Monday, 27 July 2009

Battle of giants: Social media, web 2.0 vs letters to editors and press releases

The other day I came across a beautiful and inspiring quote by George S. Patton "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."

Reading this quote made me realize that if I am not thinking like everyone it does not mean I am completely crazy, but it actually means I am thinking….

I've been thinking about how Web2.0 tools and social media have democratized the way we communicate and how they have opened up frontiers which only a decade ago were completely closed or perhaps only accessible to a small elite.

Today those who have embraced the philosophy underpinning web2.0 and social media are experiencing unprecedented freedom of speech and thought. This is why some governments are going out of their way to shut down or jam certain social networking sites and web2.0 tools. Little they know about the power of the community and network!

Let's take a trip in the time machine and go back 5 year. In July 2004 if I wanted to share my opinion and views about something I had read or come across I would have had to write a letter to the editor hoping that they would publish it. If I had written something that I thought was earth-shattering and groundbreaking the only way I could get it out was either to publish it in a journal, put it on my personal website which probably no one would have visited or if I was bold enough write an opinion editorial.

It goes without saying that since I am not a big shot nor a movie or rock star, neither my letter to the editor, nor my article and opinion editorial would have been published, resulting in me being highly frustrated.

July 2009, the world has changed and in this particular sense, it has changed for the better. Today, I am on an equal footing as the big shots and the movie and rock stars. I can freely share my insight and views with the rest of the world. I can go on-line and comment on almost anything. I can publish my groundbreaking and earth-shattering thought or aspiration. That is exactly what I am doing with this blogpost. I am in position of power, I can do it and I am not at anyone's mercy!

All of this is possible thanks to web2.0 paradigm, philosophy and thanks to a new way of life. Millions of people are taking advantage of this stuff and making their voice heard within and outside their communities and networks. What is happening is that if they have something good to say, their voice will be amplified exponentially, something that no opinion editorial or letter to the publisher could have ever achieved – even in their respective hey days.

Web2.0 and social media has created the phenomenon of citizen journalism which in turn is challenging traditional journalism. Thanks to YouTube, Blip.Tv, Flickr, Picasa and other tools we have access to documentaries, news, photos which mainstream media would most probably think twice before broadcasting, and yet these are real people-centred stories.

Traditional news/media outlets came to realize the potential and power of social media and web2.0 when they started feeling the blows. Some reacted more swiftly than others. I happened to recently watch 10 minutes of CNN's back report. I found it very entertaining. I watched Ivan Watson, a relatively seasoned CNN journalist "embedded" in a battalion in Afghanistan, showing us around the military camp, trying to tell the audience the human side of the story. What was amazing was their effort to make the piece look rough – so the pictures were grainy, they had done away with the usual script and articulate language. The rabbit in the hat was the "sock water", which Watson explained with some gusto. He explained how the soldiers put a bottle of water in a sock and hang it from their jeep and so that the desert wind can cool it making it drinkable. This was their version of a raw footage and a human story… good try.

Most mainstream newspapers now have their blog section, they are now allowing their readership to comment on their articles and they do not exercise editorial control as much as they used too… So, today, I can comment on virtually anything and no longer need to write a letter to the editor crossing my fingers that it will be published. Yet some people still insist in writing letters to editors and are very disappointed and frustrated when their letter is not published.

What is amazing is when I tell these disappointed people: "so what that the editor did get publish your letter, go on-line and add your comment, there are more people reading on-line comments and more importantly you give others an opportunity to react and comment on your comment", they look at me as if I am an extraterrestrial creature.

It gets worse when I dare say: "believe me pretty soon opinion editorials, press releases, print newspaper – the stuff we know today - will be subsumed by new forms of communication and this stuff will become artefacts for museums". That is when they go berserk and get all geared up to pull out the strait-jacket!

For me these are two instances how thinking like everyone means someone is not thinking. It is understood that the concept of "everyone" is relative…. My web2.0 friends and peers are part of another "everyone" dimension"!

All of us at some point were faced or are facing the challenge of making the "everyone" understand and appreciate the power and, potential of web2.0 and social media. We need good and convincing examples of how web2.0 and social media at work.

President Obama's campaign is a perfect example of social media and web2.0 tools in action. The White House website is another excellent example. Another good resource is Christian Kreutz's article "Exploring the potentials of blogging for development". This morning I came across a great blogpost entitled "Journalism should look to collaboration, not charity" on the Guardian blog – yeh, these guys are cool and have embraced web2.0 and social media.

Also thank God for news and information outlets such as Huffington Post, blogs such as Global Voices on-line and mainstream journalists such as Hala Garani, Rosemary Church, some ABC journalists and others who have adopted web2.0 way of life. Kudos to those journalists who use twitter to interact with their audience.

But yet, despite these examples and thousand othes, we are still faced with the enormous challenge of making the old-timers and the older generation understand the benefit and potential of social media.

These guys resist adopting these tools and way of life, because they see their area of expertise being eroded. Simply put THEY ARE AFRAID OF LOSING TEHIR JOB. Instead of jumping on this band-wagon and bringing in their vast experience, they end up sulking, sitting on the fence, hoping that this movement will die.

So what can we do to make them understand that: (a) the community has a lot to learn from them and is keen to benefit from and want to draw on their vast experience (b) this "thing" is here to stay and will not go away and (c) if they want to survive they better jump on the band-wagon as opposed to trying in vain to derail it, because it ain't going to derail, so they better use their energy positively!

On a bad day, I ask myself whether it is worth the effort to try to conceive the cynics that the old-way of doing business is now history. On these days I think maybe I should just concentrate my energy and efforts in grooming the younger generation – because they (a) have an excellent grasp of this new way of life, (b) I can learn a whole lot from them and (c) together we can do some fun stuff.

But when all is said and done, I really do not want to leave the "older generation" behind, because they too have a lot to offer, so if you know of any useful resource or if you have a rabbit in your hat, please share it. Let's not leave anyone behind!!!
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