comm-department

I’m bullish on blogging as a form of mass communication for the following three reasons:

1) Trend from offline to online: More readers are opting to consume information through their computers and mobile devices rather than by print. The structural shift has decimated traditional print and any organization who fails to adopt an online model. Newsweek magazine’s recent decision to go completely online is a great example.

2) From mass media to thought leaders: No longer do people want to just read the news, they want to get thought provoking analysis of the news. Readers now demand interaction with their authors. They want to feel more connected. We bloggers provide this connection through our voice and our inherent proclivity to respond.

3) Collaboration. Blogging can be one of the most competitive industries or one of the most collaborative industries. Barriers to entry are low and everybody can provide their two cents. Through collaborative organizations such as the Yakezie Network, we are able to effectively cross promote our content much more effectively than traditional media. All it takes is a link back and an agreement in most cases to use someone else’s content.

Given my optimism, I was somewhat hesitant about spending the day down at Stanford University’s Department of Communication as a blogger. Would they take me seriously? I remember getting made fun of in 2009 by a colleague for starting Financial Samurai. He was a prick who discredited my hobby as he pretended to type on a air keyboard and look all goofy during dinner. Three years later, he’s still slaving away at his day job so he can make fun of me all he wants!

Furthermore, what if the department saw me as an enemy? Bloggers are a crucial reason for the disruption and some might even say destruction of traditional media. My hesitation quickly disappeared after everybody I encountered at Stanford embraced new media and blogging as an acceptable form of mass communication. I don’t know why I doubted they would given they are a cutting edge university right in the heart of Silicon Valley, but I did. So for any of my fellow bloggers our there who might feel embarrassed about your hobby, be proud instead!

I met up with Peninsula Press editor and founder, Kathryn Roethel who gave me a rundown of the online newspaper. Kathryn was a 2010 graduate of the Masters program and decided to put into action what she learned in class. Peninsula Press runs on wordpress just like most of all our sites. Whereas most of our site’s only have one main content creator, Peninsula Press is like a mega blog with 20 staff writers and multiple editors. In fact, Peninsula Press is much like Yakezie.com where Members contribute their knowledge every so often. The good thing is, we aren’t graded!

THE CHANGES WE FACE

During lunchtime, I sat in on a Graduate Journalism Seminar that hosted public radio’s Julia McEvoy andKatrina Schwartz from KQED. At one point, they played a couple 25-33 second audio clips by various KQED journalists and asked us to provide feedback. The reporter’s voices had performance, with one man using the words “the end of an era” when referring to the proposed property build-out on tranquil Alameda island.

As a reporter, the use of the words “end of an era” are about as opinionated as reporters can get. Whereas if I were vehemently opposed to the housing construction, I’d probably use words like “corruption, greed, waste, government bureaucracy, the destruction of wildlife” and so forth to push my point after presenting the facts. In journalism, reporting the news is a way of bringing to light injustices. As bloggers, we not only report the news, we press on and tell readers why something is right or wrong.

At the end of the seminar, Julia mentioned KQED is trying various things to bring traffic to their website and keep listeners engaged during their morning commute. They have content partners and are even utilizing journalism students to serve as beat reporters. When someone asked what their biggest worry was, they said NPR’s potential to just create an app to allow their listeners to bypass KQED. Technology can help, but also disintermediate status quos rapidly.

Nobody came up with a viable solution to the NPR issue in such a short window. KQED pays NPR for their content, and in return KQED acts as their local content distributor in the Bay Area. Hopefully, avid listeners will then donate to KQED to keep them going. I wanted to share my advice, but I didn’t want to take any of the class’s time as a visitor.

Advice For KQED And Traditional Media

* Experiment with opinion. The reason why listeners keep coming back is because they identify with a person’s voice. I understand KQED’s listeners may be older or more conservative, but they might be underestimating how much opinion their listeners can take. In a world full of specialization, it’s very hard to be all things to all people.

* Build a brand. Besides opinion, there has to be something else that stands out when KQED is mentioned. When someone hears the word Yakezie, they should think of the words collaboration, community service, and a quality group of bloggers. FOX News, like them or not, has done an incredible job associating itself with conservatives. CNN, on the other hand, doesn’t stand for much at all. KQED needs to evoke imagery as soon as their acronym is spoken.

It’s no fun living in fear of what your largest client might do. As a result, media companies must not only produce unique content, but content which has an angle that makes people think long after consumption. Almost everything gets commoditized at some point. Building a brand will at least prolong life and hopefully allow management to pivot towards something new.

THE BLOGGER’S CHALLENGE

If a Comm professor reads this post, I’m sure s/he won’t be impressed with the quality of the writing or the article structure. When we don’t have grades or careers to keep us accountable, we tend to care less about the quality of content and more about whether we are getting our point across. What this article does have is a conversational style that provides an opinion. As bloggers without editors, we’ve got to create content, infuse our voice, and edit our work in a timely manner. For those who want to make a living blogging, we must then constantly work on the business aspect of our sites. Blogging isn’t easy!

Unfortunately, most of us are blind to our own writing and can’t see the mistakes that are so vivid to others! The challenge for bloggers is to raise our content quality to match the quality of a professional writer while keeping our voice. I encourage all of us not to neuter ourselves for the sake of appeasing everyone and our sponsors. Once we improve our standards, there’s no reason we can’t build great audiences that keep coming back for more!

Readers, why don’t larger media organizations try and provide more opinions in their writing if they are under siege? How much do advertisers play a roll in what we can and cannot say?

Regards,

Sam