Monday, July 18, 2011

Editorial independence drives business of journalism on Internet

Versión en español aquí.
"Independent journalists on the Internet are able to rid themselves of the powers, practices and ideas that have defined the traditional press," said Guillermo Culell, General Manager for Regional Media in the Mercurio Group, Chile, in a talk with the participants in the Laboratory of Digital Journalism Ventures.
Culell has an abundance of experience in digital media for various Latin American news organizations and offered sensible yet profound advice. He argued that digital media can create a new model of "independent business" on the Internet. Their chief business advantage is that they have independence from:
  • Influence of corporate and political powers
  • Old habits and vices of journalism, such as stiff, formal language
  • Standard political agendas of the powers that be
  • Aversion to mistakes and risk-taking
The big difference with digital media is that "nobody can say what they say and reveal what they reveal." Culell added that the online audience will reward these differences with loyalty, which is the basis for a strong business
Study successes and failuresCulell urged digital entrepreneurs to measure their web traffic relentlessly and study successes and failures carefully: 
  • Understand what works for users
  • Understand what does not work and why, drawing conclusions from the failures
  • Learn from organizations or tools that worked and stopped working
  • Identify good ideas ahead of their time
  • Recognize the value of the simple and the value of the complex
  • Pay attention to the details, because the passion of a user for a product lies in small differences
Culell compared the passion of a user for a product to the passion of a lover, which can spring from simple details in the loved one’s appearance or speech or dress. We must know what those details are or face the loss of that passion and loyalty.
Rules of the game  Finally he spoke of "provocation and transparency" in the new territory of the Internet, which has its own rules. 
In social networks there are different codes of behavior, such as the need to adopt a conversational voice rather than an institutional one. Think first of what matters to the audience rather than what is relevant to the journalist.While search engines still generate more traffic to sites than social networks, Culell believes that networks represent the main driver of digital media.A search engine that drives traffic to a site is nothing more than a mechanical algorithm that represents a stimulus-response relationship, he explained. By contrast, in social media, users recommend an article to their friends and associates and create a more intimate and human relationship of the medium with the userIn the long term, the social networks could surpass search engines as traffic generators, Culell said.

Be transparent

He also recommended that digital media become increasingly transparent about their business practices and ethical policies. 

For starters, they should clearly explain to advertisers the separation of the editorial product from the ads. When advertisers want to break this division, it can cause some conflict. However, Culell counseled: "In my experience with open dialogue between the editors and the advertisers, an agreement is reached."

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