As the internet has become more technologically mundane it has become a far more exciting tool for communication and information gathering.
I’m an early adopter, but like many find I send more emails than letters, do more shopping online than in person and receive more news via electronic outlets than conventional, printed media. I probably have more “virtual” conversations than I do “real” ones.
The pressure on traditional printed media will no doubt continue – advertising is increasingly switching to online forms and distribution via electronic means is often more accessible for readers and invariably less costly for publishers. A third factor, which is less well understood, is the increasing value of expertise.
Conventionally journalists have acted as middlemen – linking those with knowledge to those who desired it. In a world where a raft of information is freely available the middleman’s role is diminished. If I want to hear the view of an economist, or opinion of a pension’s lawyer I simply need to follow the right individuals on Twitter, or read their blogs.
Expertise (or authority, to use Google’s terminology) is the de facto reputational currency of the internet. The flat nature of information availability and the very low cost to entry means a blog’s articles that are written with knowledge and passion, but break many journalistic ‘rules’, can receive as many visits as articles on more conventional news channels’ sites.
The definition and role of the journalist is changing. The Tweets, YouTube videos and Facebook posts coming out of Tahrir and Taksim square come from the rising tide of vocal citizen journalists. Martin Lewis, a conventional journalist turning his hand to an unconventional media, netted £87 million this time last year due to the popularity of his retail financial services blog and forum – “Money Saving Expert”.
I don’t want to appear critical of conventional media, but I would hasten the necessary changes. When reading financial press I don’t value a journalist who spins the latest product launch press release from a insurance company into a story, nor do I have any interest in consultants hungry for column inches, nor want to read about the revolving door approach to executive recruitment which fuels many articles. I don’t agree with everything Nic Cicutti writes, but embrace his opinion-led writing.
Opinion is what I want from career journalists; the best disseminate, investigate, analyse and present a viewpoint. This is at its most relevant in financial services, where those that have the power to comment and criticise often a vested interest in remaining silent. Could we have avoided the banking crisis with a more probing press, willing to challenge the regulator’s monitoring of affairs?
The reason I’m a big fan of social media, particularly twitter and selected blogs, is that I can elect to receive opinions from experts that I’m interested in hearing from. Over time these experts have invariably become friends, which means of course, their opinions are many times more valuable. I enjoy answering questions they ask, and in turn find their responses invaluable. “News” from all areas of interest to me invariably breaks first on social media. The comments on our trade press websites often say more about financial services than the body of the article.
A few hours a week cultivating your own network of trusted journalists online, through the media that work for you, can be highly rewarding. Of course, if you don’t agree – I’m just expressing an opinion.
Alistair Cunningham is financial planning director at Wingate Financial Planning