Professional journalists at loggerheads over social media

At the B2B Marketing Awards last night, my colleague Lance and I were explaining Prompt’s (award-winning!) social media monitoring service to one of our fellow gala diners.

“Well, that all sounds marvellous,” came the response, “but it’s beyond me. I barely know how to text.”

Now you might think that with blogging celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year, and Facebook being touted as the advertising and word-of-mouth marketing platform du jour, today’s marketers might be more clued up by now about the importance and value of social media.

But if you’re more like our table-mate from last night, you can at least take heart that a lot of journalists are equally confused about the ‘participatory internet’. The past ten days or so have seen an extraordinary exchange of views about the impact of Web 2.0 on professional journalism, resulting in a high-profile resignation from the National Union of Journalists.

It all started with an opinion article in The Journalist, the NUJ’s official publication, entitled ‘Web 2.0 Is Rubbish‘. In it, the union’s National Executive Council representative for new media journalists, Donnacha DeLong, argues that media organisations that embrace Web 2.0 are undermining professional journalism by burying ‘authoritative’ content under deluges of comments from ‘average people’ (that’s the readers, viewers and listeners), to the extent that some organisations (DeLong doesn’t specify which ones, but I imagine the Guardian’s Comment is Free site is one of the intended targets) seem to want to remove the journalism entirely and just post comments from readers.

Like Andrew Keen, DeLong appears to believe that only professional journalists are qualified to provide authoritative news and comment, and that amateurs with blogs and digital cameras should not be allowed to assume the role traditionally played by journalists. His position plays into a larger debate about whether journalists should be required by their employers to become multimedia experts, capable of taking and uploading their own photos, editing their own videos and podcasts, and writing blog posts, in an effort to mirror the way that online publishing as a whole is heading.

The NUJ appears to want to protect its members against having to learn and use these new skills, but many journalists believe that the union should instead be helping its members to embrace new Web 2.0 techniques and technologies, otherwise their jobs will be at risk. The Telegraph’s online communities editor Shane Richmond and Guardian columnist and blogger Jeff Jarvis both provide critiques of the NUJ’s perceived reactionism, while Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade has gone one step further and resigned publicly from the union.

So for any PR people out there struggling to deal with the new world of social media, don’t forget that things aren’t all that clear-cut on the other side of the fence, either.

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