Because it’s not an either / or proposition…

posted by Brendan Hodgson

When it comes to the inter-relationships between professional and amateur creators of content, the smart folks at Wharton have it right.

“Pitting amateur and professional content against each other makes a good storyline, but it’s misleading to see them as fundamentally opposed,” says Werbach. “User-generated content will never match The New York Times for the overall quality of coverage of the Iraq war, for example, but reading Iraqi blogs, or political blogs about the war, provides some perspectives you won’t get from any newspaper.” And, he adds, “There’s no way a traditional encyclopedia will ever match the coverage of Wikipedia, because there are so many more contributors. On the other hand, while the quality of most Wikipedia entries is surprisingly good, there are times you want the certainty of a reference work that is professionally edited and vetted, or a smaller set of resources that have been pre-selected by experts.”

For PR professionals, understanding the interplay between amateur and professional journalism is critically important. And as we counsel clients, we need to be sure that this interplay is reflected in our strategies as neither should work in total isolation of the other. Each offers a unique value that can further elevated when appropriately integrated. 

Both bring value,” says Kendall Whitehouse, senior director of IT at Wharton, in the article. “The latter brings quickness and a personal viewpoint and the former provides analysis and consistent quality (hmmm?). The world I want to live in includes healthy doses of both categories.” (Amen)

But to think that this is simply about old and new media would be a mistake. As Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, states: “The digital environment is putting an enormous responsibility on the consumer.” No doubt. But I would also suggest that this notion of responsibility also touches organizations as well, although less from the consumer perspective of becoming better judges of content, and more from being the providers of authoritative and credible content. In the same way media have, for years, held governments and corporations to account, and as the media themselves are now being held to account by bloggers in terms of ensuring fair and accurate reporting, I wonder if it’s not time for organizations to re-think their own responsibility to their own stakeholders – customers, employees, partners alike – in terms of addressing issues of inconsistency, inaccuracy and lack of context that could flow from traditional and new media alike. 

For example, to assume that 300 words in a newspaper or a 30-second clip on television is enough to provide sufficient context and clarity around an issue of critical importance, no matter how accurate the reporting, is as flawed as putting one’s faith and trust in an “anonymous” blogger. At the same time, many organizations have access to subject experts whose commentary could help bridge the link between these various media in a highly credible way.

And this, in my view, spells opportunity for many organizations who get it. Appropriate and transparent outreach, built on a commitment to authoritative rigour and timely, proactive engagement, can provide organizations with the means to play a more visible role in helping stakeholders and consumers make more discerning judgements on specific issues being discussed in both the mainstream and citizen media.

Update: What do I mean by this? Primarily, strategic use of digital tools to provide deeper insight on specific issues being discussed in both traditional and online media, to reinforce messages through substantiated examples supported by video or imagery, to showcase interviews with subject matter experts posted online, to provide FAQ’s and visualizations that either expand upon, refute or clarify discussions taking place in the traditional or online media, or to support engagement in forums and sites external to the organization itself.

It’s a role that organizations need to be prepared to step up to. 



Boyd Neil

The point I thnk is most questionable in this piece is by Whitehouse, and it precedes the comment you quote above:

"Whitehouse distinguishes professional content on the basis of its editorial process. ‘Carefully checked sources and consistent editorial guidelines are key differences between most professional and amateur content,’ he suggests, while noting that, ‘Both bring value.’"

Do we really believe the first applies to journalism today?



Brendan Hodgson

Hey Boyd… fair statement. I’ve always been one to suggest that while no professional journalism is ever truly fair and unbiased, it will always be (or aspire to be) accurate. But given some examples I’ve seen recently, I do think we have to begin to question even that part of the equation – exceptions to the rule notwithstanding – and agree that in this highly democratized yet fragmented media environment the need to be first is even more the imperative of the professional journalist than the need to be accurate.

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