Social media can help, not hinder the job of journalists

While social media is still the new shiny toy for communications pros and investors alike, we can't become distracted from contemplating the broader shifts taking place in journalism and media relations, and how the industry must adapt to be more effective in the future.

With the fragmentation of media outlets and the myriad ways companies can connect directly with their publics, the practice of journalism will take on even greater importance, not less. Social media does not disintermediate the media because companies are biased by nature in their communications - and the public knows that.

The pressures on journalists that come from the shattering of the old economic model and the uncertain search for a new one create conditions that make it more difficult to connect your clients' messages with the right journalists at the right time. Journalists are under more pressure to publish quickly and frequently to feed the online economic model that is driven by page views.

Media relations will remain a relationship business, but relationships are moving away from the coffee shop and restaurant to online platforms. Subsequently, it is no longer the case that meaningful, valuable relationships are the exclusive domain of the "meatspace."

Furthermore, social media provides unprecedented channels for direct communication between companies and their various audiences. The ability to bypass the media and get your message out on your own terms or to engage customers directly in conversation is an essential tool for companies today, but it does not displace nor diminish the role or importance of the journalist.

The public is wise enough to know that a company's communications are driven by the desire to achieve some busi- ness objective, such as selling you a product. All companies lie to some degree, even if they are just a lot of little white lies. The public still turns to media outlets they trust to consolidate and process the information they want to consume. The explosion of "news" sources online will have consumers looking even more to the entities they trust most to validate and synthesize information.

Meanwhile, fewer journalists are under pressure to develop more content across multiple subjects to maximize online revenues, which are still insufficient to cover the costs of most newsrooms. Journalists' tools for finding and analyzing the information they need to do their reporting must work within their time- frame and their workflow. Media relations pros who want to effectively manage the message have to figure out ways to insert themselves in that process seamlessly.

The standard approaches of e-mailing pitches and calling media lists are becoming less effective because there is over- saturation of the inbox and journalists simply don't have the time to consume all of the incoming messages to determine what is relevant to them and their readers.

New technologies can help address some of these challenges. An ideal solution would enable PR professionals or companies to connect their points of view with the right journalists when it is most relevant to them, which is usually when they are on deadline. Online platforms make for more efficient transactions between "buyers and sellers," which you can see as a metaphor for companies seeking to promote their perspectives and journalists seeking information or content to support an article or analysis.

My company, NewsBasis, is developing such a platform, using some approaches that allow companies to embed their points of view directly into online articles that can be found by journalists when they are researching articles or looking for new angles to a story.

We don't have all of the solutions fully formed yet, but technology will play an increasingly important role in reducing friction in the marketplace for ideas that is media relations. l

Darryl Siry is the founder and CEO of NewsBasis, an online platform for journalists, PR pros, and companies. He can be reached at darryl@newsbasis.com.

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