In the new order, how does the casual or occasional searcher determine the quality of sources around a new topic?
Niche publications don’t appear, for the most part, to have been de-stabilised by the current media disruption – indeed, many have thrived. This puts a value on quality (and tribes) rather than quantity. This is positive, for the most part.
However, in searches, I might well start to come up – after publishing this blog – for Bavarian Bullfrogs (should anyone be looking for them). In truth, I know nothing about them, and my Google search revealed little to suggest they even exist. If the Guardian or BBC writes about them, they can expect a wider audience, and more ‘eyeballs’ than a genuine Bavarian Bullfrog expert with just two regular readers (with apologies to any genuine Bavarian Bullfrog experts for any inadvertent prejudice.)
Big numbers and search rankings don’t equate to quality. So how will we move beyond the numbers game to easily assess quality? Or are we happy with a Google algorithm?
We live in a capitalist society. People need to make a living to keep food on the table and roof over their heads. The people crafting stories need to earn money. In a traditional publishing model, editorial, advertorial (paid editorial) and advertising were clearly demarcated and financing was relatively obvious. A different kind of literacy is now required. If publishers – personal or organisational – are being paid for something other than the writing, then the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of anything written are top priority questions. And how can the writer’s identity be verified?
Not unrelated to this quality issue, a recent PR Week survey revealed that half of PR consultants would pay bloggers to create posts. It caused a sharp intake of breath. Those who already believe that PR folk are the scum of the on-line Earth added that particular fact to long list of other reasons to tar and feather us. But the reverse side of the equation was subjected to very little examination.
If PR people are paying them, bloggers are accepting the money. Most blogging codes are voluntary, and, with very little exception, self regulated. (Yes, I have signed up to the Blogger’s Code, and yes, everything on this blog is utterly, utterly biased and limited to my understanding of the world in which I operate. But I digress.) How do we ensure a transparency that was implicit in old media structures, albeit occasionally flawed?
Media boundaries are now hard to define. Virgin and Sky are classic examples – are they media properties, telecoms companies, broadcasters? Or all of the above and more besides? Regulation can’t keep pace, so how could it be done in a more responsive, equitable fashion?
And what form(s) should public service broadcasting take? The BBC comes up for more examination regarding bias than others (rightly, given their funding). Personally I resent paying for the BBC out of my license fee far less than I resent giving money to buoy explicitly commercial enterprises. But are we seeing enough vision in remit?
Remaining with things regulatory, libel laws across the world create great problems to investigative journalists in search of truths. So in this brave new media world, how do we balance the need for a free and open media with the need to protect the rights of an individual to prevent the spreading of falsehoods? (I’ve seen someone through the wrong end of this debate, and the wrong kind of media glare can be unbearable.)
The reverse side of that coin is how to prevent the truth coming out unevenly in certain circumstances. It is almost impossible for companies to control the flow of information out. But regulated markets (including the stock markets) have disclosure rules. There are an awful lot of social media practitioners – bloggers and marketers alike – plying their ways and offering advice without the rigour that the NCTJ frames, the legalities traditionally taught by PR companies, or even any insurance against the accident just waiting to happen. How will markets and companies adapt?
I acknowledge that this post merely scratches the surface of some the questions meriting consideration. But start from here and….
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