We Media Conference Kicks Off

In London at the BBC for the We Media conference and it is sensory overload. It’s a slick, glossy event being held in the BBC studios usually reserved for Top of the Pops, I believe, at the BBC Television Centre in White City. I used to work at BBC so I kind of knew my way around.

I’m sitting next to BBC presenter, Nik Gowing, who is up next to chair an event. Fellow South African Megan Knight popped out of nowhere to ask a question at the first session – so I guess that makes two South Africans at this conference then. (Although I’m the only true Springbok because she is now Dubai based).

Richard Dreyfuss is here, apparenty taking a break from acting to study at Oxford. He is listed as an activist and actor. Probably better to call him an “actorvist”. I almost swallowed my tongue when I realised it was him. Dreyfuss the citizen journalist and blogger….???

The big issue is trust. Do we trust new media such as blogs, wikis and other forms of participatory writing and journalism. According to a survey on media trust, presented to the We Media conference — these are the mediums that have the trust of users:

82% TV
75% Newspapers
62% Friends
25% blogs

So blogs are low down. I’m not surprised of course. TV is still king and carries the most credibility – remember the phrase “As Seen on TV”??? In the US 25% of people trust blogs whereas 38% DO NOT trust blogs. In Brazil 20% trust blogs, whereas 45% do not trust blogs.

David Schesinger of Reuters, who was on the panel, in my opinion gave the most lucid description of the key issue. He emphasises that blogs are the medium and should not be confused with the message, for example blogs are not innately trustworthy or distrust worthy in themselves, but look at the message and where it is coming from. Blogs are just the medium. The message may be different.

Nihal Arthanyake, a musician with the BBC, was fairly disparaging saying that people still want big media houses to deliver the news to them. While he is a big fan of blogs, reading a blog like going down to the pub and getting news from your mate there. Now you wouldn’t want to get the news on the latest crisis in Chad from your mate at the pub, but get this from a credible, established news organisation with correspondents and infrastructure (like the BBC).

Schesinger warned against talking about blogs as one big, unanimous group — there are so many blogs out there — and each carry their own weight and different message and have different levels of trust etc etc… He says ssues of trust are not unique to blogs. These trust issues have been with us for hundreds of years with other forms of media – for example when Reuters gets a picture, it needs to be verified – can’t just be trusted.

Karen Stephenson for the Media Center, also on the panel, said blogging should fundamentally change the way companies should interact with communities – for example blogger activism can damage products – and she believes corporations have a fundamentally different relationship with people as a result of blogs.

I’m personally speaking tomorrow on what’s happening in Africa with regards to new media, specifically blogging on this continent. I’m on the same panel as Wilfrid Kiboro, the CEO of the Nation Group in Kenya. I briefly bumped into him and shared a laugh about the “Africa in the stoneage” comment by Timothy Balding, CEO of the World Association of Newspapers — I’ll blog more about that later.