Can the Statusphere Save Journalism?

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Live from the PragueCrunch II Meet-up

Recently, I enjoyed a refreshing and invigorating dinner with Walt Mossberg. While we casually discussed our most current endeavors and experiences, the discussion shifted to deep conversation about the future of journalism in the era of socialized media with one simple question, “are newspapers worth saving?”

Walt thought for no more than two seconds and assertively replied, “It’s the wrong question to ask. The real question we should ask is if whether or not we can save good journalism.” He continued, “Think about it. Of the hundreds, thousands, of newspapers around the country, there are really only a few that matter. Good journalism and journalists, on the other hand, are worth saving.”

Indeed. Perhaps good journalists, intuitive and ambitious journalists, might figure out how to survive this Darwinian state of media evolution on their own. Others may need the help of early risk-takers and success stories before being able to individually adapt to the socialization of content.

My contemplative discussion with Walt explored the missteps of publishers and content producers and the corresponding opportunity for savvy individuals with relevant perspective combined with online social prowess. The persistent reverberation of those ideas in my head in the weeks to follow the exchange led me to explore the impact of the Statusphere on the authority of the blogosphere, as measured today. And it serves as my outline today.

Whether it’s newspapers, television shows, or online mediums and networks, the shift is in consumption behavior, quality, relevance, and personality, not the production or distribution of content per se.

As Walt said, “there are truly only a handful of media properties in print worth saving, the rest is comprised of great journalists and recycled national news.”

So what of those brilliantly articulate, passionate, and scintillating writers whom we identify, admire and connect with in each article they share?

It’s not unlike the renaissance currently underway in the music industry. Artists are discovering that they have a Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) channel to reach fans and cultivate relationships. Those in touch with technology and the cultures of online societies can bypass traditional music production and distribution altogether.

I guess I’m saying that at a time when traditional routes to journalism careers are being questioned, exceptional journalists can create their own destiny. Their future is in their notepads (or laptops), ready to escape from paper to online and the real world.

The connection with readers, once established, multiplied, and fed, is seductive and unquenchable.

Personality, motivation, determination, and the ability to embrace risk and venture into unchartered and unpredictable territory is the only way to champion change and influence the direction of professional adventures.

Stop the Presses

Believe it or not, in the overall theatrical production playing out as the world watches media Darwinism unfold, in the end it really doesn’t matter whether or not newspapers survive. We are witnessing and building the future of media production and associated connections right here, right now.

Advertising in newspapers as well as print and broadcast media in general is spiraling irrecoverably without any hope of salvation. Subscriptions are evaporating and quickly eroding the supporting infrastructure for printing and delivering paper publications.

The Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer have shuttered their print businesses and they’re not alone. These industry staples are merely the first to topple, triggering a domino effect that will resonate and replicate worldwide. Newspapers are swinging the axe and cutting staffs as though they were invading hordes while many are also reducing their publishing frequency. The rich and influential 200 year-old history that defines the legacy of independent media empires is now writing its next chapter for the history books. The still-powerful empires of print media will become a footnote in the future of all published media as the much younger, 15 year-old online medium competes for limited advertising revenue.

This is just the beginning.

According to Paper Cuts, a Web site tracking the newspaper industry, more than 120 newspapers in the U.S. have closed since January 2008 and at least 21,000 jobs at 67 newspapers have vanished. I’m sure that the number is much more dramatic now.

To get a real time glimpse into the bloodshed, The MediaisDying on Twitter also maintains a running public account of all media properties as they announce layoffs, closures, and firings.

Hope

What eludes publishers is the very thing that can save them: the new model for not only surviving the evolution, but also thriving in the future ecosystem of publishing and connecting content with audiences—where they congregate online. The new media economy will embrace a shift in content creation and revenue generation from a top-down model to a bottom-up groundswell.

The socialization of the web is powered by not only the ability for citizens to publish and share content, but also the wherewithal and associated rewards for connecting with the real people and the personalities with whom we follow. This is paramount as publishers and journalists can learn from the ongoing documentation in the art and science of online community building.

Perhaps the reinvention of the publishing model starts with journalists who become the ambassadors for content and the flagship brand they represent.

Why?

There’s a direct correlation between the attention captured online and the loss of newspaper readers and subscribers as well as television viewers for that matter. Yes, many media properties are creating sophisticated web infrastructures and networks and are succeeding in attracting and maintaining visitors. Online advertising is the healthiest segment of advertising and it’s not entirely tied to the recession.

