The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

Small steps to building a cross-platform online newsroom

ABS-CBN is the latest media giant in Southeast Asia to try and build an integrated news operation.

This is no easy task. Having worked in TV, radio, print and newswires, I have seen many companies attempt to reach the Holy Grail of content production: A combined, agile news operation working across all platforms, especially in online and mobile.

On Monday, Charie Villa started her first day on the job as head of ABS-CBN’s online news site and its mobile counterpart. A seasoned broadcast journalist (former Reuters), Villa was head of newsgathering at the TV network.

This puts her on strong footing, but she faces the tough challenge of getting all the parts to play together. Indeed, many attempts at the “convergent newsroom” have failed for a number of reasons.

Operationally, multimedia journalists — while good at reducing total headcount on the books — aren’t completely productive out in the field. You can’t shoot photos while conducting interviews; you can’t break news on Twitter while trying to transcribe a speech. And you sure as hell can’t crop and upload a photo while trying to track down a source on the phone. Let’s not forget styles — TV and print writing are still far apart. Quality suffers.

Financially, many mega-media companies still can’t justify the investments into new media, such as online and mobile. In emerging markets like Southeast Asia, the online advertising market simply doesn’t exist. If the board wants to grow profits, TV, radio and publishing are still top priority. Have you tried justifying the cost of a dedicated social news team?

My advice (unsolicited, of course) is to take baby steps. You can’t fully federate the skills of a journalist in the field. Choose your primary distribution point (social media, TV or radio) and stick with it. Help your journalists figure out which hat to wear first, and what will be the second.

Second, fight hard to get the training budget to help your multimedia journalists think as social media marketers. Yes, this is another hat they will have to wear. The payoffs won’t come quickly enough for the finance department, but will help you raise the next generation of journalists. Like it or not, marketing has a lot in common with journalism in Web 2.0.

Third, build the community. Journalists are more than just news gathers and news isn’t just about what’s happening. In the new world order, “shepherding” the community is a core skill. Seed the conversations and keep bringing your users together.

All the best.


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