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Old Dogs, a Straying Audience and New Media Tricks

By Renay San Miguel
Mar 12, 2010 5:00 AM PT

The U.S. Census Bureau has started mailing out its forms, so I would like to take this opportunity to announce a new demographic category for those of us who will be writing "journalist" in the "occupation" box: Old New Media Dogs.

Old Dogs, a Straying Audience and New Media Tricks

T-shirts and business cards are forthcoming.

I've spent the last week attending a couple of conferences and speaking to a university class as a proud member of this cohort, and it's been encouraging to see a few other ONMDs in the audiences. This would, of course, refer to experienced print and broadcast professionals who are trying to get smart as quickly as possible in the ways of digital and social media so we can:

  • enhance our storytelling skills in a new news-gathering environment,
  • keep a job, or
  • find a job.

I wish I could take credit for coining the Old New Media Dog term, but that would have to go to a colleague at the Seattle TV station where I provide some freelance reporting (hey, we have our own Twitter hashtag!). A gentleman doesn't speak about a woman's age, but I'm guessing she's not that far from me in approaching or perhaps passing a certain magic number that rhymes with "nifty." She's a broadcast writer by trade, but she's also taken on the added responsibility of managing the station's Twitter and Facebook accounts. She works at home for some of this, maintains relationships with self-taught social media mavens at other news outlets and links like crazy to their work, as they do for hers. She's been given a couple of days a week to focus solely on social media, and also works with the station's dot-com desk.

In other words, she Gets It. She's part of what I hope is a rising tide of traditional newsroom employees who understand the value of social media in journalism's toolbox, but also is cognizant of its drawbacks and potential pitfalls. She knows that when breaking news happens -- as it did locally in November with the murders of four police officers at a Tacoma-area coffee shop and the tense 48-hour hunt for their killer -- linking to other media's work and the sharing of things like Twitpics and Twitvids can help everybody tell their versions of the big story, but not before being vetted.

My ONMD colleague did all that, in addition to searching out those who kept local crime blogs and acting as a liasion between citizen news tips/tweets and the assignment desk. She has a list of people she terms "FOTS" -- Feet on the Street, those who are out actually gathering information for various news and citizen-based organizations, and she used them well -- as did most other Seattle-based news organizations during that very sad time in late November-early December.

This is the new world for news media outlets, and a recent survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project provides more evidence of the transformation taking place on the news-consuming side of the equation. It's more proof that Old New Media Dogs better start barking for more training and opportunities so they can keep up with this change -- if they're not already sniffing out those opportunities for themselves.

The Citizen News Environment

The title of the Pew survey -- done in partnership with the Project for Excellent in Journalism -- says it all: "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer." Twenty years ago, that would have meant something very different for local newspapers and TV stations -- maybe asking for more news tips via hotline or letters to the editor, or some kind of call for more community affairs action.

Here's what it means in 2010: Pew's survey found that 92 percent of Americans surveyed get their news from a wider variety of sources than ever before, with the Internet surpassing national and local newspapers and hometown radio stations. Six in 10 get their news from a mix of offline/online sources. Thirty-seven percent have actually created news in some form, commented on it and/or linked to it via their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

A particular paragraph in the Pew news release announcing the survey's results speaks to the need for someone to get busy with the Facebook News Network:

"In addition, people use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess, and react to news. And they use traditional email and other tools to swap stories and comment on them. Among those who get news online, 75 percent get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52 percent share links to news with others via those means."

This has been debated for the past two years - the idea of friends/family curating our news for us. This is the cue for traditional Old Media Dogs to howl like lovesick basset hounds about the Death of Journalism/Democracy/The Real World as We Know It. Old New Media Dogs, on the other paw, know that this presents an opportunity to use citizens as editors/tipsters, and to provide them some media literacy tools about which links and comments should be read and absorbed, and which ones can probably be discounted. (The readers/viewers who rant, rave and act as trolls without legitimate complaints or suggestions will be obvious to all, so there's no need to fear the opportunity to receive the criticism.)

The Pew survey shows 55 percent think it's easier to keep up with what's going on the world today, but 70 percent are needing Dramamine to navigate the waves of information swamping their boats. Open-minded media outlets can act as filters and help smooth things out those in the latter category.

I've already written about trends reflected in some other key findings in the survey -- 33 percent are getting their news on mobile platforms (the reason why mobile spectrum is getting so darn cluttered, in my opinion) and 28 percent are customizing their news from sources/topics that fit their interests, which certainly includes all kinds of political ideologies, including the more noxious ones from both sides of the aisle.

The underlying theme here: Viewer/reader loyalty to certain media brands is joining floppy discs and VHS on the great ash-heap of tech media history. What can replace it is loyalty to individual, trusted reporter brands -- maybe those who were laid off after years of quality service to newspapers, TV stations or radio, but could bring readers/viewers/listeners with them to a new media world. Hence the need for Old New Media Dog branding via social media -- not to mention the occasional T-shirt and business card.

Conferences and Commiseration

The conferences and classes I've attended recently are designed to help pave my way in this new media terrain. One was a PR and marketing camp focusing on digital/social media. I was asked to co-moderate a discussion group, and yes, I did feel like the skunk at the media relations picnic for a while, but I was assured that my 30-plus years of storytelling experience was valid to the discussion; whether you're representing a brand/company, or the public, it's all about storytelling.

A 140c Twitter conference was also instructive. I attended as a media representative, and I heard stories about the birth of Twitter, and the need for lists to help even the technophiles among us manage their tweet streams. But the best experience I've had in a while talking about the collision of social media, technology and the news was my visit to the University of Washington and a evening class in its Masters in Communication/Digital Media program. Kathy Gill (quoted in this space many times on digital media and news trends) is the instructor, and she invited me to speak until my gums bled about my resume and my ongoing self-education in digital news-gathering.

Those in the class were mostly younger, and many were heading to careers in media relations or other forms of storytelling/production. But there were a few Old New Media Dogs getting themselves retrained, and that was great to see. If I wasn't at the podium, showing off my digital news-gathering kit (13-inch MacBook Pro, Flipcam, monopod, smartphone, digital audio recorder -- and old school reporter's notebook/Bic pen), I'd be sitting where they are, trying to keep up with the changing times while staying to stay out of the Old Media dogpound.


TechNewsWorld columnist Renay San Miguel started his journalism career with his hometown newspaper in Texas in 1979. He moved to television in 1985, anchoring, producing and reporting in Austin, Dallas and San Francisco before joining CNBC as a technology correspondent from 1997 to 2000. Following a stint with CBS MarketWatch, which included filing tech stories for the CBS Early Show, San Miguel joined CNN Headline News in 2001 as an anchor/tech reporter. He also contributed digital content for CNN.com. After his 2007 departure from CNN, San Miguel founded Primo Media and now freelances in television/online reporting and media consultation.


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