I recently read an article about how journalists are having to change, and change fast. The gist of the article (sorry but I can’t remember where I read it) is that the good old days of writing on deadline and having 24 hours or 12 hours to get your story done are dead and gone. Or as Kathleen Parker recently wrote in The Washington Post "Let me be the first in the new year to declare that the mainstream media are dead" (January 2, 2009). She added "The mainstream media aren’t really dead, of course. The industry has merely transmogrified, splintered into a billion little reflections of its former self. One-fifth of the world’s nearly 7 billion people are now Web-capable — all reporting, opining, interacting, twittering, digging and blogging."
I stopped for a moment while reading this and thought it through, because in many ways they are talking about me. Heck, I’m a journalist. It’s actually more complicated than that. As my husband says, he just hates it when someone at a cocktail party casually asks, "Jim, what does your wife do?" At that point he either launches into a long description of what he thinks I do (he’s actually not completely sure) or, increasingly, he just says "she’s a Vice President at Forrester Research," gives a little smile, and leaves it up to the listener to figure that one out. But, if I decompose my job, I spend some of my day managing, some of it writing (a la journalism), some of it consulting and some of it talking with clients. What that means to me is that my a good portion of my job–the journalist part– is going social, whether I like it or not. The good news is that I DO like it, although it requires getting used to a very different work style and having to carve out considerably more time to focus on blogging, and reading and commenting on other blogs.
CNN has definitely gotten the message that journalism has fundamentally changed. I sometimes watch that network, not because I’m interested in the news per se (although I usually am), but because I’m watching how they have transformed from talking heads to moderators and orchestrators of a national conversation. I first noticed it on Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room. Wolf doesn’t seem particularly social, but Jack Cafferty is on the program and every day Jack asks some provocative question. For example, today’s question is: "is the world economy in a depression?" Listeners can go to Jack’s blog and posts comments. Jack then reads some of the more provocative posts on air, and the conversation then goes back to the blog posts. It becomes a circular process. It’s fascinating how CNN journalists have turned into on air, real time moderators. Sometimes Jack gets 300, 500, 700 or more blog posts within a day. He got over 900 responses to the question: "How tired are you of Blagojevich, Coleman, Franken, and Palin?" (I wonder how many he would get if he asked: "How many of you care what Dick Cheney thinks?")
The most fascinating of the CNN journalists from a social perspective is Rick Sanchez, who is on in the afternoons. Rick has 50,000 people on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, and he interacts with some of them during the broadcast. If you watch his show, and you also see the iReports that CNN viewers send in, you realize that CNN (at least during Rich Sanchez’s show) is facilitating a two-way broadcast discussion instead of merely reporting the news. Instead of the broadcaster beaming his or her message into your living room, the broadcaster is stirring the virtual pots of thousands of people who are participating in the live event. What a groundswell change.
The shift to social interaction in print and TV journalism is just the tip of the iceberg. In businesses, people want to interact with the vendors they buy from. I’ll give you an example. My local pharmacy cut back its hours. A year ago they stopped opening on Sundays. I thought that was an inconvenience. Then, last summer, they went to "summer hours" in which they closed on Saturdays at 1:00 PM and closed in the evenings at 6:00 PM. This supposedly was to give their employees more time to enjoy the summer and the regular hours would start back after Labor Day. Never happened. I’m now left with prescriptions that I can’t pick up because I forgot to go down there before 6:00 in the evening, or prescriptions that are still waiting for me under the counter because I forgot they weren’t open on Saturday afternoon and got there at 2:00 instead of 12:30 PM. I am so irritated at this pharmacy that I’ve switched all my business to CVS, which has hours that actually fit into a working person’s life. And I made sure my old pharmacy knew that I had stopped being their customer, although it felt like my complaint about their new hours went in the manager’s one ear and out the other. I would dearly love to post a blog on that Pharmacy’s non-existent site or see what other customers think.
That’s just one example of how a social site would be helpful to a business. This pharmacy could monitor what customers think before they one day belatedly wake up and realize that all the business went down the street to the other guys who are open later.
No matter what your profession–journalist or pharmacist or something else, it’s time to get smart about getting social.