Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From Readership to Community, Thanks to the Web

A few years ago, I had the honor and privilege of experimenting with the future - or maybe it's the present and future - of media that is turning long-held journalistic principles of interaction on their head.

I was the editorial director for a new web community of executives. Then, the notion of "web community" was quite new. And the woman who spearheaded the effort is a pioneer in the genre that, at the time, was just a few years ahead of itself.

We were offering valuable content to its members, asking them to contribute their own content and to keep the conversation moving along by commenting on fellow members' writings. And this was before social media became the behemoth it is today.

It wasn't journalism in the way I had practiced it up to that point. But as I saw the waning influence of print and the rise of the web as an information medium, the stage was set for a revolution of sorts (some will say "paradigm shift," but that's a cliche I just don't want to use - blecch!) in how journalists and news providers interact with the public.

It's that notion of community that has forced many journalists to emerge from their foxholes and interact with their readers. And while some have embraced it, others have had a hard time with the change. Traditionally, the typical journalist has been an inward-looking sort focused on the facts and getting the story out to the masses, then going home - maybe after stopping at the local bar for a scotch on the rocks - and repeating the process the next day.

But the web has turned journalism inside out, forcing many reporters and editors to belly up to a laptop instead of a bar. Why? You might say it's all about marketing, trying to build more buzz for a good story. But it's more than that. The tools of online community - blogs, Facebook posts, Tweets, and the like - are also about bringing a key element of American society, the media, closer to the people it serves. Some giants in the media field have begun to embrace that, looking for social media experts who have strong journalism instincts.

A reader wants to know more than what he or she reads in a story? The journalist can provide that in a matter of keystrokes, or even through video. Someone wants to take issue with a part of the story? The reporter or an editor can be available to respond.

This is not just a matter of practicing good public relations. It's part of being a community that invites members to participate and add to the discussion. It's what journalism has been trying to attain for decades. Now, it has the tools to help reach it.

What do you think? Should journalists be more involved in "online communities?" Share your thoughts in a comment below.

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