News media has been working hard these past few years to find ways to engage with, and secure the loyal readership of, content consumers and citizens. The results have been mixed, and the experiment continues. One metric that I believe should not be compromised, though, is the actual quality of content. No matter how many bells, whistles, sound loops, or infographics you integrate into an article, there has to also be substance to the subject matter under study. Perhaps I’m wrong, though.

Consider the article from yesterday’s New York Times, “Are You Rich?”: As an interactive resource tool, it is effectively useless fluff. As a way to write a short article, and more intimately and meaningfully contextualize the message of the article, it could have been very compelling, but the authors (it took 3 of them!) of the article went for fluff and aggregation of 3rd party pithy data points over substance, when they could have written something truly resonant. Whether surprisingly or not, it was the comments that increased the value of the article.

“Every pathway has pros and cons, and editors and owners alike are, I sincerely hope, giving serious consideration to the promises and perils inherent in each possibility.”

Are You Rich? This Income-Rank Quiz Might Change How You See Yourself

 

Will journalism be well-thought, well-researched, investigative, and editorial in form, or will short-form clickbait designed to secure eyeballs win out? Will content be published to inform, educate, and empower, or will it be designed to incite swiftly targeted emotional reaction and engagement? Every pathway has pros and cons, and editors and owners alike are, I sincerely hope, giving serious consideration to the promises and perils inherent in each possibility. We, the readership, will be the richer for it, if provided a balanced diet of healthy and well-sourced information. Everyone knows that sugar, caffeine, and clickbait – however addictive – provide no value.

I was recently asked to comment on Arianna Huffington’s latest keynote speech, wherein she called on PR professionals to become more proactive in directing their clients moral actions.

Ms. Huffington makes a worthy call to action, but perhaps to the wrong constituency.

As broadcast news weakens in the face of “social journalism”, I feel strongly that the public has finally and fully adopted a mode of information digestion that no longer relies on “single point of origin” dissemination (TV networks, News portals, etc), but rather on network (as in social media network) aggregation of information, be it newsworthy or not. As individuals develop their sense of social alliance, whether through alumni groups, political affiliation, or other criteria, they will begin to rely on those networks of like-minded people for their information, and thus “News” will no longer be determined by corporate media enterprise, but rather by the true “in the moment” will of the people consuming the information.

In some cases, bloggers will rise to become pundits of worth (and I have no doubt that some will write from the hallowed halls of Huffingtondom!); in other cases, pre-existing news portals will partner with social media platforms to give membership access to news feeds, which will – in –turn – be uplifted and shared, or ignored by the social networks.

If you’re looking for a cutesy term, let me suggest “News-On-Demand” as a stop-gap term, but in truth that’s not really it. We will always rely on someone to find the story, but that may no longer be the person who crafts the story, or tells the story, or distributes the story.

PR and communications professionals serve their masters, the client who pays the bills. In this economic climate, few PR firms have the luxury to reeducate their clientele. Instead, I suggest we look not at the horse that pulls the cart to market, but rather at who may now be sitting in the driver’s seat.

I say Huffington Post should find new and compelling ways to organize social networks, so that they have ready and digestible access to information, and are thus empowered to quickly turn it in to “News”.

Perhaps the past year or two were all about FB and MySpace et al growing up. Now they have a chance to determine what they want to be. Some social networks will become small clubs for those who share specialized interests, others will remain platforms for the development of mobile apps (can you say Mafia Wars, iLike, and Farmville?), and still others will see the possibilities inherent in content partnerships, that offer their members value added content – not on a “Push” or “Pull” basis, but rather on a “Float” basis, whereby the information is offered up and lives or dies at the whim of the mob. If it is information of interest to the network, it will find increasing distribution. If not, it will disappear.

My rough 2 cents. My basic tenet is that PR professionals are no longer going to determine what is newsworthy and, to the surprise of still a few, nor are journalists.

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