Becoming part of the community

For the last couple weeks I’ve been thinking – in my copious free time, which mainly consists of the walk between the train station and work – about the people I know online. Specifically I’ve been thinking about how I link to stories and how I identify the people I’m linking to. When I link to something from, say Josh Hallett or Alex Billington or someone like that I generally say “Josh says…” or “Alex pointed out…” in a manner that makes my identification of them a very casual thing. I know them and the brands they’ve built up around themselves and so refer to them in the same way I would were I talking about them to a mutual acquaintance. After all, as Tom and I said on Jaffe Juice a while ago, “We are the brand.”

But when I link to MediaPost of Variety I use, for the most part, the publication name. That’s because although I read those sites and assume that many of my readers do I don’t necessarily know the people who have actually written the story. There’s not the same personal connection and so the communication I use reverts back to being very formal.

There is – and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here – a dramatic shift going on in the media world. But it’s not just on the audience’s side of the equation. The members of the media itself are changing how they’re doing business. But much of that change, it seems, is being held in check or at least slowed by the willingness of the publications they work for to adapt along with them.

The other day I linked to this MediaPost Research Brief that reported on a survey showing 54 percent of journalists said they got story ideas from reading blogs. When Tom saw that he kind of couldn’t believe that. And I said back to him that while that in some respects is great, the problem is that the number – not the percent but the flat number – of publications that would give credit to those blogs much less link out to them could probably be counted on two hands.

That thought came back to me as I was writing up a couple stories for Movie Marketing Madness. In one story recounting the problems Paramount/Dreamworks is facing marketing Sweeney Todd, the Hollywood Reporter writer cites a blog entry from a Steven Sondheim devotee who is worried his favorite songs are going to be cut from the movie. But there’s no link back to that blog. So the blogger doesn’t know he’s just been quoted unless he subscribes to THR and reads the full text of the story and recognizes his line.

In another example, a MediaPost story about some TV spots for Saw IV mention that the spots were still (?) available for viewing on YouTube. But there’s no link to the video, something that would have made the story about 40 percent more useful to the reader since they could have seen first hand just what the spot looked like. Instead they can either accept the description as written or engage on their own YouTube search for the video.

Journalists are increasingly blogging, either on their newspaper or magazine’s sites or striking out on their own. Some are doing it better than others (Chicagoist threw a mock celebration when the Tribune’s Steve Johnson – the paper’s technology writer – finally started linking out) but it seems like they’re trying and learning just like the rest of us. And they’re going after ad revenue on their stand-alone blogs.

Unfortunately even those publications that purport to be embracing blogs like AdAge, which now houses the Power 150 list created by Todd Anderlik, still aren’t getting it. As Mack pointed out the other day, they’ve done little since taking over management of that list to integrate the blogs there into their coverage, neither citing them in stories or turning to the people behind them for their perspective on stories that impact the online marketing world.

Bloggers have succeeded in large part by becoming part of a community and those relationships encourage linking, commenting and other forms of interaction.

Publications like The New York Times and others have been shifting from a paid wall to free access that’s supported by ad revenue, with the idea being that more visitors leads to higher revenue. But what they’re not getting is that if the journalists at those publications were to go out into the online community that’s covering the same beat they are, even more traffic would come their way. You link to me, you drop me an email, you interact with me and turn yourself into a person as opposed to a drone at a faceless corporate entity and I’m going to send more traffic your way because I now have a relationship with you. It’s just like any other sort of referral. If a friend is looking for a mechanic you don’t send them to a big store you just happened to notice in the phone book. You send them to someone you know and who has done good work for you in the past.

Ideally, journalists should become part of the communities they exist in for many of the same reasons companies should. Doing so makes everyone’s life a little better and provides a more useful product for readers. In the OJR, Robert Niles points to some ordinary bloggers that went beyond a mainstream newspaper story to provide more information. And Nikke Finke just recently took the New York Times to task for some questionable reporting.

Malcolm Gladwell was right to some extent when he said blogs wouldn’t exist without the New York Times. But the relationship is much more symbiotic than he might think. Mainstream media feeds social media, and social media is increasingly beginning to feed mainstream media. But while social media has been open about how much it depends on mainstream outlets, the mainstream outlets still have a ways to go before they are acknowledging bloggers and others in the same way. It’s a deeper change that needs to happen than ABC putting together a clip show of user-generated videos that have been submitted. It needs to be systemic and deep-routed, with mainstream writers as much part of the community as bloggers are now.