This has been a trying week for many residents and businesses along the East Coast.
People living and working in and around New York City have seen the worst in terms of damage and crisis response and the best in the leaders and neighbors who acted selflessly in support of the community.
The return on human investment may not be as obvious or readily measurable beyond crises, however it's there. When we choose to upgrade how we connect by acting upon opportunities to be of service, we upload humanism.
Connecting the stream with action
We saw it this week, how social media kept people connected to the news as it developed, and each other -- a new definition of "friend" emerged, they were those in need. People do see it when there is a need for a free lunch, and generosity in giving is the appropriate social gesture.
Social networks had and continue to play an even greater role in keeping people informed than they did when the earthquakes struck Japan, directing attention with images and videos, and highlighting small and big acts of kindness.
The public nature of streams inspires those who see what is happening to copy it. We are social and we'll do what the other is doing. This is where leading by example matters and our propensity to copy is put to good use.
Media embrace real time
A trend I saw developing and coming into its own at SxSW 2011, where media started embracing real time by embedded recording, doing ambient journalism, and engaging in public experimenting.
Citizens are part of it more than ever -- the future of we media was already here, just unevenly distributed. Since switching to the Disqus commenting masks native comments, and because Bruno Giussani left a comment on that post that is still very much relevant today, I am reporting it in its entirety here:
Good post Valeria, and thanks for the mention -- and for the reminder of the absurd way established media looked at blogs just 5 years ago.
I agree with pretty much everything you wrote (I actually wrote something that could fit right into your column back in 1997 already:
"The role of the journalist is changing into a more central figure, a mediator. He directs traffic, explores, becomes a facilitator of discussions. His new power will depend on his ability to animate a group of people, to develop methods and means to enliven the community, to organize information-gathering and use with the participation of the members of the community."#
Truth is, we're in an era of hybridization of media, and that goes two-ways.
Newspapers and magazines and broadcasters have been opening up to everything form blogging to crowdsourcing.
Conversely, many blogs have become almost traditional media (in terms of business model and structure -- take Gawker, or DailyKos, or TalkingPointMemo: they have more flexibility and smaller overhead, but they're basically traditional publishers) and it's telling that of the three examples you mention, David and Steve work for communication firms and John is a consultant and speaker, i.e. they derive their paycheck from sources other than journalism. They do "journalism on the side", including their columns for AdAge etc.
Those are great additions to the conversation, but aren't necessarily great additions to journalism, in particular to the journalism that a democracy needs to function -- long reporting, researching, travelling, taking risks, exposing corruption and lies, going up against established powers, etc.
Sure, everybody can make a long list of examples of bloggers doing some of this work (from the Dan Rather story to the AG scandal to local happenings) and a similarly long list of established media with lots of resources screwing it up (NYT on Iraq, just to mention one).
But still the key question remains: how will the necessary journalism be organized and be paid for in the future?
The best journalism on TV today is either paid for by the public through mandatory fees (BBC) or paid for by philanthropic and corporate-social-responsibility money (Bill Moyers on PBS): is that the model of the future?
A second caveat is: while all you write applies perfectly to the US media landscape, it doesn't necessarily apply to the rest of the world, where media habits, market structures, and roles are different.
In many African countries, the best journalism today is often done by bloggers -- because they have a space for freedom that newspapers don't (it's easier to shut down a printing plant: read the difficulties Andrew Mwenda encountered trying to print his newspaper.
In Europe, newspapers' and magazines' sites dominate the online space and conversation (with the possible exception of Italy, where Beppe Grillo has emerged as a major political force, mostly because television news has turned into irrelevant political banter and most newspapers are going the same way).
News organizations are adopting social tools for reporting in real time, too -- with Twitter as a self-cleaning oven (expression came from New Yorker writer Sasha Frere-Jones) for news. Alexis Madrigal set out to unmask fake photos at The Atlantic is a notable example.
We were incredibly lucky around where I live and work near Philadelphia. And we're supporting humanitarian organizations and friends.
I was glad to hear back from most of my friends, colleagues, and peers in the NYC area that they are safe, even as many are experiencing the stress of being without water or power for days.
Did businesses connect the stream with action? Did they become social? Tomorrow we'll take a look at the conversation signposts for organizations.
[image courtesy PSFK]
Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a speaking engagement click here.