The hunger for relevant, inspirational and compelling content is insatiable and potentially recession proof.

To broaden revenue horizons, publishers are experimenting with the idea of micro payments, charging consumers a few cents to view stories and also resurrecting pay walls, which serve as a tollbooth between readers and deeper content. Because of the severity of the revenue blood loss, new ideas are introduced, reviewed, and tested almost daily.

Adapting vs. Reinvention

Content producers are scrambling to integrate social technologies and platforms to spur readership volume and interactivity among visitors and also between reporters and readers. And truthfully, this story is now years in the making. Maybe, just maybe, the existing model for generating, distributing and monetizing content could benefit from a Ctrl-Alt-Delete reboot.

While newspapers and publishers explore new models for reversing the downturn, the real story resides with the very people whom they employ, the standout reporters and journalists who are worth saving.

Waiting and hoping are not the catalysis for reinvention however. Taking control of individual destiny is a personal choice and commitment to change and shape the outcome of what lies ahead. It requires an immediate shift from operating behind the scenes to self-championing individual compositions. The most well-known, successful and celebrated journalists figured this out long ago. And those more assertive journalists who see the window of opportunity today aren’t necessarily waiting for approval or for existing processes to adapt to the new world order. Time waits for no one.

Personality + Insight + Promotion + Interaction = Visibility and Community

The socialization of the Web has given way to the era of personal brands. We are all now responsible for the creation, direction, perception, and management of our online personas, reinforced by what we share and how we interact across The Conversation Prism. This is incredibly poignant for journalists as they not only need to maintain a watchful eye on their media employer but also now compete against a new generation of bloggers and content producers who do not abide by or embody the classical rules and training of journalism.

It’s survival of the fittest predicated by what you stand for and how hungry you are to build and sustain a community around you and your work. What’s taking place right now is an incredible opportunity for good journalists to humanize their stories and project an outward extension of their persona to connect with existing and potential readers at the point of attention aperture, the window of opportunity to engage someone on their own terms and in their own time. And, it’s no different than the tactics used by innovative, enterprising, and determined bloggers who aspire to create a congregation around their perspective.

This was and is, all about people and a new breed of social journalism.

To cultivate a personal brand or invest in online interaction is time consuming as the required investment is beyond one’s daily routine. It is however, rewarding and measurable.

Michael Arrington and Erick Schonfeld interact with readers on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks to stay connected, converse with peers, and also to meet people at events local and around the world. There’s a reason why 350,000 people follow TechCrunch on Twitter (being on the suggested list doesn’t hurt either).

CNN’s Rick Sanchez boasts more than 75,000 followers on Twitter and uses the micro medium to source story ideas and interact with viewers. Also Anderson Cooper has cultivated a loyal following of 93,000 on Twitter by sharing interesting content through his timeline. Reggie Aqui uses Facebook to interact with viewers as well.

Mary Louise Schumacher and Tannette Elie of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel participate on Twitter in relevant conversations while also hosting and attending Tweetups to extend their personal brands online and in real life.

Kirk Yuhnke, News Anchor for Fox 13 in Salt Lake City interacts with viewers and also those who share his views outside of his home base. He’s reaching a wider audience because of Twitter.

John Byrne, Editor-in-Chief of BusinessWeek show’s us the human side of running the editorial side of a global media powerhouse

NPR Scott Simon’s 167,000 followers on Twitter relish in his personal updates and responses.

Ryan Squire of NBC 4 in Columbus leverages Twitter followers to collaborate on stories as well as simply engaging in real world conversations.

Kara Swisher of AllThingsD and the Wall Street Journal shares updates, new thoughts, and also talks to people regardless of social stature. She’s built a global reputation through her work and insight, strengthened by her interaction across multiple social networks.

Ron Sylvester, an award-winning journalist at the Wichita Eagle, tweets directly from the courtroom. He also blogs and connects with people on Facebook.

The list grows every day. And, while many of these examples showcase Twitter and Facebook, the truth is that your community of potential viewers, readers, and stakeholders are engaging in multiple networks such as personal blogs, blog comments, Ning, Google and Yahoo Groups, Yelp, Upcoming.org, FriendFeed, and many others that surface with simple Web searches.

Journalists and reporters benefit from reminding the world that they’re real people who are learning that genuinely connecting and participating online, outside of traditional walled gardens, allows the rest of the world to appreciate who they are and what they stand for. Participation also empowers an influential group of content ambassadors who broaden the reach of their own personal and media brands and associated stories by willfully sharing and introducing links to their personal network.

