Thoughtful Thursday: Engagement and news

As a recovering former journalist, I’m always interested in how legacy media are trying to remain relevant as new media make it easy for anyone to share/reproduce their content without compensating the people who made it. Covering the news isn’t free.

There have been different strategies, often involving the funding model. The standard advertising support model is still in play, although how much an on-line eyeball is worth continues to need tweaking. The pay wall has worked for some newspapers, but not as well for others. Generally it depends on how unique the content is. The pay wall is a place where hyperlocal content can win.

One model that has worked well on the web in general, but not as well for most media is the engagement model, where news consumers can become part of the news. It has issues. Legally, media get some protection because they provide a valuable public service, but in return, they are expected to be responsible. Letting consumers create news may mean a news organization is responsible for what is said (this is a rough description – journalism students take entire classes on the nuances here). It can also be bad for the brand, and in its fragile economic state, news media have sometimes been less willing to take that risk. Often, this means attempts at engagement mean auto-tweeting or facebooking existing headlines or e-mail newsletters.

Some adventurous outlets are using blogs and social media to not only present it, but to seek it. They ask for interview subjects on Facebook. They use polls to determine story topics. Today I saw that Gawker is letting users write their own headlines. This really isn’t much different than a reader re-writing a headline to fit on Twitter, but it will be an interesting experiment to watch.

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