Let’s take it back to a magical time when newspapers were newspapers and social media was MySpace. It was 2005, and people spent their Sundays poring over a dense print edition of their local newspaper, section by section, before later turning to their enormous desktop computer screen and carefully curating their Top 8.
For a while, traditional media scoffed at social as a source of real news, smacking it down as merely reactive to the hard stuff – not the core of anything concrete but instead a cacophony of regurgitated opinions against a backdrop of cat memes and brunch Instagrams. But as social media has matured, it has evolved two specific functions: publishing and messaging.
Enter 2015. To the untrained eye, it’s almost like both spaces are currently in the midst of an identity crisis. Is LinkedIn a professional networking site or a professional publishing site? Is Facebook a social media network or a media company? And is Snapchat just indulging millenials’ selfie obsession, or is it surreptitiously converting the Internet generation into news junkies?
What we’re seeing is the beginning of the tech and media industries collapsing into one another. It makes sense – every other industry has been disrupted and reshaped by tech. Publishing was just late to the party after some internal identity struggles. The rules are also different here – these two spaces have grown into each other through a natural evolution in reporting, storytelling and information sharing rather than a single disruptive blow from one to the other. Lines haven’t been drawn; they’ve been blurred.
Some are dubbing it a journalistic “third way”: a marriage of old news norms and standards with the transparency and openness of social media. What will the hybrid children look like? Think Quartz, the digitally native offspring of old-media stalwart The Atlantic, which categorizes articles under “Obsessions” – topics of current interest that have more in common with trending hashtags than traditional news sections. Or Medium, publishing’s love child with Twitter that elevates citizen journalists into something that actually resembles real journalists. Or even the infant Reported.ly, fresh out of a “baptism by fire” after putting its social-first reporting and publishing model to the test by jumping into real-time coverage of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy a mere 48 hours after launching.
Whether you’re for this shift or against it, one thing is certain: there are more stories being told by a larger range of voices and in a greater number of ways than ever before. I don’t know about you, PR colleagues, but that sounds an awful lot like opportunity to me.