In the era of the real-time Web, information travels at a greater velocity than the infrastructure of mainstream media can support as it exists today. As events materialize, the access to social publishing and syndication platforms propels information across attentive and connected nodes that link social graphs all over the world. Current events are now at the epicenter of global attention as social media makes the world a much smaller place.
It's a timely subject as Clay Shirky will discuss how Social Media can make history at this year's TED conference. Indeed social media is changing, documenting, and also making history, revolutionizing once invincible industries that are now paralyzed by confusion, fear, and ignorance. Although they're reacting now, it will take more than the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other digital readers to revitalize the business of media.
Information moves with or without them...
News no longer breaks, it tweets - demonstrating the efficiency, momentum, and influence of the human network. With every new iterative update, social graphs transform into a highly organized information distribution system that resembles an "Amber Alert" network for the social Web - with far greater speed, reach, impact, and resonance.
I once referred to Twitter as TNN, the Twitter News Network as it consistently beat traditional media in the race to report relevant news and trends. And as a result, Twitter and other social networks continue to earn an entrenched role as the primary source of information and breaking events for the hundreds of millions of people connected to one another at varying degrees within and across each network.
We no longer find information, it finds us. And, trending topics become touchpoints to the state of events as they unfold.
Accuracy vs. Immediacy
Social Media is only accelerating and in the process, it dramatically reduces the time between an event and collective awareness, growing increasingly pervasive and prominent along the way. As such, a divide now exists between the materialization and journalistic reporting of an event and as such, this gap immediately fills with tweets, updates, and posts as the crowd-powered socialization of information steps in to fill the void.
The information divide describes the chasm that exists between information as it rapidly spreads through attention dashboards of connected individuals and the primary reporting of news by mainstream media reinforced through the emergence of trending topics within each network. It is distanced by the time required to discern, document, fact check, and publish material information, competing with citizen media whether or not it is completely or only partially based on facts.
This prolonged cycle of journalism and reporting, while slower than the human algorithm that powers the now Web, is still unrivaled however, by its dedication to discovering, verifying, and reporting truth and fact. In the race towards veracity, the checks and balances of new media systematically reduce error and filter hearsay and speculation and as a result, long standing sources are now slowly losing favor as a destination for revelation and instead, transforming into resources for intelligence as it emerges. In many cases, it's the tweet, the Twitpic, the Twitvid, the livestream that serve the role of breaking (used as a verb) news.
While the divide is decreasing as media becomes more versed in the art and science of new media tools, the information divide also represents an opportunity for journalists to earn greater relevance. It is a necessary stopgap that validates information and feeds back into a system that can syndicate ratified content from news media through conversational media - gaining a broader audience with every linkback, blog post, tweet, Facebook update, et al.
It's about proactively defining the shift from reporter to a new genre of influencers who essentially become media catalysts.
Media is now forced to compete in an attention economy where the business of news is now a real-time competition for mind share, connectedness, and earned relevance. Today, competitive advantages, and all that benefits the business of news as a result, are defined by the ability to narrow the time span between pinpointing, validating and reporting unconfirmed events as well as the prowess to connect facts to important social beacons online.
The future of all media is rooted in engagement and its worth is measured by contribution, collaboration, and the extent of consequential relationships within any and all online networks of relevance. Influence is not only the ability to inspire action, but also a state of prominence.
The news desk of tomorrow is actually needed today.
Whereas the wire served as a source of breaking information to those who could channel it to audiences everywhere, social media is now a fusion of not only a crowd-sourced wire, but it is also representative of a living and breathing human seismograph that surfaces important events, online and offline. As a result, active connections to the very pulse of social activity is now an unswerving qualification to sit at the news desk of tomorrow.
The acceleration of real-time content production is not only a form of immediate differentiation, it is also critical to survival. Part of what we're learning in all of this is that the battlefield for attention and significance is not where we actually engage today. Instead, it evolves and transpires in the places where information is discovered and shared today. We are shifting from a destination-based news ecosystem to a participatory model of sourcing, engagement, and relationships that increase value by identifying and connecting stories to people where and how they consume and share it.
If information reach, velocity, and impact is measured by a human seismograph, news media must now employ social seismologists in order to measure and source the information that will enable them to effectively compete for the future as well as mind share, right now.
We are all in this together.
Information is no longer an isolated or individual experience. We are connected to one another based on common interests and our ability to learn is now the result of collaboration and social syndication. The ability to plug-in to social networks and the invaluable relationships that define them is where the transformation begins and the journey unfolds.
A recent study conducted by Cision and Don Bates of the George Washington University's Master's Degree Program in Strategic Public Relations found reporters depend on social media sources when researching their stories - but not at the extent to transform an industry over night. Indeed conversations form a groundswell that escalates information to those who can extend relevant content to the next level of audiences.
55% of the journalists said that social media was "important" or "somewhat important" for reporting and producing stories...
Not surprising however, is the perception or the observance by journalists that social media is not necessarily the most accurate source of facts. 84% of journalists indicated that information was much less and slightly less reliable than traditional media based on the lack of fact-checking, verification and reporting standards. Here in lies the opportunity to source, verify, and report on breaking stories. This is how we reduce the delta that defines the information divide.
Of the various forms of social media used by journalists to find information, blogs ranked at the very top. And in the world of news media, it should prove both alarming and also as an opportunity (again) for reporters to focus on micronetworks such as Twitter (currently ranked as third) in order to tap into news as it breaks or Tweets.
As reporters become social seismologists, it is also the responsibility of the reporter as well as the brand's social media director, to connect information to audiences who can thus serve as information emissaries to further extend stories to social graphs across the Web.
In the end, we earn the attention, relationships, and audiences we deserve. As a new hybrid of collaborative journalism takes shape, reporters who remain plugged-in to communities outside of their domain will open new doors to relevance - connecting to stories and people that propel information beyond the reach of any one network at the speed of the now Web.
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