Television and radio news programs used to boast, with some legitimacy, that they were the definitive sources for news “first”; if a story was breaking, they were your best bet for timely and accurate reporting. Of course, the primary determinant of just who is “first” with the news is the delay caused by an outlet’s production requirements — stories need to be written and filed, newspapers need to be printed and distributed, television needs to be shot and edited, etc. It doesn’t matter how many reporters there are on the ground, it’s the lines of communication between reporter and news consumer that matter.
Last night, as the coalition’s ETS party room meeting stretched into its eighth hour, there were hordes of people around Australia desperate to know the outcome of their ETS debate along with the status of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. But where to turn? The newspapers were 18 hours old and the new ones six hours away, there were no up-to-date stories on the papers’ websites, and there was nothing on the telly for non-cable subscribers (after 7.30 Report finished).
Thank goodness for Twitter.
Throughout last night’s political drama and excitement, on Twitter via iPhone and BlackBerry from the halls of APH, were several of the nation’s leading mainstream media political journalists tapping away at their micro keyboards to ensure that the Twitterverse was the most informed cohort of political observers in Australia. Thanks to Twitter and those social media-savvy journos, thousands upon thousands of Australians learned about the goings-on in the opposition party room literally hours before anyone else, making (for a short while at least) traditional news channels redundant.
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And not only were these front-line political journalists talking directly in real time to news consumers without any editorial filter, the consumers were talking back and the journos were listening; there was a conversation instead of a monologue. It’s turning into a bit of a cliche for those of us who endlessly spruik the benefits of well-used social media, but the genuine bi-directionality of the communication on display last night is a shining example of how journalism and media are changing, no matter how much some industry dinosaurs wish it wasn’t.
This is the kind of interaction that builds a relationship and trust between news brand and news consumer, and ultimately makes the consumer more willing to pay for the brand. As one Twitterer said this morning: “somewhat oddly I think I’d more likely pay for the tweets of some journos than for the paper they write for.” Something to chew on for those large media organisations wondering how to convince their consumers to hand over cash for content.
Of course, the considered analysis of last night’s events will be delivered to consumers today via more traditional news channels and with the necessary time delay, and it is in this space that traditional news outlets will continue to serve an extremely useful purpose. But like it or not, Twitter and other social media, along with their users, are now an integral part of the portfolio of sources and mediums that inform a well-rounded news consumer and there’s not much anybody can do about it.