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Hypergene MediaBlog » Being the big ear
All about Participatory Journalism - how audiences are changing the future of news and information.
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Being the big ear

Steve Rubel, of the wonderful PJ2PR weblog, Micro Persuasion, offers up some excellent advice to his PR peers: The Art of Listening. Simply put: use blogs to listen and learn from the market. Bravo.

It reminded us of a talk we gave a several years back at the University of Minnesota, offering similar advice to media companies:

"Today, news media organizations are story instigators. They start stories. Once they are released, stories transform and take a life of their own, well beyond the control of the organization. They are retold, appropriated and reused to explain the meaning of other stories.

“Now, with the Internet, we have the power to not only start stories (reporting, news gathering) but then capture how the world interacts with it, reacts to it and changes it. We now have the ability to hear the world tell the story back to us.

“Media organizations can no longer just be the ‘big mouth’, they have to be the ‘big ear’. “

bike lock Using a case study of the Kryptonite bike lock (it was discovered that a simple ball point pen could unlock these well-known high security bike locks), Steve correctly explains that bloggers are story starters too. And he makes a good case for why it’s valuable for marketers to listen and participate in the blogosphere.

However, like so many these days, Steve mistakenly elevates the weblog as the end-all-be-all of participatory journalism. “Bloggers are a leading indicator of online trends,” he says. This meme isn’t exactly new. In fact, we’re probably all guilty of it from time to time. Maybe everyone’s just basking in the post-Rathergate glow or something. Who knows? Regardless, it’s a not a view that entirely helps his case.

Case in point: A reader named “PR Diva” replies to Steve’s article with the ole “skills-win-over-hype” chesnut we’ve been hearing from Big Media for so long:

"The whole blog culture is — most importantly — useless for a PR professional if they don’t possess the foundations of good PR skills. It’s in transition — meaning that how we use it as PR people will be constantly changing for some time. What you learn today will be out of date and out of vogue tomorrow. And lastly, what seems like an overwhelming haystack of web pages, indecipherable acronyms and faceless scribblers is much more navigable than it first appears.

“Blogs are just a new channel for buzz. Gossip. Blather. Evangelical opinion sharing. After five or ten years of this, blogs have, like most things on the internet, cooked down so that the important gossip about something specific (such as bikes or Bush) can be heard by dropping by as few as two or three very popular sites."

It’s easy for folks like PR Diva to attack the form (weblog), and even easier to generalize their function (blather). But notice that she does not (and frankly cannot) debunk the larger movement of We Media.

The blogosphere is just one component of the emerging media ecosystem. As we tried to stress in Chapter 3 of We Media, weblogs are not the only tools of participatory media that should concern PR and media professionals. Some tools have been around for quite some time, such as mailing lists, bulletin boards, forums and instant messaging. Others forms — weblogs, wikis, RSS, SMS, moblogs, camera phones, podcasting, and the ever-growing wealth of collaboration and social networking tools, — are newer and garnering well-deserved attention. Together, not individually, these tools are enabling powerful, and sometimes unforseen, methods of creating and disseminating of news and information.

Being the big ear requires more than just listening to weblogs (though that is a good start). It requires a willingness to accept that media is undergoing a a period of profound change and the courage to jump into the fray, explore how these tools are transforming our businesses, and share our experiences.

We cannot afford to be blog-myopic. Indeed, the grassroots reporting behind the Kryptonite bike lock story began not on a blog, but on a forum — one of the the oldest and still most popular forms of online participation.

p.s. Steve Rubel’s weblog is one the best on the subject of participatory journalism to appear in the last 18 months. We are huge fans.

Posted on Nov 09, 2004 | 9:35 pm EST

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