Trylon Communications  - May 2004

Participatory Journalism

The days of single “trusted source” journalism are on the wane. The profusion of broadband and “always-connected” access to information is allowing news consumers to choose their news topics, providers, and media. The result? Greater opportunities and challenges for PR-minded marketers exist now than ever before.

Already, the flood of news and information is overwhelming editors. The amount of unedited information being run on news shows is increasing (see companion story “Let the Viewer Beware.”)  Any person with a digital camera/phone who is in the right spot at the right time can contribute to a news show by filming unfolding events. In fact, the BBC asked viewers to deliver news footage during recent anti-war demonstrations.

In our Fracture series (view part one, part two, part three) we discussed how broadband is changing the way people obtain information. The paradox of an audience that is growing increasingly more fragmented while the media is converging is confusing to say the least.

New tools such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) that deliver news directly to computer desktops based on individual preferences will facilitate consumer fragmentation while encouraging media convergence. The specific media channel is no longer important when one can easily choose between a newspaper article, a Weblog posting, a radio interview or a television news bite, all covering the same story.

As broadband speeds increase and the Internet fulfills its promise, content will be prepared to order – like ordering dinner a la carte. When television sets carry the Web and computers carry TV networks, distinctions will further blur and the role of the media will change even more. Consumers, instead of the media, will dictate the news– which will change how marketers disseminate their messages via PR.

The “trusted source” of a single Walter Cronkite is giving way to thousands of Weblogs.  Today’s “trusted source” can be just about anyone who posts to a blog – and the blog owner becomes more or less an arbitrator or go-between. Consumers have become the producers, and yesterday’s producers are now merely co-producers.

From this evolution comes opportunity. In an article written nearly two years ago, we discussed “Pitching Blogs.” With Weblogs covering just about any type of industry and interest, the number of potential “news” outlets is becoming staggering. The odds of finding an outlet for a legitimate news story grow greater every day.

Challenges accompany these opportunities. Finding the right “voice” in the correct outlet becomes more daunting as the number of new outlets grows. And since anyone with a gripe about your company can find a willing ear (and mouth) on the Web, the potential need for fire-fighting is compounded.