A former boss at the Boston Globe told a group of young reporters once that stories never go away immediately. They only get stronger and then eventually they disappear. Every story has a cycle. What you do with that cycle is the key.
Social Media as Change Agent: 5 Lessons from the “CNN Latino Fiasco”
November 12, 2009 by Julito Varela
If you have followed our blogs for the last month or two (and many of have, and for that we thank you), we have been closely following and covering through social media the post-show reaction to CNN’s “Latino in America.” What we found was that a groundswell of sentiment that found the show a bit unbalanced and weak in trying to portray the complexities of US Latinos had emerged online, in places like Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, and several Latino blogs. We also found that a “perfect storm” was brewing, as thousands and thousands of people called out CNN for the perceived hypocrisy of heavily promoting a “Latino in America” event while still having its one of its personalities, Lou Dobbs, continue to tweak the feelings and passions of the country’s largest-growing population. It made for riveting “appointment social media” among a large group of Latino influentials who have strong online presences.
The result? The story, even though it appeared to have “died” in the mainstream media, it didn’t in the social media, and on November 11, Lou Dobbs left CNN. To many, it was a victory, simple as that. And yes, within the last 24 hours, those same Latino influentials announced the outcome as if they won the 7th game of the World Series. Yes, outside of the large organizations that were trying to push Dobbs, individuals online also acknowledged the feeling of relief and joy. They told their friends, who told their friends, and then, the story was complete.
So, what can we take out of this? Here are our 5 lessons:
1. Social media can impact change. Simple as that. People needed a forum to react to CNN, outside of CNN.com, and they did. People got passionate, people contributed. That is the power.
2. No story is “dead” unless you say it is. Unlike major media organizations, individuals who use social media to, in effect, become their own news stream to their friends, have the same editorial power to end the story. News and information have been deconstructed. Now, anyone can be a provider of information and opinion.
3. Blogs are not dead. This one is so true, it hurts. We were blown away by the traffic we received once we started discussing “Latino in America,” CNN and the Dobbs issue. Our blog became a destination for this information, and from the search items we get every day, it still is a destination.
4. Once you commit, commit. The downside to all this is that once you are committed to story, you better stick to it. Just like a news organization, you HAVE to cover it, no matter the angle. Besides providing updates about CNN and Latinos, we also tried to create our own niche with “Latino Success Stories.” That simple idea turned into a niche for us, and now, whenever people search for these types of stories, our blog comes up first in the rankings.
5. Traditional media can only engage so much. There is something to be said about the way the Dobbs thing was handled last night. The video strove to be earnest, yet it felt like typical PR and damage control. You can fire me, CNN, but I won’t apologize. We saw more comments from people who saw through that and these comments were outside of the official channels of major news organizations. The real conversation is happening in the online living rooms, kitchens, and bars of the Internet: the social media sites that connect us all. And unlike the offline world, these comments can be searched by millions, categorized, analyzed, and ranked. THAT is the difference, and the paradigm HAS shifted.