Yesterday I went to see a film production business that is producing a documentary feature film. They've been putting short-form content up on a You Tube channel for a while now, and using the data from YouTube Insights to track which strands of content, subjects, and interviewees are getting traction with audiences and to inform their production process. Which is smart. But they're combining that insight with the kind of astute editorial judgement that can only come from being an experienced specialist in your field. Which is even smarter.
We are often quick to believe that the dawn of a disruptive new model, or technology, or shift in behaviour, will in short measure mean the death of what was there before (take a look at The Tragic Death Of Practically Everything). When in reality that is rarely the case. It's what Simon Waldman calls 'lazy End-ism'. And it's the kind of thinking that, as Simon points out, becomes dangerous when it starts to become strategic thinking within a business:
"The inference is that the future is somehow pre-determined, when it is anything but. What happens next for any business facing this kind of disruption/upheaval is still very much in management's hands…The challenge is one of re-invention: building on your existing strengths and capabilities, but using every possible new trick in the book to create an offering that can carve out a place in the new world. It is painful work: changing people, processes and products that have stood you in good stead for decades. But it is the only option."
The incumbent businesses that are dealing best with unprecedented levels of disruptive change are doing it through combining the best of the old with relentless experimentation with the new. It's what Alan Rusbridger calls 'mutualisation'. So when The Guardian want to reflect some of the debate and discussion going in in the science community (according to the Pew Research Centre science accounts for 10% of all stories on blogs but only 1% of the stories in mainstream media) instead of just asking a journalist to cover it, they launch The Guardian science blogs network, hosting content from four of the most popular and authoritative science blogs, and a science blog festival (a "celebration of the best writing on the web"), at one and the same time harnessing scientific expertise and diffusing it. In the same spirit, Give Me Something To Read is an editorial selection of the top articles that thousands of people have bookmarked on one of my favourite apps, Instapaper.
Involving audiences in the editorial process does not mean the end of traditional journalistic skills, it should mean the embracing of new ones. Social curation does not mean the end of editorial curation, it means the opportunity to combine them to make an even better product. Using real-time data to supplement more traditional forms of research, and editorial insight is a no brainer. Many media businesses seem to be scratching the surface of this, playing round the edges. Frankly, I fail to see why more aren't embracing the opportunity with open arms.