February 26, 2014

Should We Go Back to Print?

The lights went out, but the Kobo Glo saved the day.  

This is likely the billionth time someone has written the words "the internet has changed -- everything." And it's true. Particularly for journalism and public relations. Social media is immediate and consumer-driven. From sharing a funny family photo, to complaining about bad customer service, to witticisms, and breaking news, it's all out there. All the time!

The lightning pace at which PR-pros work to create timely responses to almost everything is both exhausting and exhilarating. Take the time when the lights went out at the Super Bowl last year. Thank goodness Kobo's execs had the trusty Kobo Glo on hand - you couldn't plan for a golden moment to respond to such a situation.

Every PR person waits for these moments. The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics were no exception with every brand looking for ways to capitalize on the rich media landscape and the whole world watching.

For me, Jimmy Kimmel's wolf prank stands out as something we should really pay attention to. Not because it was funny, which it was. Not because it got the whole world talking, it did. And not because he pointed out that consumers shouldn't always believe what they hear - which we all know to be true. The prank - where Kimmel collaborated with Kate Hansen to create a video of a wolf in her dorms in Sochi (a real wolf, but a recreated dorm at Kimmel's studio) - pointed out something that many journalists and PR pros have been struggling with for a while now. The credibility of media. In a world where social media moves almost instantaneously, where your neighbour is a blogger discussing any topic they choose, the question of truth becomes much harder to answer.

If this prank pointed out anything, it's that trusted, reliable, accurate and vetted media is more important than ever before. There's value in investigative journalism, there's value in editors examining articles to ensure they're accurate, there's value in sources contributing to a thesis, and there's value in all of those people being experts in their field. I'm not saying social media doesn't have its place - it absolutely does - but when we think about where we get our information, now more than ever we need to have confidence in the profession of journalism. It's worth paying for. It's worth protecting. It's worth knowing what's true.

What are your thoughts on how to protect the virtues of journalism in the age of the internet?


1 comment:

  1. For some reason, comments weren't working at the time I posted this. But thankfully, a reader, emailed me his thoughts and I think they're worth sharing! Let me know what you think about this perspective - I think it's food for thought.

    From DS:
    These are incredibly excellent points, but doesn't go far enough. Yes, vetting, investigation, accuracy, expertise, and value are all important journalistic considerations that are being trampled by social media. But they are also trampling science and justice.

    People are dying because of the empowerment of the lowest common denominator to equal or greater status of the expert in terms of spreading information. The anti-vax movement is killing people. Homeopathy, energy healing, and various other modernized ancient snake oils are growing in popularity. Denialism gets a bigger foothold too, allowing agendas against climate change science and evolution to spread.

    Ultimately the problem is that crowds generally are not wise in aggregate; we are tribal and tend to norm (and extremize) to what we perceive as the common belief of those like us, which creates a feedback loop, aka an "information cascade" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_cascade). Put in Surowieki's ("The Wisdom of Crowds") terms, social media destroys the "independence" requirement for crowd wisdom (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wisdom_of_Crowds#Failures_of_crowd_intelligence), or as Daniel Tammet points out ("Embracing the Wide Sky"), populism can tend to overrule expertise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wisdom_of_Crowds#Criticism). Remember, chess expert Gary Kasparov beat the collective expertise of tens of thousands of non-experts.

    So how do we protect investigative journalism, truth, justice, science, and evidence? I have no idea. The problem isn't so much that popular but wrong information swamps good, expert, vetted information, but that humans have an innate tendency to believe what is popular. Critical thinking skills are not generally innate; doing your homework takes time and effort.

    The only solution I find that works at all is having the most solid evidence and using it to harshly ridicule those who suggest otherwise. It sounds mean, but people tend not to want to tie their beliefs to those who lose debates and are ridiculed, so a strong, witty, and consistent smack-down can work. Use innate tendencies as an advantage, and the truth as the basis for winning the smack-down. But that's no easy feat, especially if the problem is that the "truth" not known and you are merely trying to replace an incorrect belief with "Nobody knows" as the correct answer.