Business 2.0, Social media & networking

Media140 reflections

Over Thursday and Friday last week I attended the Media140 conference held at the ABC in Sydney. The focus of the conference was on how journalists can create value through engagement within social networks.

For someone who’s been following the citizen journalism/”new media” space for some time, there wasn’t a whole lot of new insights from the conference. I wanted to attend in part to see Jay Rosen speak on Friday morning, but also to get a better sense of where the journalism profession is at in relation to this space – especially in Australia – and to contribute positively to the conversations that would no doubt occur in between sessions.

What seems apparent from the discussion, even before Julie Posetti made the point explicit in her closing remarks, was that Twitter seems to have resulted in a bit of a tipping point with journalists entering and making sense of this space. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and while I too found it slightly tedious how much emphasis was put on Twitter overall it didn’t bother me as much as it did other attendees (judging by the Twitter backchannel) – it’s a conversation that needs to happen. If Twitter is the entry point, that’s great…

What I found promising is that most of the presenters and panelists seemed to “get it” – so a lot of the conversation (though not all) was demonstrating positive examples of these tools being used to great effect.

These concepts are not new, of course. Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen and many others have been writing about it for some time. Even in the “old media” analogue form of printed books ;) The discussion really kicked off almost 10 years ago when blogs started to gain traction and the “journalist vs. blogger” debates started raging.

Value for journalism

While a lot of the focus was on the non-monetary value of networks – a healthy and positive progression IMO – the “who will pay” theme was certainly bubbling under much of the discussion. The Thursday afternoon “How social media is changing political reporting” in particular was railroaded into a discssion of “you’ll be sorry when journalistic institutions fail.”

It was implied that people “wouldn’t pay” for journalism, and that we’d all be left worse off without publications like the Sydney Morning Herald if they failed. I think this is a reflection of a failure of the imagination and a reflection of the (not entirely unfounded) fear within elements of the industry about the uncertainty around models.

Two asides: No surprise that the most vocal was a News Limited journalist – such a coincidence that just prior to the session I read VisceralBusiness’ post on News Limited needing a “higher purpose” to be successful. I also think that the SMH is doing far more damage to it’s own reputation and readership through ridiculously intrusive advertising than social media is doing – in fact I would suspect social media sharing has increased readership of the SMH (not that I have the facts to back that up).

I missed the opening session, but it seems there was some animosity towards publicly-funded news organisations such as the ABC and BBC as somehow devaluing news and undercutting commercial operators.

Should traditional institutions survive?

There seemed to be a view that institutions such as the SMH and News Limited are the only way that professional journalists will receive a paycheck. There are examples from around the world that point to new models and ideas that suggest that this is not the case. The problem is they are sometimes hard to recognise because they don’t look much like what is traditionally known – and perhaps won’t support the “big business” approach of the past (but is this really needed?).

I find it fascinating that the “industrial media”, who have built their entire model on “indirect funding” (advertising pays for the product for the most part) are really struggling to grasp the new opportunities for indirect funding in this new landscape. Note to SMH: advertising is not the only answer.

I think in part this is because a) there are still relatively few people taking the leap and trying different models and b) there isn’t necessarily single model that will save the day – it will be a variety of models applied in different ways depending on the circumstance.

All of that said, I too am concerned about how expensive investigative journalism will be paid for moving forward (I recall Jeff Jarvis raising similar concerns in the past – though he’s quick to suggest a way forward). Again, models will emerge, but there is no clear winning model at this point. NewAssignment and Newsvine are two such experiments underway. Kevin Sites’ work is another (Sites was sponsored by Yahoo! to cover zones of conflict around the world – thanks for the reminder Tobes.)

From what I can tell, a majority of what is termed “journalism” doesn’t fit the “investigative” description, but protecting this aspect of the industry is used as the justification for supporting traditional models, as though these are the only options. I think this is akin to multinational record companies using concerns for “supporting artists” as their front-line PR approach to get people to buy music. We – the public – recognise, however, that the beneficiaries are by and large the middle- to upper-management and shareholders of these companies – not the journalists themselves (who are the first to get axed in downsizing efforts). With this in mind their words ring somewhat hollow.

