Is Mainstream Media Scared of Social Media?

7 years ago
Woman with newspaper

Navigating new media is a bit of a rollercoaster ride -- up and down, thrilling and sickening all at once. Success is often measured in mere survival.

The Stanford grad students who developed Pulse, an iPad news reader that sells for four bucks in the Apple store, definitely got their first big ride last week.

As reported by Kara Swisher, at All Things Digital, on Monday morning their app was featured in a speech by Steve Jobs at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. By the afternoon, the app had been removed from the Apple store after a complaint from the New York Times that the RSS newsreader violated the New York Times terms of service.

Much online conversation ensued, including on, Wired and the Times itself, which had given the app a glowing review the week before.

Go ahead and read a few of these posts for the gist of the matter, because I’m not going to rehash every last element here. Nor am I going to weigh in on who was right or wrong, because it doesn’t really matter. The Pulse complaint is a symptom of a large issue.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version.

The New York Times complained that the inclusion (and promotion) of the Times (and Boston Globe) RSS feeds in a paid application was a violation of its terms of service. There also seemed to be concern that the method Pulse offered to share the RSS content with others bypassed the official Times’ sites (and undsaid but obvious, the advertising).

That’s the crux of the matter -- who is getting paid?

Mainstream media outlets like the Times have been struggling with this for years. Even before the rise of social media, which appears to be putting the final nails in the coffins of many news organizations, mainstream media struggled with the paid content model  on the Internet. Experts like Paul Gillin, Tom Foremski, Jen McClure, Amy Gahran, Jeff Jarvis and Andria Carter have been talking and writing about what’s next (or not) for traditional media outlets for quite some time. The FTC even had a workshop on the future of journalism last December.

But it’s not the future of journalism that’s at stake. It’s the future of the media conglomerate in the face of the new journalism -- including citizen reporters and social media sites  like Global Voices, which does a better job reporting and analyzing international news that most U.S. newspapers.

As blogger Laura Creekmore writes, the news industry and the news are not synonyms:

So let’s also be clear that “newspapers,” the “news industry” and “journalism” are are not necessarily the same thing. Journalism is primarily [but not completely] what we’re talking about when we talk about “freedom of the press.” We mean the investigating, reporting and dissemination of information to the public by independent and varied voices, outside the official government channel. We mean analysis and opinion about what government and industry and other forces in our society are doing. We mean investigation into practices that seem corrupt or detrimental to the public good. Nowhere in any of that is it required that the practice of journalism be carried out by major corporations using newsprint. Journalism is platform-agnostic. Information can be —- and today is —- shared over multiple platforms.

I’ve long believed that bloggers are not a priori journalists just because they are diarists. But they can be. And they (we!) are getting better at it.  Bloggers are increasingly credible sources for news. The current mess in Gulf is a perfect example. I think it’s the first major news story where blogs and social media have been an integral part of reporting the news about the spill without becoming part of the news.

Think about it. Obama’s presidential campaign. The Iran elections. The Indonesian tsunami. The use of social media to report these stories became a part of the story. I don’t see the same thing with the oil spill disaster. Social media is just one of the channels from which we get the news.  No big deal.

That’s what the New York Times is justifiably afraid of. News organizations like the Times invest heavily in infrastructure. The Times has some of the best reporting on the planet. But if consumers don’t value it? If they can get it all for free for four bucks, and bypass the advertising, the major online money-making mechanisms the paper does have? If they equate the coverage from the NYT with that from Joe or Jane Average? The bell starts tolling ...

If mainstream media outlets don’t want the bell tolling for them, they’ve got to figure out how to show their value in the new world of journalism. Not try to stop the evolution of journalism. Because they can’t.

That horse has left the barn.

By the way, as of this writing, the Pulse app is available in the Apple store, but they are not promoting the New York Times feed in the screen shots.

Pulse = 1. New York Times = 0.

Susan Getgood blogs at Marketing Roadmaps, Snapshot Chronicles and Snapshot Chronicles Roadtrip.

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