Late last week I had the opportunity to sit down with the Globe and Mail's Mathew Ingram. I first met Mathew as he led a discussion almost a year ago at PodCamp Toronto. It was my first social media conference unconference. So the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Mathew over a cup of coffee was a chance to continue my social media education.
Since 1991 Mathew Ingram has been writing about business and technology for the Globe and Mail. With the popularity of social media growing and enveloping many aspects of print and online journalism , he has since been tasked with being it's Communities Editor.
The first thing we discussed was what a Community Editor is supposed to do. Not unlike a Community Manager, he is tasked with enhancing and improving the online experience for the Globe and Mail's online readership. Mathew also spends much time looking at different tools such as wikis and Twitter (and more recently, a product called Formspring) to help facilitate this.
Recently, Mathew was chosen to speak at Toronto's inagural TEDxTO (a local TED-inspired conference). During his presentation he argued for saving traditional forms of media. He spoke about the importance of reader interaction, links and commentary and how these are important in creating and maintaining a healthy online community. However, various blogs and wikis that are user published also have these tools. So, what is the Globe and Mail's place within this myriad of online options?
Unlike many of his traditional contemporaries, Mathew is under no illusions. He understands that readers have a variety of choices. However, he does present a solid case for traditional media's place online. Mathew believes that journalists offer a perspective and background that is valuable. Journalists are trained to think critical and offer a educated view of a variety of issues. "I think that trained journalists can bring a more professional tone to blogging, along with some of the skills that they provide as journalists, including verifying the accuracy of information, a sense of fairness and balance, and that kind of thing," says Mathew. Part of their training also involves verifying facts and ensuring story accuracy. Online bloggers usually have no one (but their non-paying readership) to be held accountable to. Therefore, fact verification usually falls by the wayside.
In regards to news aggregators, Mathew sees them more as a tool rather than competition for readership. He sees reporters and columnists using tools, like Toronto start-up Thoora as a source of facts and information. "As far as aggregators vs. human beings, algorithms are very literal, in that they only see the relationships and information they are specifically instructed to see, whereas human beings tend to see patterns and connections between things that are beneath the surface. And they can bring added levels of understanding to a topic as well. I think they work very well together."
We also discussed how social media has impacted the media industry. Mathew sees social media not do much as an agent of all these changes but rather an extension of the shift that has been occurring since the advent of the internet. From being a traditionally push medium, journalism has now been forced to become a collaborative process between media and the public. Mathew compares the internet to the Gutenberg Printing Press in regards to the impact it has had on the distribution of news, views and ideas.
We ended our conversation discussing the various revenue models available in light of NEWS Corps' Rupert Murdoch's recent arguments. Murdoch has been quoted as saying, "The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites." Mathew believes that there is not one perfect model or magic bullet. Rather, he envisions a marketplace where a variety of things can happen: First, some places will charge for content (subscription based or pay to read) like the Wall Street Journal does. Others will offer free content to all it's readers like the Toronto Star. Many others will also employ some type of freemium model where much content will be free but exclusive editorials or specials may have a fee associated with it.
Mathew Ingram continues to communicate and collaborate with his and the Globe and Mail's readership. And because of his efforts I believe that him and his brand will succeed. Not in spite of technology but because of it. You see, tools like twitter allow actual human beings to communicate with each other. And as they communicate they will begin to trust one another. It is because of trust that people like Mathew and brands like the Globe and Mail will succeed.