News agencies must evolve or meet extinction
Thursday 17 November 2011
Imagine you’re a reporter and you suddenly witness a major news event occurring right before your eyes. Do you snap it to the wire, file a story to your website, or tweet it out to your followers? If you’re at the AP, you damn well better not choose the latter [Associated Press employees were formally reminded this week about the agency’s social media rules - “Don’t break news that we haven’t published, no matter the format” - after staff commented on Twitter about the arrest of AP colleagues at the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York].
In a perfect world, you’d want to do all the above, though your employer is going to likely want you to do the first two before you tweet. Today, Reuters is a lot more than just a wire service. We’ve built - and are continuing to build - what we think is the world’s greatest news website, in the form of Reuters.com, and part of that is providing our readers with reliable and timely news, information, opinion and analysis.
An extension of that website is the information we post on our social media accounts, at Google+, Twitter and on Facebook. We’re not just reporting our own news there, but have become a beacon for all news, being as comprehensive as possible so readers come to us first for all they need to know. We’ve got things like Counterparties, created by Ryan McCarthy and Felix Salmon that does a great job at bringing news from around the web to our readers.
The wire is still a huge part of our business and always will be
The wire is still a huge part of our business and always will be. However, acting in a way that handcuffs us from doing our best work on Reuters.com and on social networks, which help drive traffic and extend our brand, is writing a death sentence for us as a future media company. To bury our head in the sand and act like Twitter (and who knows what else comes into existence next month or five years from now?) isn’t increasingly becoming the source of what informs people in real-time is ridiculous.
In order to compete with these new and existing technologies, our wire will need to increasingly become better and faster, not only for our subscribers but for the reporters using it to file reports. The fact that it is easier to fire off a Tweet than it is to snap a wire report is unacceptable. Having a policy where you’re asked never to post something on Twitter before it goes out over the wire will put us at a competitive disadvantage, as other news organizations develop a reputation for being the first to report accurately all the news that matters. As my esteemed colleague Robert MacMillan points out: “In some cases, the tweet before the scoop might be the only way to beat your competitor if your competitor has no restrictions on tweeting,” and “when a news outlet tells a reporter, ‘don’t tweet first’, in some cases that means that news outlet has lost the edge”.
The institutional brand building you create by having your journalists be great on social platforms cannot be underestimated. Part of having your journalists on these platforms is giving them the freedom to be a normal human being, not a robot, a PR machine or a slave to the wire. Do we want to serve the wire above all, since our paying customers deserve to get that information first? Yes, we do. But we can do that without sacrificing the incredible value we create by making ourselves a must-follow on all social networks because of the information we provide and two-way conversations we can have with our readers. We can only do that if we’re not tied down by rules that ignore the reality of the present and the future of media.
Our direct competitors and two guys in a basement somewhere are already developing tools to be the next generation newsroom. If we’re not busy doing the same thing, we’re dead.
Anthony De Rosa is Reuters’ social media editor. He joined in 2006 from Bristol Myers Squibb where he was a technology project manager. Before moving to editorial in September he was a product manager for Reuters Media. This article was first published on his Reuters blog. ■