Journalism on the internet is becoming a “conversation” rather than a “sermon”. Mainstream media should take note.

What’s going on with the internet these days?

About five years ago the chaotic internet was a relatively calm and simple place. I’d check my regular news sites, get share updates from financial sites, visit the occasional shopping or corporate site. It was neat and tidy.

So what happened? I ask this because when you go onto the web these days you can hardly hear yourself think. The net of today is a noisy, busy, talkative and chatty place. It’s a beautiful, lively cacophony of creativity and empowerment.

The old days of the internet had the publishers in one corner delivering content, and the readers in the other corner reading it. The publishers did the publishing and the readers did the reading. Occasionally the readers would exploit the “interactivity of the web” and add comment on the publisher’s website — usually in some obscure, sectioned-off, heavily-moderated and generally unsavoury place called a forum.

These days, however, every Jack and Jill is a publisher, competing for audience but also sending audience to publishers. The readers are not only reading, but they are playing the publisher’s game.

Some publishers like M-Web, iafrica.com and Mail & Guardian Online are hosting blogs on their site, some publishers like Moneyweb and the Guardian Unlimited are getting their columnists and journalists to blog. Company CEOs, such as the head of Sun Microsystems in the US, are blogging their thoughts on the world from their corporate websites. Mostly, these are unedited. It seems that every man and his blog is getting involved in the writing game.

A new language is being created to describe this change. People are blogging, wikiing, vlogging, tagging and podcasting. There is the blogosphere, RSS feeds and RSS readers, cosmos links, trackbacks, pings, mash-ups and folksonomies. There is Pluck, Digg, Flickr, Technorati and Del.icio.us. As a publisher, if you don’t know what any of these mean, you are being overtaken.

Via blogs, users have found themselves empowered to become writers, commentators and consumer activists by broadcasting any bad experiences they have had with companies on their blogs. Some blogs attract impressive audiences, which may spell trouble for the company they are blogging about. It used to be something a company could ignore. But now it can get scary. One negative blog entry from an influential, well-read blogger could really knock your business and create a bad impression. If it’s a positive blog, it would have the opposite effect.

Technorati is a blog search engine that tracks almost 41-million blogs and sites worldwide. It is to blog search what Google is to internet search. The blog search engine shows that the blogosphere is doubling every 5.5 months, which means we should have 80-million blogs by the end of the year. On average a new blog is created every second of the day and 50 000 blog posts created each hour.

The phenomenon is often incorrectly portrayed as a “threat” to established news media. Blogs are strong on niche content areas, leisure topics, news opinion and commentary. I’ve seen great motoring, gardening and political commentary blogs, but I have yet to see a strong hard news blog that could compete head on with a site like CNN, Washingtonpost.com or News24. In any case, if a blog started to resemble one of these media companies, it wouldn’t be a blog anymore.

A survey in April conducted by Reuters and BBC found that blogs were the least trusted news source, with TV the most trusted by a big margin. In many ways it’s a bit of a useless finding. It’s like telling me the telephone isn’t a trusted news source or communication device when we all know that it really depends who is on the other line.

There are so many different blogs out there with different authority and weight. There are good blogs and rubbish blogs. It’s impossible to see them as one thing. Some blogs carry more credibility and trust than mainstream media – as witnessed by Iraqi blogger Salam Pax whose prose many trusted more than CNN’s embedded reporters.

But to be sure, the internet has really messed things up for the traditional media model. It says that readers no longer want to be preached to (one-to-many mass media model) but want to consume their news as conversations and participate in it.

It’s a paradigm leap for established media, but it is something media should watch very, very carefully.

(Originally published from Netsavvy)

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