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How Social Media Is Helping The Traditional Newsroom

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Rome Hartman, Rachel Sterne, Michael Meyers and Scott Karp on the UGCX stage

This morning we visited mediabistro.com’s user-generated content focused conference, UGCX, to listen in on a conversation about how social media is changing the face of the newsroom.

The morning panel, moderated by “BBC World News America” executive producer Rome Hartman, featured Ground Report editor-in-chief Rachel Sterne, NowPublic co-founder Michael Meyers and Publish2 co-founder Scott Karp and conversation ranged from water-skiing squirrels to Fox News.

Sterne and Meyers talked about how user-generated journalism and informational content can change the face of reporting news, using their own models as examples of that. Both Ground Report and NowPublic use a Wikipedia type model that allows citizen journalists to publish their own work. Meyers also oversees Examiner.com, which hires expert “examiners” to write about specific topics. Karp’s company helps traditional media organizations curate social media from the Web in real time, helping reporters gather news.

The result of these new sites and tools is that “regular people, like us, or anybody, have more power to contribute to the news process,” Sterne said.

Karp pointed out another upside: traditional media organizations can quickly update or correct stories. Where once a newspaper would publish once a day, sometimes with incomplete information, now they can constantly update stories, folding information from social media into reporting done the old fashioned way. This is more important than ever, he said, since “people are following in real time.”


Hartman found one hiccup in his panelists’ points of view: “You talk about the wisdom of crowds, but it’s a demonstrated fact that crowds typically like crap,” he said. While these methods encourage things that readers find interesting to float to the top, “what falls to the top is nonsense because people like water-skiing squirrels.”

So how can these models be used to help traditional media newsrooms that are financially struggling? Although a recent report from Michael Shudson and Leonard Downie Jr. may have given up hope for a for-profit model of a successful newsroom, Karp said there’s still options.

“We have to explore every nonprofit model but there is some capitulation on the for-profit model,” he said. “I don’t think we should be giving up at this point…There is still a lot of unexplored potential for finding ways to provide content to readers through the Internet.”

Meyers suggested the key for traditional media companies — and new media companies — is a “redesign of a lot of our concepts before we start to redesign our business models.”

During the Q&A segment at the end of the panel, Hartman got a chance to talk a little about Fox News. Although he admitted the news network has an “incredibly loyal audience,” he complained about their at times overt political bias. “Instead of ‘we report, you decide,’ fair and balanced, why don’t they just own up to it?” he asked. “It seems a little disingenuous to me.”

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