In 2005, I launched my first podcast. It was a heady time for podcasting, when a cadre of geeks with microphones were feverish with excitement. We’d found a medium that, it seemed, could give hundreds of millions of people an alternative to over-the-air radio. Star were minted. I made — briefly — the iTunes top 50 for podcasts. Adam Curry, the MTV VJ-cum-podcasting guru, ended up on magazine covers, preaching a gospel about the way that these new, available-to-all tools would upset the traditional media order.
Fast forward 6 years, and half of top 10 podcasts in the iTunes directory are re-posting of shows that already aired on public radio. And the others are generally slickly produced, professional endeavors backed by big media companies. Yes: there is a lot more diversity in the iTunes directory that you’ll get on radio, but podcasting no longer a playground for would-be revolutionaries looking to overthrow the existing media order.
I was thinking about the taming of podcasting the other day, when Facebook suggested I “friend” Don Graham, the CEO of the Washington Post company. Needless to say, I don’t know Don Graham (I do share a handful of his 4,000-plus “friends”). But Facebook has been taken lately with pushing journalists on me. Facebook thinks I should, perhaps, friend New York Times advertising writer Stuart Elliot (don’t know him), or White House correspondent Peter Baker (ditto). Facebook used to be about friends. Now, it seems, it’s another platform for professional journalists to broadcast from.
And these are personal pages; Facebook has also been encouraging journalists to establish professional outposts on the site, via separate “pages.” And the growing media footprint is not just a Facebook phenomenon. Bloomberg is ushering reporters onto Twitter and the Associated Press now lists reporter’s Twitter handles with every story. Like podcasting, what used to be ground-up information networks are increasingly being co-opted by professional media. That isn’t to suggest that new media forms aren’t thriving — enormous media empires have been built from scratch on these new platforms — only that traditional media is getting ever better at capitalizing on those platforms.
The rise of “big media” on social media isn’t a bad thing. I like getting Marilynn Marchione‘s reporting in my Twitter stream, and I have to confess to listening to NPR’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me via podcast (no. 2 on iTunes). But the colonization of social media by professionals means that its increasingly dangerous to stereotype either “old” media (dinosaurs!) or “new” media (bathrobe-clad amateurs!).
The upshot is that we can’t view social media as a strange, technology-driven world unto itself. Old-school media relations will only become more important. That means reading more than 140 characters, understanding the importance of sourcing and transparency, prioritizing relationship-building over one-off pitching. That well-established skill set needs to be melded with increasing understanding of how information flows through online networks and how journalists — and others — want to interact using new technologies.
As we’ve said here before, social media isn’t about shiny objects. It’s about integrating a huge amount of knowledge and applying the knowledge across an ever-expanding number of channels. There was a time where self-styled “social media gurus” could get away with ignorance of basic public relations and media mechanics. Those days — like those days where I could produce a top-50 podcast in my spare time, from my basement — are gone.