A few days ago I went along to the excellent News:Rewired annual conference in London. It was a gathering of journalists, photographers, CEOs, entrepenurs, bloggers, other content creators looking at the latest tools of the trade.
I decided straight away not to liveblog the event – there was already teams of others doing that – or to even tweet frantically (leave it to the youngsters, eh?), so giving myself the chance to listen a little closer to what was being said.
Now, a few days on, I can crack my knuckles and settle down to a bit o’ bloggage.
Much has already been written, and rightly so because a lot of ground was covered. Many good write-ups here.
A lot of the day was split into different sessions, so nobody could attend all and soak everything up. For me one of the most interesting aspects was the amount of time given to social media:
The keynote address was by Liz Heron, the New York Times’ social media editor. There was also a session in social media optimization; another session in ‘searching social media for news’; and a final debate on ‘setting social media standards’.
This is not surprising, given the rush to embrace Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and soon Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr and Instagram. Liz Heron talked of social media skills being a natural part of the journalist’s repertoire.
But during a session on exploring paid-content models, an interesting point came out, about social media.
Francois Nel, an academic, gave an interesting talk comparing the digital strategies of The Guardian and the Daily Mail [disclaimer, the company I work for, Northcliffe, is owned by DMGT, which also owns the Daily Mail and the Mail Online, although there is no crossover].
Mr Nel compared the newspapers’ two print products, their two websites’ growth, their iPad apps, and their social media strategies.
He argued that at the same time as Mail Online has become the world’s largest news website with a 60 per cent year-on-year growth, it has managed to steady the decline in print circulation of the Daily Mail. It has an iPad app which promises users their ‘favourite website’ in an app. It does have a Facebook page with just over 17,000 ‘likes’, and a Twitter account with 55,000 followers. DMGT is doing very nicely, financially speaking, Mr Nel told News:Rewired.
Then he turned to The Guardian, saying the print edition had fallen by 14 per cent, and the website had seen smaller growth than the Mail Online. It too has an iPad app, which promises ‘today’s paper, beautifully delivered’ (note, not the website, but the paper).
Where The Guardian does get bigger numbers is in social media - 300,000-plus Twitter followers (and that’s just one of many Twitter accounts it uses) and with more than 285,000 Facebook fans.
Mr Nel made two very interesting conclusions. First, he said The Guardian was wrong to use digital channels (web and iPad app) as a substitute for print - that is, giving people the same content in both formats. The Mail Online, he argues, got it right by separating print from digital, and offering a wholly different product. That’s very interesting to any journalist who will have heard the “newsroom convergence” mantra a few hundred times or so over the past five years.
Secondly, he argued that society needed to think about ‘reciprocation’ - which I think by which he meant that Guardian readers (and one would guess that there were many at News:Rewired) should be thinking more about what they were consuming for free, and choosing to pay for it. (I may have not interpreted the finer point he was making there).
But for me, there was a third question, surrounding the use of social media. The figures clearly show that The Guardian has far more reach on social media than the Mail Online. Indeed they have even made a Facebook app so users don’t even have to go to the Guardian website. (More on how that works here LINK] More social reach, but struggling as a business. So, what’s the point of getting the most Facebook likes and Twitter followers?
Of course social media serves a purpose. But I do wonder if the rush to embrace it may not one day be a Second Big Mistake made by the news media.
We did it once – the rush to put all our content online for free. Now it’s too late to turn back the clock. With Web 2.0 we’re not just making content free, but we’re putting it on other platforms.
Where’s the pot of gold going to come from?