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People Already Have News, Now What?

Written by on February 9, 2012

Earlier this week we heard how Sky News and the BBC implemented new social media policies dictating that journalists have to report news first to the newspaper, and not on Twitter. Sky News, being the one with the most social-phobia, even went as far as to tell their journalists not to retweet other people's stories.

And it is not the first time we hear of this. Other newspapers have tried something similar, and so have several sport organizations.

There are arguments both for and against this fear of sharing. The main argument is that SKY News is not paying their journalists to promote themselves or their competitors.

The arguments against it are, of course, that they are living a world that no longer exists.

The first problem is how we connect. If all you do is to create a one-way broadcast that is only about "me, me, me, and my brand" nobody will care about it.

A simple example is just to look at my two @baekdal Twitter profiles.

One is @baekdal with which I do all the things SKY News is against. I constantly retweet outside links, talk about what other people are doing, point people to other sites etc. Only about 5% of my tweets is about me (or Baekdal as a brand).

The other is @baekdalarticles. It is only about Baekdal.com. I never post outside links. I never talk about other people. It is just me and my brand.

@baekdal has 4,125 follower, while @baekdalarticles has only 444 followers. And they both bring in the same rate of clicks per followers (around 3%).

Which one do you think is the most popular, and more to the point, which one do you think bring in more people to my articles? Yep, my @baekdal account, with which I constantly retweet others people content, wins every time.

The key to success in the connected world is to ...connect! It's really that simple.

The other problem is bit more profound. I think Matthew Ingram said it best when he said:

If a single tweet from someone on your staff gives away enough of the value of your story that you have to forbid it, you have a lot bigger problems than just breaking news on Twitter.

This is something that most traditional newspaper people just don't get. You are no longer the bringer of news. In a connected world, any delay you might add just means news will come to us in some other way. If your main product is to 'bring people the news' you are going to go out of business.

Let me tell you a little story. Back when I was a kid I was a newspaper boy. Every morning, at around 4 AM, I would get up, take my bike and drive my route to bring people their morning newspaper.

This was a great responsibility, because, if didn't deliver, people would not get the news. I was their link to the rest of the world. If i failed to deliver, or made a mistake, people would get very angry.

The reason was that, in those days, the role of the newspaper was to bring you the news. If the news didn't arrive, people would have to go trough their entire day not knowing what was going in the world. People would have to wait until that evening when they got home from work to catch the 7 o'clock evening news on TV.

It was an absolute disaster if I didn't the deliver the news. So I got up every day at 4 AM to 'bring people the news'.

Fast forward to today. I'm no longer a newspaper boy, but what would happen today if your morning paper didn't arrive? The laggards who are still living in the old world would still get angry, but most people would just get slightly upset, take out their tablet or smartphone and check the latest news there. Not to mention that they have probably already done that even before getting out of bed.

Even if a newspaper where to disappear completely, like if the journalists of the BBC where to go on strike for a week, it would make no difference to people's lives. They would just read something else. News, from any source, is just a click away. People are no longer waiting for your newspaper to arrive.

There is no longer value in being the bringer of news. We already have too much of it. You have to be more than the news. You have to be the news that isn't out there by default.

If there is a train wreck, you need to tweet:

A train has wrecked between Paris and Orleans, we are heading out to investigate - stay tuned!

If you delay breaking the news, people will just get the news from somewhere else. In fact, they already have it. Mere seconds after the train ran off the track people would start sharing pictures and videos, in real time. This was probably how you, as a journalist, heard about in the first place.

All this real time reporting is, of course, a mess - it always is. People will have a hard time figuring out what's really happening. But that's where you come in. You are no longer the bringer of news. It's already here. You are the one who makes sense of it.

You use tweets to let people know you are on the job, and that they can rely on you to get the bigger picture.

If you delay that, people are just going to rely on somebody else ...Or in the case of Sky News, people would just get the breaking news from Guardian's reporters (or probably from their friends) while they 'wait' for you to 'go through proper channels'.

BTW: Here is an idea. Why don't you bring tweets into your editorial system? Instead of asking people to 'tell your colleagues first, tweet second' have your editorial system 'follow' all your journalist's Twitter accounts, and add a hashtag for breaking news to automatically highlight them.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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