Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are Social Networks The New Newspaper?

Excerpted from Rick's RSS by Rick Hancock of Fox 61 News:

Last week my state’s largest daily newspaper, The Hartford Courant, (it also bils itself as ”America’s oldest continuously published newspaper“) took a gigantic digital step forward into the future. It created a Facebook page and begun inviting “fans” to join. This week the paper took another big digital step forward and created its own Tweeter feed. Hooray for them.

The Courant brags that 800,000 people read the Courant via the newspaper and online. So, far – as of this blog post “only”192 Facebook users have become Courant Facebook fans. By comparison The New York Times Facebook site has 357,678 fans.

The Courant’s current low fan base probably has more to do with little to no promotion in the paper or the main Courant website that readers can now check them out on the social networking powerhouse. Talk about a soft product launch!

So what are the advantages of news organizations jumping on Facebook? ” Facebook is the “newspaper” for many people,”says Quinnipiac University Journalism Professor Richard Hanley.. ”It is much more powerful than the traditional newspaper because it incorporates news about friends and family into an interface where more traditional news can be posted. I’ve seen the future of newspapers, and it is Facebook.

My Take

The oldest example of mass media in the US, The Courant is a natural fit for social media. Through Hartford’s history it was sold and consumed in the community. In a way it was the community.

It was everywhere people were - available for purchase on every corner, generously distributed around barber shops, diners, offices, trains, buses - the most popular and frequent conversation starter.

It was the prime spot for job listings, real estate purchasing and classifieds.

Like The Hartford Times it was home-delivered and found on kitchen tables and in stacks next to dad’s favorite chair. Perhaps agreeing on little else, the generations would hash over the box scores, Dear Abby and upcoming white sales.

A Courant route was reason for pride and income for the disciplined, early rising pre-teen and high schooler. Courant delivery routes were coveted and accompanied by pre-dawn war stories.

Like any newspaper, The Courant was marked up, folded up, circled, scissored and spread out for the puppy or the parrot. Even spread in the garden. Every inch was useful.

But there have been several partings of the ways between The Courant and its readers. Now easy, immediate access to opposing political views is available. Social media and its user generated content provides what editorial boards and 3AM press runs can’t.

As the community increasingly incorporates digital media and online news it will be interesting if The Courant will find its audience and its voice there.

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