Social media and the changing digital landscape

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At this week's Hearst Changing Media Panel at the Columbia Journalism School, panelists spoke about the editorial and publishing challenges of the new digital landscape, with a focus on social media. The panelists were David Karp, founder of Tumblr; Betty Wong, global managing editor of Reuters; Mark S Luckie, the national innovations editor at the Washington Post; Mashable's editor in chief, Adam Ostrow; and Hilda Garcia, the vice president of multiplatform news of Impremedia and editor of El Diario de la Prensa, the oldest Spanish language daily in the U.S.

Talk of social media and how publishers are adapting to social media dominated the panel discussion. Opening comments from Tumblr, the lightweight blogging platform that bends over backward to make its process more collaborative, more integrated into the fabric of social media, was an organic, inspired beginning to the conversation.

A blog for bite-sized projects

Tumblr's David Karp, who reminded the room that Tumblr had over a billion page views last month, stressed that the blogging platform is designed for people who find traditional blogs too writer oriented. Tumblr, he recounted, was essentially designed for non-writers with bite-sized "projects" -- audio clips, brief quotes or epigrams, cartoons, photos, video -- that they feel compelled to share, but find Wordpress and Blogger lacking. From there it is a short distance down the microblogging platform from Tumblr, which values the compact statement, to a social media site like Twitter.

Karp was somewhat critical of how legacy media has handled community (comment boxes and polls and naught much else), but he was not entirely negative. Karp argued that while traditional publishers have been half-hearted in their approach to community, major brands -- he singled out NPR, Newsweek and Reuters -- still "carry a certain weight."

Karp went so far as to note (propose?) that users have a meaningful relationship with those media brands and that traditional media ought to ally themselves with social sites like Tumblr, leveraging their brand recognition with Tumblr's seemless integration into the social media feedback loop. "That to me is the place where these (publishers) can really become aligned ... they've been out of step for a while," said Karp, introducing -- with perfect timing -- the crowd to Mark Coatney (who happened to be in the audience), the company's ambassador to legacy media.

Innovations and old media

Betty Wong of Reuters spoke about their 3 person Twitter account, which just announced that Reuters Insider has reached 1 million views. Wong, ThompsonReuter head of PR Courney Dolan and Investment Strategy Editor Jenn Ablan highlight the best of Reuters journalism. Reuters Insider, Wong says, is a personal (and profitable) multimedia channel geared toward the financial professional, whereas Reuters.com is for the general interest audience. Reuters has a professional base, primarily in the financial community, but they still put a priority on social media to circulate their stories. 

Mark S Luckie, the national innovations editor at the Washington Post (who recently sold 10,000 words to Mediabistro), deals with new social media publishing tools daily. He advised that if you can't figure a new device out in five minutes, get rid of it. Luckie had the line of the evening, saying of the rapidly changing digital landscape and the role of publishing, "the technology may change but the ethics never will. And you can Tweet that!" Luckie also coined the term "unwebable" for stories that have no legs online but appear in print publications.

Luckie's job at the Washington Post involves avoiding unwebable stories and focusing instead on promoting stories that "deserve multimedia exposure." Luckie further described his work as going to the sections of the newsroom -- Style, Politics, Local, etc -- and arranging photo galleries, video and slide shows to accompany stories and make them more "webable." Ideally, Luckie says, reporters come up with ideas to make their stories more webable "because they are the ones most familiar with the story."

Mashable's mantra: stay nimble

Mashable's Editor in Chief Adam Ostrow stressed that one of the reasons Mashable is so successful is its ability to move nimbly. The hint there was that publishers in the past have been top heavy personnel-wise, and slow to change and adapt with the new digital landscape. Ostrow also talked about how Mashable's business model with advertisers is slowly but surely moving from Google AdWords toward sponsored programs (he stressed that those sponsors will have no say in editorial content). Mashable is also presently looking at geolocation, which would allow for locally targeted advertising possibilities. 

Sree Sreenivasan, the Dean of Student Affairs and Columbia's Journalism School and a contributing editor at DNAinfo, who organized the event and is a self-described avid consumer of Southeast Asian news, closed things out by giving a nod to the power of social media overseas. Sree noted that a lot of the news about President Obama's trip to India was broken by Southeast Asian journalists on Twitter.

Hilda Garcia of  Impremedia and El Diario ended things on an optimistic note about the changes to the digital landscape. "We are only changing the platform," she said. "That is very different than saying journalism is dead."

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