Ask a silly question…

One of the basic rules of “good” radio – taught by every brilliant broadcaster I’ve ever met – is that it is a personal medium. Radio generates large audiences, can reach places that other forms of media cannot. But everything you’re ever taught points to the idea that you are talking to just one person.

But equally, I’d argue that there is always a time when the “power of YOU” can become overwhelming. I don’t have it to hand, but a few years ago somebody made a spoof BBC Local Radio trailer, which encouraged the listener to interact with the programme. It contained the station’s telephone number, the email address, the text number, the postal address and urged you to get in touch by any means possible.

It was deliberately made as a training aid, to basically say : interaction, yes. But calls to action should be done in moderation.

In more recent times, the role of social media has become increasingly important. Primarily, as a means of distributing information and pointing to your on air content, it can be a great tool. Though some use it more wisely than others.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen one newspaper which tweets every single story, and usually accompanies it with a question for the audience, almost always along the lines of “what do you think”. For its followers on Twitter this is a way of being able to instantly react to the stories, in a way that radio has always been able to do courtesy of the humble phone in. But to be successful, said Twitter account needs monitoring, not least to check for anything that might be offensive or even illegal. In recent months, I’ve even witnessed one outlet inviting social media comments on an active police investigation.

And while it might be nice to be asked for your views, I’m yet to be convinced that this is a way of driving traffic to your content in any significant numbers. My own view is that people sign up for news content on social media to be informed, not interrogated. Perhaps sites like Twitter need a tick box to “opt out” of what are essentially marketing messages – although of course the advertising revenue generated helps to keep much of the core content free at point of use.

Social media can also be a great tool for newsgathering itself. These days, breaking news – however small – is more likely to find its way to an online feed before it ever reaches a formal press release via email. In the opposite direction, sites like Facebook and Twitter are additional ways to seek views and contributors for a story. What training organisations need to ensure is that new journalists are still taught the old fashioned techniques – second sourcing a story and verifying the content before publishing.

At midnight tonight, I’m likely to join the herd and post pointless New Year greetings online to friends who may be standing in the same room. The fun side of social media is just that, and rightly so. But content providers – and especially radio stations – shouldn’t become so reliant on social media that they dilute their core purpose.

After all, the pictures on the radio are so much better.

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