In a recent blog post titled, ‘The Media Still Matter‘, Tim Dyson talks about ways in which mainstream media is yet to and can evolve, to include the changes made possible by social media. I really like the 4 points he notes on what they can do, particularly one paragraph, that had me pondering over it, for a l-o-n-g time.

The media has become fragmented but instead of fighting it it could champion it.  Instead of subscribing Forbes we can subscribe to Quentin Hardy.  Instead of making the magazine the icon, make the reporter the rock star.

In a typical PR agency, we refer to news pieces and features by who has written them. So, we use names of journalists to refer to individual stories. This is vastly different from how people refer to them, outside PR agencies – they are just referred to by the publication and perhaps by the section. So, it would perhaps just be, ‘Entertainment section, in Times of India, today’!

I came across the beta version of The Times of India’s real-time news update, online, called, ‘Raw News‘, while chatting with a journalist there.

Each journalist in Raw News gets to file his/her own story and it is in real-time, as far as I see it. Each journalist is identified by their name and photograph (in most cases), from the looks of it.

This kind of an evolution is interesting in many ways, particularly the fact that it uses the publication’s own media and not necessarily other modes like Twitter or Facebook…where, the concerned journalist may use their personal accounts to amplify such news. Also, it competes with other real-time sources of information like Twitter, which, more often than not, depends on other real-time sources like Television to beam and popularize news. Twitter also helps normal people on-the-ground to act like citizen journalists, no doubt.

Going beyond this evolution by The Times of India (which other publications may have tried too), two questions, from me.

1. We may be entering a space where news pieces are credited to individual journalists and not to the publication, very soon. Even in the print edition, as what people see online gets to print the next day. Or worst, as NYT recently announced, there may be no print edition in the future. So, the chances of news being linked to individual journalists is a lot more.

In such cases, the publication’s online property may be promoting the journalist more than itself – the publication itself becomes the ground in which individuals are promoted for their expertise in a field and for their narrative style. This is already happening to some extent, thanks to smart journalists and reporters who use social media effectively…many of them active on Twitter promote their stories.

But, in most cases, the combined pull and reach of the publication is obviously many times larger than individual journalists’ reach, online. Even then, does this signify a state where we’re looking at powerful individuals who report and opine on news (much like independent bloggers) and merely use publications as a platform for increasing the reach? A Conan O’Brien show is a Conan O’Brien show…not an NBC show. So, the equivalent for print (going online) may be that we are looking at star journalists who would be powerful in individual capacities and publications may be vying for them to write for their platforms online? It is almost like a publication trying to expand its reach by adding an online journalist super star’s reach and influence.

2. Lack of the editorial ‘Pearly Gates’! When individual stars dominate and control the debate/story, where does the collective voice of a publication go? There are publications that are known for an overall voice, built over a period of time, by editorial guidelines. When stars are reporting or opining online, in real-time, how does the publication retain a collective voice? Is it even needed…or feasible?

The second part of this is to ponder about validity/authenticity of news. Recently, Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise was suspended for a month for knowingly sending a false tweet! In that case, he had done it to prove a point, but the fragile nature is there for us to see – in case of real-time news updates, journalists could be vying for ‘breaking news’ based on false leads too and that is dangerous on many levels.

Comments

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5 thoughts on “Raw News and the birth of the journalist star

  1. Interesting concept. Raw news is like a twitter-feed of a newspaper, operated by multiple journalists. Cool idea. Thanks for sharing! But with the attention spans of people plummeting (which is infact fuelling the evolution of ‘micro’-ness in everything, be it blogging or reading or whatever…), will the quality of writing/journalism also go down when more things like Raw News pop up. In short, what will be the position of things like in-depth view of an issue, using eloquent editorials? i am sure the number of people reading editorials has gone down significantly in the last decade. What do you think?

    1. Quality is my prime concern, as much as the fact that unsubstantiated news could seep in, from a legitimate new source. The best use of Raw News is that it offers amazing reach (of the publication) to journalists to build their own profile…it depends entirely on their quality of news!

  2. Media content has so much variety in its type (headline news, investigative reports, reviews, opinions, debates) and purpose (information, entertainment). When it comes to reviews, opinions, debates – the who matters. For example, I read Times of India for Jug Suraiya’s subverse , The Hindu for Sudhish Kamath’s reviews, and Hindustan Times for Vir Sanghvi’s articles. In each of those cases – the journalist is the star – not the publication. If tomorrow they were to leave and switch to other publications – I would go there with them. So in that case – your point 1 is valid. And I can see how media houses can capitalize on them to increase their reach. I might be willing to click on another Hindustan Times link available on Vir’s blog even if Vir did not write it.

    However, for content such as headline news and investigative reports – the what matters – not the who – along with the credibility, the thoroughness and the accuracy of the content ofcourse. It is no longer a matter of someone’s opinion. It should be factual. Most often I do not register who covered the headline news (and I am not sure why I should). I do think that here your trust with the publication/media house matters (which you build over several news items and their handling over time and or several other factors which I wont get into). So if I trust BBC over CNN – then that is where I will go for my headlines ultimately (even if I first find out about it through a random source on twitter) and will stay with them unless they have no coverage or dissatisfying coverage on the news in question. Over and above trust, there is another factor, that of getting all the headlines in one place – which is not possible for any one star journalist to provide.

    About your second point – that of a publication’s collective voice and its signficance in today’s age. This is very interesting. On some level – I dont see how a “fragmented” media can have a “collective” voice – its counterintuitive. And yet – considering the social responsibility aspect – one feels it is necessary at some level for someone or something to intervene. Should it be the media house? I dont know. Again – this is more relevant when considering news. For opinions, reviews, and the like – you know what you are getting into – an individual’s take. Nothing collective about that. In choosing whether or not to promote the journalist itself the publication/media house should know what they are getting into. In the event that the journalist does something irresponsible – he/she will have more to lose than than the publication/media house which can always have a disclaimer “thoughts expressed here are the opinions of…..and not …”. It is interesting though that ultimately several media houses collect the stars with the slant they want to have or rather the stars develop the slant of the media house. For example: It is not a coincidence that Bill O’Rielly and Glenn Beck are on Fox.

    When it comes to headline news and its accuracy though, social responsibility is important, and therefore a collective voice/liability assumed by the media house is necessary. Without that, there maybe chaos. But is a collective voice by default socially responsible? One can only hope!

    1. Yes, there are a few stars now, but initiatives like Raw News could make more stars.

      And you do have point in dissecting it based on kind of news. There are pieces that are ‘newsy’, while there are opinion based pieces that do not depend on timing. The latter will of course offer a better platform for journalists to build fan base, since the former is based purely on speed.

      Collective opinion, as you say, is an interesting space. Take political leanings, as example. A publication, anywhere in the world, usually has specific political leanings…arising out of advertising or its founder’s leanings. Will they be able to ensure that with journalist stars, who have their own priorities? Worth pondering!

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