Adapting to the digital age

"Everyone gets religion when they're on death row. It's easy to go bankrupt and decide to do something else," Mathew Ingram, a senior writer with technology blog GigaOM, told the Future of Media gathering Wednesday.
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Parents know the constant debate in their heads on whether to engage or ignore a child throwing a tantrum.

Now traditional and twitter-savvy journalists are divided over whether to engage or ignore their audiences via social media.

“It’s called social media. It’s not called static one-way media,” Mathew Ingram, a senior writer with technology blog GigaOM, told the Future of Media gathering Wednesday night in Toronto.

But fellow panelist Jamie Angus, the acting head of news at BBC World News, said the British news organization was wrestling with whether to allow journalists to debate, and even editorialize, with audiences about content, with the attendant risk of bad publicity.

“You can always generate a story about how a journalist acted daft on twitter,” Angus insisted.

Ingram insisted a newsroom policy that called for social media to help report news, and not actively interact with audiences, was an invitation to not “say anything interesting or controversial or anything bad.”

The blogger accepted there were risks with newsroom use of social media and its Internet-wide audience: “it feels like a conversation with a bunch of people in a bar, but you’re reaching potentially millions of people.”

But Ingram added social media interaction, including audiences giving journalists feedback or offering corrections, produced better journalism.

Over all, Future of Media panelists agreed twitter, Facebook and other social media is driving Canadian media today as newspapers, broadcasters and other media outlets make a bee-line online, to mobile and other emerging digital platforms to stay alive and remain relevant.

“We needed to stop building our work flow round print, and building online and mobile as a supplemental,” Chris Boutet, senior producer for digital media at the National Post said of his newspaper’s recent transformation.

The national daily instead reversed that process, creating a digital product before ultimately converting it into a print product.

“We don’t have two brains, a digital and a print side. We’re using the same resources for both mediums,” Boutet added.

GigaOM’s Ingram was quick to point out the National Post adopted its digital first, print last policy only after enduring and emerging from bankruptcy.

“Everyone gets religion when you’re on death row. It’s easy to go bankrupt and decide to do something else,” he said.

Jon Taylor, senior director of content for Bell Media, who is helping bridge the digital and broadcast assets at a BCE-era CTV network, said the broadcaster, hardly facing execution, is currently grappling with a digital-first approach to media while preserving its biggest revenue generator, broadcast assets.

“We’re not on death row yet, but we’re getting religion. My role is a step in the right direction. We have a TV person focused on how to translate content into digital. It’s less about those TV dollars and the digital pennies, and it’s a worry and a concern about what we’re going to do in digital,” Taylor told the Future of Media conference.