Monday, March 10, 2008

The Google News Reader: The AP for the New Media Age

I have been writing a lot about new media and social networks, but a large part of our job as PR professionals is still traditional media.

Take the Associated Press. It’s as traditional media as you can get. A recent Forbes Magazine article questioned its value when newspaper readership is declining and the number of alternative news sources is growing.

With roots dating back to the nineteenth century, you may wonder what role AP plays in your media arsenal. In today’s world governed by bits and bytes, links and tags, the whole notion of a news “wire” seems a “bit” quaint.

But before we start abandoning traditional media wholesale for the glamour of new media, it may be valuable to recognize that traditional news persists in the age of the Google News Reader and the social media press release.

The Telegraph and the Internet

There has always been a symbiotic relationship between news and technology. It is easy to forget that AP is in fact the product of an Internet precursor – the telegraph. Today the Internet is once again changing the way we read, write, consume and distribute news.

Interesingtly,where the telegraph offered less room for opinion; the Internet offers more. Where the telegraph spawned the AP and standardized news reporting and distribution, the Internet has led to news readers and the proliferation of customized news.

But while the Internet has become the dominant technology, traditional media survives melding to the contours of the new media landscape.

News Readers and Linked Journalism: Traditional Media in the Internet Age

News Readers:

For as long as I can remember, the AP has been an invaluable source of news coverage.

Being picked up by the AP could lead to national print and broadcast distribution. In the pre and early Internet days, it was one of the only ways to get widespread coverage in both large and small media outlets. (I still remember getting news clips of AP stories from small town newspapers — weeks after the story ran — and then they were put in folders and rarely read.) Today news readers like Google and Yahoo make the AP one of many sources that readers can directly tap.

Consider the Google News Reader.

It offers readers personalized options and a wider variety of perspectives than traditional news. Google News offers links to several articles on every story, yielding greater customization. Their articles are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other things, how often and on what sites a story appears online.

That is not to say all is good with the reader. It boasts 4,500 news sources, but Google is not forthcoming on the breakdown of all the sources.

As Michael Pranikoff, director of emerging media at PR Newswire, told me, Google Reader picks up company releases on the PR Newswire, but not with consistency and not always directly. Sometimes releases are picked up through third party news sources. The good news is more sources are picked up; the bad news is Google has become a gatekeeper for news.

Nevertheless as the Leading Edge writes:

“[H]aving your release at the number one spot on Google and Yahoo! News is the same as a front-page article in print. And what makes it even better than front-page coverage is the ability to track how many people see it and what they were searching for at the time.”

This may not seem promising for the AP, but in fact the AP continues to survive and has found new life in new media.

As the Leading Edge writes:

“If you get a story picked up by the wire service it will get good search ranking in Google news.”

Through their licensing agreement, Google News gets valuable content and the AP gets a new distribution channel. So now, we can benefit from AP coverage, but don’t need to rely on newspapers to run the story.

Linked Journalism:

Scott Karp’s concept of Linked Journalism is another example of how the Internet is transforming but not eliminating traditional media.

Scott writes:

A cornerstone of journalism has always been reporting what key sources say, put in context and given perspective, alongside reported facts…It’s time to reinvent that process on the web — make it dynamic — using the fundamental mechanism for connecting information and people: the LINK. Just as the reported quote is an essential element of journalism, on the web the “reported link” must become an essential element of journalism.

Through hyperlinking, reporters can insert their point of view in the actual text of the story and the links they decide to include.

The result: linked journalism amplifies coverage. It’s good when you want news to spread. It’s bad when you want a news story buried. Journalists can now keep a story alive though links.

For PR purposes, it also helps to aggregate coverage. Our task is to encourage reporters to link to our press releases and stories about our companies or clients. We should in turn follow their lead and start including links to press coverage alongside releases on corporate press pages. That is not the case today. That way when people search a release, they will also see the accompanying coverage in one place.

It’s the journalistic equivalent of the social media press release (see: Todd Defren and Brian Solis) which often includes links to relevant coverage to date.

This is not to say that traditional media is getting a free pass. A recent Zogby study found that the Web is the primary source of news and information for almost half of all respondents. Two thirds of respondents felt traditional journalism was out of touch with what Americans wanted from their news.

Clearly, traditional news faces many complex challenges. My point here is that technology can extend its life span, but ultimately its content must provide value and meaning to its readership. How traditional media pulls that off will determine who is in and who is out.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 06:54:17 | Permalink | Comments (1) »