It is certainly not the biggest of all surprises that the main substantial takeaway from attending an industry-driven summit on social media trends – organized at the LSE on 26th March thanks to a successful partnership between the European Broadcasting Union and Polis – is the conviction that social media are fundamentally reshaping what it means to do good journalism in the public interest. Probably a little more unexpected was the fact that such an agreement was almost unanimously shared by all stakeholders practicing in the realm of public service broadcasting. That is, the public service entity does in fact represent a category which is not exactly the definition of precursors with regard to adaptations to new innovations, large-scaled reorganizations, and more generally willingness to undertake strategic changes in the media landscape, not least because of their often underestimated burden of having to deliver performance under the pressure of optimizing the use of incomes generated by the license fees paid by the respective populations.
Probably the most interesting point coming out of the event was, in my opinion, the inherent juxtaposition between repetitive claims that “there is no such thing as ‘best practice’ in the use of social media” – even comparing it to the art of painting by Mike Mullane, Head of Media Online at EBU – on the one side, and the deep readiness to “philosophically reinvent” the notion of public service on the other side, with the latter process especially emphasized by NRK’s Head of Social Media Ingeborg Volan. In a way, it is as if everyone agrees that for healthy media outlets there is no way of bypassing social media use in the current landscape, but at the same time there are very little existing points of reference that could act as initial guidelines in implementing social media strategies onto traditional editorial processes. I think that this sort of dilemma does nothing more than rising both the excitement and the risk perception on the part of media practitioners willing to invest in social media presences.
Actually, a number of speakers, captained by Director General of Swedish Radio Cilla Benkö as well as BBC News’s Jeremy Skeet, tried to outline some conceptual pillars concerning the initial embracement of social media, addressing particularly the most skeptical ones in the field, expressing in this case that “you really have to be on social media simply because your audience is on social media” or again “social media journalism can and should be fun”. Whether these and similar statements really help in formulating concrete strategies for the use of social media on the part of public service broadcasters is probably to difficult to tell. Rather, it is the enthusiasm and believable conviction manifested by the majority of the speakers when talking about their (current or future) use of social media that should, as it appeared to me, be the best and most honest promotional tool for investing in it.
I really like the suggestive idea that something practically uncontrollable a priori like social media and their impact on content strategies and management are meant to fundamentally reshape a cornerstone of modern secular societies such as the functioning of public service broadcasting. In some ways, some hesitation on the part of the players necessarily affected by its now fully recognized establishment in the digital media universe is partially understandable. Probably to overcome such initial indecisions, if not fears, of journalists about to embark in the social media adventure, Swedish Radio has been clever and kind enough to produce – in my opinion – a very useful as well as publicly accessible Social Media Handbook available as PDF for all those who do not have a single clue on where to start from.
I believe it is fair to say that, if even public service broadcasters have come to the agreement that social media is no longer “the future” but an inescapable, powerful reality that cannot be ignored, it is really time to preach their actual establishment in journalistic practices almost globally (or at least on an European level, judging the countries of origin of the speakers present at the summit). While it is no secret that commercial and private media have already fully invested in social media resources a while ago, at least with regard to the intensity of the investment, there are no excuses left for their colleagues operating in the public service sector to follow the trend and start surfing along on the multiform wave of social media channels. After all, did we not already hear at some in history point that, in the end, a rising tide lifts all the boats?
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
P.s.: this blogpost has also been published on Polis’s blog in a slightly edited form.