Reuters’ Salmon: Facebook and Twitter Don’t Replace Community Journalism

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share button keyWe all know that Facebook, Twitter and other social media are transforming news in major ways. But Reuters blogger Felix Salmon says social media — especially Facebook — aren’t just changing news as we have known it, but creating an entirely new news product that is defined by “personalization.”

In a recent post, Salmon wrote: “We’re only just beginning to get an idea of the kind of journalism — and the kind of news — these new platforms are going to produce. … It will include discursive conversations and opinionated video; it will be fast, and slow, and funny, and serious, and personal, and universal, and hyper-local, and global, and everything in between.”

Since so much of this new content, especially on Facebook, is created at the local/hyperlocal level, I went to Salmon to find out if there’s a place for community news sites in this world of personalized information populated by more than a billion self-editors.

Some journalists turn up their noses at Facebook and what people talk about on the site — “Have you heard the news? Janet’s pregnant!,” to quote your recent Reuters post. Is getting this granular the new job of community editors?
No, human editors can’t get that granular. Only Facebook really knows who your friends are, which is pretty much the group of people who you care whether they’re pregnant or not.

Felix SalmonAs this transformation of news gains pace, what happens to community news sites? Do they disappear, and the news and the conversations around them all migrate to Facebook and Twitter, or can the conversations loop back to the news sites?
If local/community news sites cover local/community news, they can absolutely become the locus of conversation around that news. Facebook and Twitter are ways to share news with their community; they don’t replace community journalism.

Can and should some of these conversations lead to what Ken Doctor of Newsenomics calls “informed action” as well as “civic deliberation?”
Absolutely. We’ve already seen that in the world of economics: the conversation in the blogosphere has a real effect on policymakers. As more and more policymakers pay more and more attention to what their respective constituencies and communities are saying online, the power of those communities to effect real-world action will only increase.

Who monetizes community news in this new, disintermediated environment — can at least some revenue flow to the currently and mostly struggling community sites or does it all go to the big social media platforms?
I don’t think it’s helpful to think of Facebook and Twitter as “monetizing community news.” If you’re in the business of community news, it’s up to you to monetize it, and social media can help you do that in any number of ways. In other words, they’re a tool for you to use, they’re not competing for local dollars.

If you were a publisher in the hyperlocal digital space, what would you start doing, right now, to stay abreast of the fast-paced change you describe in your blog post?
I would try to follow, on Twitter and Facebook, as many members of my community as possible — with the aim of following all of them. By doing so you get a real feel for what they’re interested in, and that in turn allows you to serve them much better.

Do you think publishers of digital community news get the message, or will they be fossilized?
I don’t think it’s helpful to generalize. Some will succeed; some will fail. That’s business in general, not just the media business.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of the in-development hyperlocal news network Local America that will rate communities on their performance across a broad spectrum of livability. He will present the site’s new demo on Charleston, S.C., at the DIG SOUTH 2014 interactive festival in Charleston on April 9-13, 2014.