I think there are many potential opportunities for industrial media to play a positive role in these new spaces – to re-assert their relevance and value into the future. If they do this, and start ASAP seeking/experimenting/trialing alternative models, they will be well placed to transition. The problem is they’ve had 10 years to start seriously working on alternative models, and now time may be running out…

Fact checking is not an exclusive right

We also didn’t escape the “journalists fact check, social media sources don’t” arguments. Every time this point was raised I couldn’t help think two things: a) it’s often social media participants fact checking and correcting the record of mainstream media sources and b) has no-one ever heard of Josh Marshall and Talking Points Memo – crowdsourcing at it’s best where the audience helps the journalist fact check and develop stories (a point alluded to by Jay Rosen). Proof that once you get past a defensive position you can actually be open to the opportunities.

I think, though, that Riyaad Minty of Al Jazeera (an organisation that clearly gets it) provided the best response to this – while making the point that it’s still important he demonstrated how it is possible, and can provide value.

Personal brand

One thing’s for sure – a journalist’s personal “brand” online will become more and more important moving forward, and will become somewhat disassociated from mastheads/publications. All of the speakers that seemed to be successful in this space were establishing their own brands in this space and reaping the rewards.

I am hopeful that, as a result of this growing interest (and perhaps the conference itself), the conversation might progress and that the mainstream media will advance beyond simply allowing comments on articles. But at 10 years and counting, and these same conversations having been hashed and rehashed over that time, I suspect the job is far from done…

Updated 2009-11-18: I saw that Dilbert cartoon today and thought it was a perfect illustration for this post, so I added it…

Social media & networking, Work

Roadshow thanks

Participants of the Web Directions South Roadshow workshop in Melbourne

Just wanted to make a quick post to thank all the participants of the Web Directions South (WDS) Roadshow Engaging social media workshops that we did in Melbourne and Sydney this week.

I personally enjoyed them a lot – the energy of the folks involved was fantastic. From the feedback I’ve received it sounds like y’all enjoyed and valued the experience too. Thanks also to those of you who pointed out things that could be improved – your points and insights help tremendously.

I’ll be collating the materials generated through the workshops and tweaking the presentation materials for distribution early- to mid-next week. The WDS folks will be in touch via email with details as soon as they’re ready.

P.S. my preparation for this workshop, along with preparations for a major delivery for Inspire, have meant it’s been awfully quiet around here of late. I suspect May will see a bit more posting in these parts…

Social media & networking, Work

Web Directions Roadshow

I’m very excited to be participating in the up-coming Web Directions South Roadshow. I’m facilitating the Engaging Social Media workshop in Sydney and Melbourne on 21 and 23 April.

It’s a great program – I feel privileged to be amongst the well known names that are on that list. Most of all I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about what people are doing in the social media space and helping them overcome some of the roadblocks and challenges they face. Should be a lot of fun :)

Update: If you use the discount code “WD-GY”, the price for the workshop drops to $499 :)


World Usability Day

I received this via email from a friend and thought it might be of interest:

World Usability Day – Be a part of it!

World Usability Day 2008 is just 24 hours away. This is your chance to be part of a global effort spanning 43 countries and over 150 locations as we help spread the world about the importance of usability. This year’s theme is transportation, and our Sydney event focuses on the issues and challenges that face alternate forms of transportation in and around the city.

UPA Sydney has put together a varied and interesting program of presentations, discussions, workshops and activities. Our impressive line-up of speakers includes:

  • Alinta Thornton (User Experience Lead, Independent Digital Media) on what it really takes to get people out of their cars
  • Kevin Cox (Founder and Chief Technical Officer, Edentiti) running a discussion on how to make carpooling viable
  • Alan Cadogan (Strategy Director, City of Sydney) discussing the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 vision
  • Michael Lister (Senior Transport Planner, Parsons Brinckerhoff) discussing bus route design – unleashing the omnibologist within
  • Warren Salomon (Sustainable Transport Consultants Pty Ltd) on the major role that bicycles will play in the new transport paradigm
  • You will also have the chance to view and evaluate the design and photo exhibition, participate in other workshops and discussions, and join the global transport challenge. And finally, you’re invited to help us close out World Usability Day 2008 with a social event.

This event is free and open to the public and will run from 10am– 5pm, Thursday, November 13, 2008.


University of Technology Sydney
Haymarket campus
Room 12, Level 1, Block B, Building 5
1 – 59 Quay Street, Haymarket.

Drinks to follow starting at 5:30 at Henry Henry (Henry Deane Plaza, 8A Lee St)

For more information, please visit or send email to events [at]