Recently, the Columbia Journalism Review republished a speech delivered by the Columbia Journalism School’s Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Emily Bell, at a conference at the University of Cambridge, with the bold headline: "Facebook is eating the world."
"Social media hasn’t just swallowed journalism, it has swallowed everything. It has swallowed political campaigns, banking systems, personal histories, the leisure industry, retail, even government and security," Bell proclaimed.
If you’re not scared yet, read the article by veteran journalist Jacob Silverman discussing his new career as a sponsored content writer. Silverman laments the state of journalism and the destruction of the “firewall” between the advertising and editorial side. He recounts his experience of being paid $4 a word to write an article for The Atlantic paid for by IBM.
His dilemma is real - if you’re a freelance journalist and you get offered to write an article for $4 a word versus writing a piece of enterprise journalism for a measly sum of $100 (regardless of length), which would you choose?
No one to pitch to
This state of affairs is not just the new reality for journalists but also for PR professionals. The economics of the newsroom, which has pushed enormous pressure on journalists to write shorter stories at such a speed that copy editors no longer have jobs, has affected the way PR professionals do their jobs as well.
There’s just no one to pitch stories to because reporters are too busy writing far more pressing and important stuff. They are writing shorter and shorter stories with no quotes and oftentimes no context.
Grabbing the power of the press
What do you do when few journalists have the time to flesh out a story or are penalized for adding a quote to a story? What do you do when you pitch to a reporter that is forced by pressures of the newsroom to disenfranchise the folks that are part of the stories?
Well, you tell your own story. That’s what you do. As PR professionals it would be malpractice today not to use the same tools that journalists are using to tell their clients’ stories.
So what journalists see as an erosion of the power and influence, PR professionals see as an opportunity. The reporting process is becoming democratized.
No longer must the public rely on storied newspapers like the New York Times to publish stories they describe as "All the News That's Fit to Print.”
Even 9-year-olds can be reporters
Social media’s unlimited reach and creative power allows everyone, whether you’re a corporate machine or an individual, to decide what is news. There are no more gatekeepers to information.
We all have the ability to tell our stories the way we experience them, using the same communication tools that used to be reserved for the privileged few. Why should companies, groups or individuals be derided for paying content writers to tell their stories? For a PR professional or a company to not participate in social media to shape the dialogue would be a failure to do what’s right for their clients and shareholders.
Sure, there will be speeches and stories that would offend us, challenge our sensibilities and make us fearful. Chaos ensued and institutions crumbled after translated versions of the Bible were printed and disseminated. But civilization survived. Journalism should not fear a little competition from the “dark side” of PR as real and credible journalism will survive. I’d like to believe that an informed and educated public would eventually demand no less.
There is nothing to fear but ignorance. Social media is good for business and for real journalists.