Blogs & Comment

Twitter vs. Traditional Media

I recently participated in one of the Empire Clubs new Lunch n Learn sessions, which offered an interactive Q&A session on the need for corporations to adjust media relations and communications strategies to the emerging opportunities and challenges created by social media.
The event was moderated by tweeter Boyd Neil, who is also senior VP and national director of Hill and Knowltons corporate communications practice in Canada. He set the tone by asking audience members if their employer was prepared to withstand an attack launched on YouTube or Twitter.
Peter Acteo was on hand to share his reasoning for tweeting as the CEO of ING Direct Canada. You can find them on Twitter. But simply put, he thinks anyone who can talk openly and honestly online as an executive, without plugging products, has an opportunity to better connect with consumers.
Suzanne Fallander, Intels manager of corporate responsibility, flew in from the States to explain why her company runs CSR@INtel. The intent is to use social media to create greater transparency through an open dialogue with Intel bloggers, who manage Intels CSR strategy in the areas such as environmental sustainability and philanthropy.
My job was to express my opinion on social media as a print journalist. In all the discussion about the impact of social media on the declining financial health of print and broadcast media, the most interesting question, according to Boyd, is whether journalism today is surrendering its role as the watchdog of political and business behaviour to a much broader cadre of watchers, which sometimes includes members of the public who are simply in the right place at the right time.
Is this true? Boyd asked me. My answer, of course, was: No.
I wasnt just offering a self-serving answer. It is a free market. The advertising revenue that supports traditional media is obviously free to (and should) search out the best means possible to attract eyeballs. There will be an adjustment period for news organizations. There will be lost print publications. And the survivors will have to explore the proper mix of paper-based and electronic forms of information delivery. But there will always be a need and demand for traditional journalism.
As I told the Empire Club audience, anyone can run around screaming like the town crier, but they cant deliver information with the same authority. I do not, in any way, dismiss the power and reach of bloggers. I just do not feel that my profession (trade actually) is threatened by bloggers like Torontos Neil Pasricha. He posts about things like loving warm underwear on 1000 Awesome Things, which recently won a coveted Webby Award in the best personal/cultural blog category. He could report news as well, but the coverage would not necessarily be awesome.
I am privileged to work for Canadian Business magazine, which frequently allows me to spend months chasing major feature stories that could not be told, at least not nearly as well, without the resources of a traditional media organization. That includes folks in the art department, not to mention the editors, who help me package my stories and investigative reports. It also includes the researchers and fact checkers and lawyers who help me report complex and controversial tales the right way.
I dont know exactly how daily news and magazine-style journalism will be delivered a decade from now, but I do know there will always be a market for the kind of unique content that recently helped Canadian Business land a nomination for best magazine of 2008.
In the meantime, corporation must indeed take note that social media has empowered consumers. Last year, I wrote about the Canadian investors who used Facebook to face down Bay Street insiders during the ABCP restructuring. A similar event just took place in the UK, where Busts for Justice, a Facebook campaign launched to support large-breasted women, just forced Marks & Spencer to admit it boobed when trying to charge extra for bras with a DD cup or larger.
But be advised, social media also has made journalists of all stripes more powerful than ever before. I just published a massive feature in Canadian Business after an 8-month investigation into UK-based shareholder complaints directed at three Montreal businesses, including the former Canadian franchise partner of socially responsible Ben & Jerrys. I used the Internet to collect information while joining overseas chat groups to see if other shareholders had similar concerns with these companies. What I found is a fascinating tale of international investor protection woes. To find out more, please check out the current issue of our magazine, which is also jammed with other interesting features and our I500 market data on Canadian companies. And, hey, you really cant get that combination of informative goodies anywhere else.
_____________________________________ DOUBLE TAKE:Aside from trying to promote myself while generating Web traffic that helps put bread and butter on my table, this blog aims to stir debate by taking a harder look at current news and events. I obviously enjoy voicing my own opinions, but I am a big boy and I welcome all comments that dont require R ratings. So let me have it via this blog or send me an email at tom.watson@canadianbusiness.rogers.com. I reserve the right to post email comments without disclosing the senders name. If you dont think I am a total twit, follow my DOUBLE TAKE posts via my NotSOCRATES Twitter site at http://twitter.com/NotSocrates. THOMAS WATSONis a Senior Writer and editorial board member at Canadian Business magazine. Since winning a community journalism award as a cub reporter with the Hamilton Spectator in the early 90s, he has covered business, finance, politics and technology for various news outlets. Prior to joining CB in 2001, he reported on the steel and automotive sectors for the Financial Post. Watson received his first magazine award nomination for exposing a stock manipulation plot aimed at Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text in 2000, when he was head of investor relations for an international venture capital outfit in the City of London. Watson holds graduate degrees in journalism, international relations and public finance and undergraduate degrees in history and politics.