’s an even greater responsibility for journalists to keep the audience in mind, even when using social media for personal communication. Any tweet or other post can quickly go national when you have a news audience built in to your followers list.
“…there is a huge power on Twitter. I think that, as journalists, we need to learn from whenever that happens to us. People are watching what we’re putting out there, people are paying attention and people are trusting us. Just because our Twitter is maybe unfiltered doesn’t mean people aren’t going there to trust us.”
Still, the opportunity to quickly gather and report accurate information is growing with the technology. In fact, it’s changing how reporters find information. Yokley uses the example of a plane crash, like the one in San Francisco in July.
“Reporters…go to see if anyone has tweeted the picture of it or if there are passengers on the plane that are tweeting. So, as news gathers, there’s a big opportunity for us to learn from that and to pull information. But, I think as news reporters, we have to make sure that we’re able to confirm it and make sure we know it’s accurate and, if it’s true, I think it’s a big win for us.”
Those challenges aren’t just for the reporters, though. The instant reporting also means a new responsibility for the consumer. At this point, it’s “consumer beware” when getting your news from a new media source, even if the journalist is professional. According to Yokley, social media readers need to keep in mind that what they see may not be the final news product.
“When a story is breaking, Twitter is like the roughest draft of history you’re going to find. Before you take a piece of information you find on Twitter to be accurate you better look it up and make sure.
“Right now, because of how young social media is and how young the verification [process] is, there are so many opportunities for mistakes on Twitter.”
One way to keep viewers, listeners and readers accurately informed is to keep it local.
That’s what many locally-run stations do around the Show Me State every day. Small radio stations and community cable television channels offer programs specifically designed to let local voices and information be heard.
Increasingly, though, the ability to produce quality local programming is hurt by budget worries and syndicated media that drowns out local voices.
Gateway Television News’ Randy Gardner has won three Emmy awards for his local work. He’s convinced there’s still a need for local programming. “We can bring these local stories…and do a half hour on the subject, where you’re only going to get a thirty-second piece on the network news or a two-minute piece, max. We can do that consistently on a daily basis and provide the community with the information and let them make up their own mind on a topic.”
When local programmers, particularly cable television through community channels, take that local role seriously, there’s an opportunity for almost everyone to contribute to their community.
“We invite people to call us and initiate that conversation with us. That’s how we get a lot of our leads.
“Don’t be afraid to pick up that phone and make that phone call.”
Making that phone call could lead to your organization being featured on the local TV or local radio station, getting a conversation started about what you believe is an important issue. That, because of the integration of social media into traditional broadcasting, can also give you multiple ways to control how far your media appearance reaches.
A simple copy and paste on Twitter or Facebook can put your show at the fingertips of all your friends and followers. A one-second “share” or “retweet” puts it at the fingertips of all their friends and followers. When the content is compelling, an assignment editor, consultant or producer is no longer going to stop your information from going public.
In other words, concerns about television and radio ratings don’t have to be a hurdle to reaching an audience. Gardner points out that the audience may not find your views through the traditional airwaves but, instead, through their computer or Smart Phone.
“When you look at the avenues that are out there right now to deliver your product; it stays on the web, organizations can take it and link it up to their organization. The marketing tool for us is if we have an organization in our studio, they take that [program], they put that on their website. Now, they’ll send a mass email out to a thousand or five thousand people in the community.
“Now, those five thousand people are learning about our station and our community.”
GTN is run by the City of Black Jack, Missouri which is a suburb of St. Louis.
On the web:
PoliticMo – www.PoliticMo.com
Gateway Television News – www.GTNtv.com
Mike’s appearance on GTV News 20 (referenced in the show) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbVvYsYMngc