The Worldwide Connection

TechCrunch has a very interesting article entitled “The Whining Sound You Hear Is The Death Wheeze Of Newspapers.” It’s well worth a read.

The article discusses how some large media organizations are accusing Google of “stealing” their copyrighted content. It also links to another TechCrunch post about the Associated Press declaring that it will now police the Web and “develop a system to track content distributed online to determine if it is being legally used.”

There is a huge challenge in trying to police the Internet and, while I am not a copyright expert, it seems to me that some of these large media conglomerates are spending an awful lot of time, energy and money on trying to control the Internet instead of focusing on creating a new, interactive and collaborative business model.

I read a lot of blogs, follow a lot of people (but not too many!) on Twitter, spend time on Facebook, use Google, and spend far too much time on Mashable. From my perspective, content creators online are quick to credit and to link to others – including media outlets. Doesn’t this drive traffic to the media sites? Isn’t that a good thing? And – according to the TechCrunch article – there is a way for these big media moguls to stop Google from listing their content and it’s just one line of programming. So why don’t they…because they WANT people to find the news and click that link. It seems like they want to have their cake and eat it too.

One of the few “grown ups” in journalism that I think really “gets it” and is investigating how journalism and the Internet can create a mutually beneficial relationship is Kirk LaPointe of The Vancouver Sun. His blog is also worth following.

I love journalism. I grew up at Maclean’s and I have a huge respect for how the mind of a journalist works. We, as a society, need journalists to ask the tough questions, to research and fact check, to make complex subjects more understandable to those of us who are not experts in the field, and to bring perspective and balance to an issue. In my opinion, journalists are an important part of the fabric of our society. It’s not the journalists doing this…it’s the big business that has been behind the media for all these years.

The Newspaper Association of America is meeting in San Diego this week and according to a blog post by Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, he says that Google CEO Eric Schmidt will speak to them.  That will be an interesting discussion.

This is an interesting time. I hope the business of the big media companies doesn’t get in the way of true journalism and that the big dog media conglomerates can find a way to see the value of the Internet, bloggers and Google and the fact that this wide open approach to information, sharing and a global conversation is a really good thing. And if they put half as much energy into finding a way to make money from it as they do trying to control it, their world would be much less stressful. 

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I was watching the late news on Friday night and saw a story on the challenges that CTVglobemedia is facing. The Vancouver Sun has a good article on what the media giant is dealing with. Being a media junkie and a communicator, I have been watching the shift in the media for quite some time – but on Friday, it really hit me that the news business is in trouble and not just in Canada. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News closed its doors on Friday. According to many reports, there are a lot of other print papers in economic trouble – including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

The recession has certainly hurt all of these media outlets. The big advertisers aren’t buying what they were and everyone is being affected by cut backs in spending.

For some of these media conglomerates, like CTVglobemedia, there are other issues that are facing, including the cost of doing business in the face of growing cable networks. These are big issues and ones that these companies and the CRTC need to find a way to solve to everyone’s satisfaction and benefit.

There is another point that I think isn’t being covered as much and I believe it has had a huge impact on mainstream media – it’s the online world. The Internet has changed everything. People want to be communicated with differently now and this is a challenge for some of the big news organizations. When we had Kirk LaPointe of The Vancouver Sun in as a guest speaker to one of our Conversation Over Coffee sessions earlier this year, he spoke quite candidly on the topic. I think Kirk really “gets it” and is focused on finding a new paradigm for media. But they aren’t there yet, in part because the audience is still evolving and discovering what and how we want it – when it comes to receiving and sharing information online.

While it has taken more than a decade, the majority of us turn to the Internet for news, information and connection. There are more opportunities now for an organization to share information. Your story might not make it onto the television broadcast or in the newspaper, but it might be covered online. And of course, it isn’t just mainstream media that puts out news and information now – bloggers, people on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube are all sources that people turn to. There are great opportunities to reach out and tell a story through other channels, often channels that provide an opportunity for feedback, conversation and an authentic connection.

I read a lot of blogs and I love them. But I can usually tell if a blog writer has a journalism background without reading their bio. There is a recognizable approach to reporting and writing that trained journalists bring to their work.

Journalists are an important part of how we hear about what is going on in the world and they are crucial in our society. A great journalist can bring clarity to a complex situation. Well researched articles that are thought out and provide an unbiased context are invaluable.

I worked at Maclean’s for a long time and while I still look forward to receiving the hard copy magazine each week, I don’t wait. I am online checking it out, along with about a dozen other mainstream media, a whole lot of blogs, and other online publications. My Twitter feed (I use Twitterpod) sits on my desktop and I watch information roll as I work. I think it is going to take people like Kirk to help lead mainstream media into a sustainable business model – and I hope it happens sooner than later. Good journalism is an important component of an informed society. And as a communicator, I am a big fan of a community that has access to a range of information from a variety of sources.

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A Twestival took place yesterday in Vancouver. It is a strong example of the power of Twitter. More than 20,000 people from around the world came together to raise money for charity: water, a non-profit organization bringing clean drinking water to people in developing nations.

In one short month—with only volunteer effort—the global charity work is expected to raise $1 million for the 1.1 billion people in the world who cannot access clean drinking water. The event took place in more than 175 cities around the world.

This is a great example of using Twitter – the online world helped people to reach out and share the message on a global basis and then locally, people came together in person. In Vancouver, they met at the Opus Hotel. From all accounts, the event was well organized, fun and it raised money for a good cause.

It’s important to reiterate that the Twestival combined global and local, online and in person. One of the concerns that I hear quite often from clients is about losing the personal, face-to-face time that is so important. Great communication embraces many ways of outreach and, just like we tell clients, nothing can replace the in person component. Online communication is a piece of the communications puzzle, an important and growing piece, but it needs to blend into your overall communications strategy.

On another note, I am always looking for the inside scoop on how Twitter is going to make money. One of the challenges of recommending a free service to clients is that if it’s not making money, you have to wonder how long it can last. Not that I am saying I don’t think Twitter will last, I do think they need to find a way to make money so they can last a long time.  According to a TechCrunch article, Twitter is out raising additional money through the venture capital market. It looks like they have raised more funds, this time with a $250 million valuation.

Twitter is highly popular right now. With this valuation and with about six million people on Twitter, each customer is worth about $40.  In looking at monetizing Twitter, it brings up interesting questions for the six million users. Would you pay for this service? If yes, how much?

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An announcement just hit my inbox that Air Canada is the first Canadian carrier to offer inflight Internet access.

The news release was out in early Oct, but Air Canada just announced it in their newsletter.

I think this says something about our culture. We are truly a wireless, connected society now. Thanks to Air Canada, we can still bid on Ebay, blog, buy books from Amazon and send emails while flying the friendly skies.

I can remember back in the day when you could first place phone calls on an airplane – at an incredible cost per minute! The first thing you heard someone say (and I admit it, I said it too) when the person answered was: “Guess where I’m calling from!” …. now it might be guess where I’m blogging from!

As minor a thing as this might seem, it does change how we travel.

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There was a time, not so long ago, when almost everyone shook their heads and looked away when we brought up online or social media. Now, it is everywhere and people are engaged in discovering what it can do for their organization.

Locally, here in British Columbia, the Saanich Police Department has done something innovative and a little different. They have set up an ongoing series of podcasts (online audio) and vodcasts (online video) — and are the first police department in Canada to do this.

The City of Calgary is also using social media, and has been for over a year.

I was at a social media conference earlier this year in Las Vegas (it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to go to these things!) and I sat beside a communicator who worked with the U.S. Army, specializing in social media. His role is to work with the troops to make sure that information being uploaded by the men and women in uniform on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube doesn’t inadvertently share key points that might put campaigns or people in jeopardy. He worked on policy and procedure, but also was insightful enough to understand the human element of connection for the troops. He was at the conference looking for ways to better understand how social media could be used and, in his case, effectively managed.

Interestingly enough, one of the speakers at the conference was the head of communications for the U.S. government. The Pentagon is using social media, the White House is in the pool and even Homeland Security sees the value in it. There is an interesting blog post on what some of the government is using by Daya Baran that is worth a read.

These are all organizations that you wouldn’t expect to be using social media and giving up control of the message. However, they see the value in it. None of them took a leap off a cliff, they did their research, developed a strategy and they built out – and are still building out the social media component of their communications plan to support their overall strategy. They were smart about it. Taking that first step online doesn’t have to be a flying leap into the middle of the ocean, get your feet wet first. Develop a plan and then take small steps as you get used to the water.

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