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The Guardian newspaper’s plans to offer courses in digital media production is an important development and one that should be followed by newspapers around the world. It would provide much-needed revenues to many struggling media businesses.
I’ve written many times that the future of journalism is in helping communities, which includes businesses, to tell their stories. Media literacy is important but that’s just one side of the coin: knowing how to produce and publish digital media is just as important, maybe more.
Freedom of speech is pointless if you don’t know how to make it heard. Newspapers know how and they can teach that know-how to others.
It used to be that you needed a hugely expensive printing press or a TV studio to learn how to create and publish media. The cost of equipment is no longer an issue but the quality of the content is an issue.
The skills needed to create compelling and ethical media are not easy but they can be taught and media companies are in a great position to offer such services.
In the not too distant future we will teach basic media authoring skills to kids as soon as they’ve figured out how to read: how to produce and edit videos, posting on a blog, reporting, interviewing techniques, audio recording, and photography. Then some basic HTML and CSS before middle school.
Media skills will become as common as knowing how to write your name. But in the meantime there’s a good business in teaching those skills to other businesses.
US newspapers have a great opportunity to build on what The Guardian is doing, by getting into the education business. There are both public and commercial benefits.
If a city newspaper can teach its communities how to produce great media, it’ll not only create enormous goodwill but also gain access to growing numbers of citizen journalists who know what they are doing — and know how to do it well. The newspaper would get some great content at very little cost.
New business services
Every company is a media company but most don’t know how to be a media company yet this is now an essential competitive requirement. This is a great commercial opportunity for a media company.
The US$14 000 per person that The Guardian Media group intends to charge for its courses is not expensive, most corporations have budgets that can afford to pay that and more.
Businesses are desperate for compelling, high quality media that tells their stories authentically.
Currently, businesses turn to PR firms to help them in get their stories published, and to teach them how to work with journalists. All PR firms offer “media training” to their clients but their interest is to control and restrict what’s said – rather than create open communications with the media.
We could do with less of this type of media training. If we have open dialogues between businesses and the general media, we might then be better able to spot big problems early.
Gatekeepers and watchtowers
The financial meltdown in late 2008 led to many questions from politicians, and from the media itself— how come reporters hadn’t seen the financial crisis coming? Why had the media not investigated the business practices of mortgage firms and Wall Street? Why was there so little communication prior to the crisis?
Was this a failure of business reporters to dig deeper? Maybe, but teaching better media communications skills to business executives, especially by a media company instead of a PR firm, would be a step in the right direction.
All businesses want to know how best to tell their stories. Who better to tell them than a media company? Surely it’s better to learn from people who do it everyday instead of those that don’t?
Newspapers could teach executives about how best to contact them, how to talk with them, what they need, how soon they need it, what they should not fear in saying; and educate them about media production, how the news cycle operates, how a newsroom works, the teamwork in producing a news story.
It’s shocking how little business people know about how to speak with the media and how little they know how the media sausage is made. But it’s understandable if they solely rely on PR firms.
Media training by media companies would improve business communications, resulting in greater transparency and light into the world of business. And it would help separate the word “shady” from its far too common companion: “business practices.”