These lessons are also critical for students who are learning about the past and the future in a real time collision of textbook cases combined with current online examples shared from peers and mentors in the field.

The Statusphere is the Future of Social Syndication

We’re shifting into a rapid-fire culture that moves at Twitter time. Attention is a precious commodity and requires a personalized engagement strategy in order to consistently vie for it. The laws of attraction and relationship management are driven by the ability to create compelling content and transparently expose it to the people whom you believe benefit the most from it.

The Statusphere is the new ecosystem for sharing, discovering, and publishing updates and micro-sized content that reverberates throughout social networks and syndicated profiles, resulting in a formidable network effect of activity. It is the digital curation of relevant content that binds us contextually to the statusphere, where we can connect directly to existing contacts, reach new people, and also forge new acquaintances through the friends of friends effect (FoFs) in the process.

Twitter, Facebook News Feeds, FriendFeed and other micro communities that define the Statusphere, are driving action and determining the direction and course of individual attention. It is inducing a more participatory, engaging, and enlightened community of media-literate information socialites.

I’d also argue that the Statusphere will ultimately replace bookmarks and RSS feeds as a traffic driver for the masses, as we increasingly rely on friends and peers to serve as our social seismograph for relevant and contextual data.

Journalists must tap the Statusphere in order to earn awareness for their work and more importantly, build relationships with those who share affinities for the topics they cover. While traditional media models lived and breathed through the sharing of content directly to the existing readership, new media will thrive from those individuals who reach people where they interact and hand-deliver relevant information directly to them.

News Feeds and Timelines serve as our centralized attention dashboard and determine what we read, what we say, and who responds simply by the information that continually flows through it. We’re engaged at the point and place of introduction and bound by context and time. Noticeable content sparks curiosity and dictates our next move and subsequently the next moves and reactions of friends and friends of friends (FoFs).

For journalists, it’s now their job to identify who these influencers are in order to establish an effective contextual network. With each new connection, journalists can appear in multiple, dispersed timelines to syndicate content across the social graph and social networks. Worthy content combined with evangelism and clever promotion will earn visibility and expanded syndication through retweet (RT), link shares, Diggs, Stumbles, bookmarks, tweetbacks, Likes, and other forms of social syndication. With each new instance of sharing, content reverberates through extended social graphs.

Content becomes a social object that inspires communication and action.

The Human Network and the Future of Socialized Journalism

The Human Network is powered by context. We learn by listening to relevant signals to learn from others who share our interests and passions. The idea is to complement individual connections with the creation of community around your personal brand supported by your associated views and perspectives.

We identify uniquely with different individuals across varying topics, but the timing of each update we share, which serves as the disruption point, combined with the state of the extended attention aperture of friends and FoFs are perhaps the most important factors in determining the thread and viral opportunity for potential conversations surrounding content. It is the Social Effect that determines actual reach, resonance and the course for individual content.

If you are a journalist, it’s now your responsibility to create a dedicated tribe that supports, shares, and responds to your work and personal interaction in both the Statusphere and also at the point of origin. It’s the only way to build a valuable and portable community around you and what you represent.

Savvy publishers and content producers will also benefit from the extended visibility and vibrancy of the supporting conversations and should in turn build and support campaigns and presences that promote the individual in addition to the media brand to create a dynamic and blooming human collective. Monetization is then influenced by the earned social capital and currency that is valued and measured through relationships and dialogue.

The humanization and socialization of journalism will create a viable platform for meaningful engagement that builds a new era of trust, loyalty and community around the media brand, one person at a time. Concurrently, it establishes a vibrant and collaborative highway to source and share stories by the people for the people to shape stories that matter beyond the assignment desk. Consumers are then vested in media and boast a sense of ownership and pride to have earned the opportunity to help shape its direction.

Content, and the reporters and journalists who produce it, must migrate to the individual attention dashboard in order to trigger a reaction that reverberates across the social graph and become gathering points for individual tribes. The key is held by perceptive and enterprising individuals who can attract, build, and foster flourishing audiences, and must be empowered to do so in order to lead viewers, friends, and friends of friends back to the original font of information—creating a new source of information stakeholders from the outside in.

Thanks for reading this far. If you would like to continue this conversation, connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Plaxo, FriendFeed, or Facebook.

(Photo by swanksalot).

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