Dialogues in Digital Disruption



  • Digital disruption is valuable because it creates new growth
  • Journalists should be transparent on social media, addressing rumors rather than ignoring them
  • Brands should engage with audiences by appreciating their contributions

As the search for the surviving Boston Marathon bomb suspect continued on April 19, more than 370 exhausted executives, journalists, and scholars took time out from the nonstop media coverage to discuss the changing face of journalism at the 14th International Symposium on Online Journalism.

Hosted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the College of Communication’s School of Journalism, much of the two-day conference focused on digital disruption and social media in the context of the Boston bombing.

Disruption as a Growth Opportunity

Deseret News Publishing Company President and CEO Clark Gilbert focused his presentation on news organizations’ strategies for the new media ecosystem.

Instead of focusing on how digital technologies are disrupting the traditional news industry, the former Harvard Business School professor said, media leaders must see the value of digital disruption.

"Most disruptions create new net growth, but the incumbent firms are blinded from that,” Gilbert said. “And all they can see is the area of displacement.”

While there is a 9 percent survival rate among industries that are being disrupted, Gilbert said there is a 100 percent survival rate among companies that set up the disruptive business as a separate division of the parent company.

Gilbert said a separate disruptive business must possess the following characteristics: a separate physical location; separate profit and loss statements; a separate direct sales team; separate content; separate product and technology teams; and a separate management structure.

At the same time, the separate disruptive organization needs to collaborate with the legacy organization. Gilbert’s legacy organization (Deseret News Publishing Co.) and disruptive organization (Deseret Digital Media) form temporary “capabilities exchange” teams to balance the two organization’s goals. For example, one capabilities exchange team set up a framework for Deseret News’ featured homepage stories. The first two stories are always from the legacy news or enterprise team, while the next three stories can be from anywhere and are determined by number of projected page views. 

Creating a Dialogue

Andy Carvin, a Bostonian and senior strategist on NPR’s social media desk, and School of Journalism Senior Lecturer Robert Quigley, spoke about how reporters do not always get the story right during catastrophic breaking news.

“These are the moments the public expects us to do our jobs and do them well,” Carvin said. “In recent decades, though, we’ve put ourselves in a bind by creating news cycles that are faster, and faster and faster. And speed is often the scourge of accuracy.”

In 24-hour broadcast news, for example, Carvin said dead air seems to be a greater fear than inaccuracy. And the rise of social media has made it easier to spread inaccuracies.

“Before, we had the luxury of scrutinizing information privately,” Carvin said. “That era is over. Today, almost everyone has a device. We’re no longer the media, the sole arbiters of what gets across.”

Today, Carvin said it is important for journalists to have conversations with the public on social media and to be transparent about what they know. Instead of ignoring rumors, journalists should address them, challenge people to scrutinize them, and help them understand what it means to confirm something.

Academic Research

In addition to showcasing professional perspectives, ISOJ featured academic research.

For the first time ever, ISOJ eliminated the gap between the conference presentation of peer-reviewed papers and their publication. At the beginning of the conference, the Knight Center launched a new edition of the #ISOJ Journal, which contained the papers that were about to be presented.

Some takeaways from the research sessions:

  • Face-to-face engagement is increasingly important. Newsrooms are hosting events that help them build communities with readers. Returns on hosting in-person events aren’t always quantifiable, but they can produce both revenue and build audience goodwill. (Jake Batsell, SMU, “The ‘Original Platform’: “How Newsrooms Build Digital Loyalty and Generate Revenue Through Face-to-Face Engagement”)
  • Within a site’s Facebook audience, there are actually multiple audiences with different objectives. Some fans are there to simply read content, while others are looking for items to share with their own social networks. News outlets should engage these news sharers while not annoying their other readers. (Amber Hinsley and Samantha Johnson, St. Louis University, “‘Sharing’ the News on Facebook: Exploring the Differences Between News-Sharers and Non-Sharers on the Social Media Site”)
  • There’s a difference between loyalty and engagement. Loyalty can mean simply visiting a site regularly. Engagement means going beyond visiting to take actions such as leaving comments or sharing content from the site. To build engagement, look for ways to appreciate audience contributions, such as promoting high-quality comments. (Jonathan Groves, Drury University, and Carrie Brown-Smith, University of Memphis: “40 Million Page Views is Not Enough: An Examination of The Christian Science Monitor's Evolution from SEO to Engagement”)

To view video recaps, visit ISOJ's website.

Reporting by Laura Byerley, Jeremy Simon and Sarah Beckham.


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