Sony, it says here, has unveiled its new strategy for the TVs it will be unveiling this year: they will "focusing on picture quality as the No.1 priority", a decision they obviously arrived at after long deliberation. Strangely they are not the only ones. It also seems that that other TV giant, Panasonic, has also announced that it will "focus" on picture quality as well.Really? Picture quality as the "No.1 priority" for a TV manufacturer? Wasn’t it always so? What else could there be other than, say, size, as far a selling a TV is concerned? And how is this related to Webcom? The respective answers seem to be "strange but true", "no", "lots" and "more on that coming" …
A short explanation: until some time in the middle of the previous decade TVs, whether conventional (should I now say prehistoric?) tube sets, plasmas or LCDs were, well, TVs. What they did was take the stream of data pumped into them by a cable of some sort, transform it into image and sound as best they could and allow the customer the luxury of choosing the channel, the volume and whether he wanted his set to be "on" or "off".
However with web 2.0 well on its way (you see, we are gradually zooming in on the subject of this particular rant) TV manufacturers decided that "just TV" wasn’t enough for the wired netizen of today. Apps came to TVs as well and suddenly most manufacturers were offering a cornucopia of goodies, from "internet widgets" to YouTube to generalised web browsing to all sorts stuff, crowned, of course, by 3D.
As it turns out, following "a global survey", "web browsing was ranked last in a list of consumer requirements when buying a new TV – and 3D barely got a mention at all. Picture quality was ranked No.1, followed by screen size, price and then sound quality".
Here at Webcom we are now faced with something of the same dilemma: If for TV the "raison d'être" is to offer audiovisual news and entertainment, ours is to "engage and inform the citizen by providing access to the legislative procedure and product".
To that end we have our webpage(s) with the stories, shorter or longer as the case may be, but also the best of "web 2,0" (such a mid 2000s cliché…): Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, more recently Storify, LinkedIn, Foursquare and more that is certainly to come.
However what all these "widgets", if I dare call them that, have in common is that their anchor, the common root they all grow from is our page on the web, what we used to call "la Une" and is now "Headlines". Arguably all of our Social Media presence emanates from and directs to this page.
The keywords are "engage", "inform" and "access". The way I believe it works right now really is simple: the Social Media "engage" by essentially providing the screaming headline, the news section "informs" via the stories and other products and the rest of the webpage provides full(er) access to the legislative procedure. They are the three links of a three-link chain: cut one out or let it wither away and it won't work.
What is most vital is, exactly, the completeness, the complementarity of the mechanism we have created and, of course, serve: the ability to provide "access to the legislative process" not just in one straightforward way but through an ever expanding multitude of conduits that all lead to the same "access" result through different paths and at different levels.
Look at it this way: you cannot inform the citizen with an "#EP voted this, look @that bit.ly for the resolution and lol@ourvideo, then make up your mind" tweet. But you certainly can, indeed should, engage him with it.
Employing social media without the bedrock of reporting is wrong and probably disingenuous: providing "access" and "information" is more than just heaping a list of legislative documents, voting lists and videos on the unsuspecting visitor. Unless you also give an "aperçu" of what this is all about, a sort of citizens' summary that will act as part explanation, part background, part enticement to read on, you are providing neither access nor information, just confusion.
The exception is of course what the French call “public averti”, those already in the know who only need a heads up on this or that development. We certainly cater for them but we are mostly here to seek, come into contact and even attract a much, much wider audience
On the other hand, relying on just the webpage to inform all and sundry about Parliament just doesn’t cut it anymore, for the simple reason that "all and sundry" are not here. They are on Facebook and on Twitter and on all other platforms and that is where you have to go and meet them, engage them and, if successful, guide them to the webpage to provide them with information and, therefore true "access".
It is more than simple co-existence or cooperation, these are two entirely complementary parts (I won’t even say facets, it’s an even closer synergy than that… see picture on left for full explanation) of the exact same product and, as in every such mechanism the whole is only as strong as its weakest component.
Our readers are not paying customers who come to us to buy something. They are citizens and netizens that it is our profession and indeed our duty in an increasingly depoliticised Europe to do our own little part in keeping them in the legislative and democratic-representative loop. To achieve that our product has to be just as diverse, complete and interesting as they are. Anything less and its no longer even a product but a tick in a “to do” checklist of trendy marketing techniques.
So my own question here and one that we are facing in Webcom right now is how do we improve the "inform" part? It is a question of content as well as form. Do we keep the classic menu of fairly complete articles or do we move to a "tapas-bar plus", a slightly briefer explanation of what is happening, with every possible link one might want in order to delve deeper into the subject should they so wish, while maintaining longer stories for the week's bigger issues?
There are several parameters here, from what a modern day audience expects from any news-site, to what our own human resources permit. After all, day in day out we (have to) cover quite a large number of subjects and also tend to a whole series of other products. Spending the correct amount of time on each task is as vital to us as it is to any other organisation.
So, I for one think it is time to make this move, although the details most certainly still need to be filled in, not least questions such as how exactly we select "the biggest issues", how we work alongside the other units and, of course, how brief can an article be yet still provide sufficient information and how long should it be if its covering an important and complex issue.
We are about to begin a new effort specifically aimed at improving our stories, long and especially short, making them even more, ahem, informative and better all around. Not that they are in any way "bad" right now of course. They are good indeed but improvement is a never-ending quest and the truth is that the shorter a story the tougher it is to get it right.
And getting the story right, means getting the reporting right, the complementarity between platforms right and of course the writing right, on the webpage, on Facebook, on Twitter and everywhere else. They are after all one and the same engine obliged to run smoothly on all subjects and at all times and if they are not both integrated and well written the recipe suffers. That is well and truly our “picture quality”.