Monday, August 9, 2010

Ups and Downs of Being in Media in the Age of Blogs, Social Networks, etc.

While thinking about Green Machine Digest and what to post today, I remembered being invited, along with editorial colleagues, to speak at a panel during this year's Alternative Fuels & Vehicles conference in Las Vegas. Reading through my outline, I came across some points that are helpful to review and that I'd like to emphasize...

• Seem to be most effective new media channel now for publications – AutoBlog Green, Green Car Advisor, Earth2Tech, Gas 2.0, Green Car Congress, and Autopia are must reads.
• Social network/media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are expanding in leaps and bounds, but using them effectively isn't obvious yet for media. It is getting better for OEMs, dealers, environmental groups, and industry associations, but it's still not quite clear.
• Blogs offer breaking news but more importantly, they're fun to read and colorful – opinionated, sometimes funny, sometimes irritating.
• But they're based on explaining something that occurred and what it means to the writer – speaking in their own voice, and readers can respond in their own voices.

Tedious and Confusing:
• When you're following green cars and alt fuel vehicles, you've got to have basic understand of science, technology, regulations, and engineering.
• That gets overwhelming, tedious, and confusing – so readers rely on automotive writers to tell them what it means in a lively readable way.
• Political blogs figured this out years ago and can influence elections.

Being a gatekeeper:
• Social media and blogs do mean there's a risk to take.
• There's still accountability for editors to maintain.
• It's difficult sometimes being a gatekeeper in social media, especially as an editor who's supposed to take responsibility for content and its ramifications.
• In alternative fuel vehicles, there's a wide array of competing groups telling their versions of the story – OEMs, regulators, technology suppliers, trade groups, fuel makers, environmentalists, researchers, and academics. Editors have to give them space to be heard, but must sift through and sort carefully.

Putting all of this together, I was reminded of something that happened a couple of years ago while working for another publication. A transportation magazine obituary was posted on its blog paying tribute to a well known woman in the industry who'd just died of cancer. A couple of people wrote brutal attacks on her, and one of them had an ugly agenda that became known later. We pulled off those attacks and didn't allow access to posting comments without editor approval for a period of time.

New media - blogs, social networks, forums, podcasts, e-newsletters, and video streaming - is a roller coaster ride. It's costing media people jobs, and those in related professions, but it's opening doors to opportunities we can't quite clearly see yet. And it opens up the space, for anyone who chooses, to contribute what's on their minds. As I said, bad stuff can happen, but that's life. It's worth the risk.

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