Alan Jones furore proves social media’s power

In particular it shows the power of social networking as an alternative and powerful communications vehicle across the community.

The growing appeal of social networking in the younger generation is nothing new. But the reaction to Jones’ comments demonstrates the speed and scope for social media to influence community opinion and participation.

The impact of these campaigns, which went beyond Jones to include Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, with companies advertising on Jones’ program and anyone else associating themselves with the radio personality, triggered an advertising free week in response.

While Jones’ comments, which he apologised for, were clearly out of line, history suggests the issue will blow over. Just look at the response to on air comments made by Kyle Sandilands and the reaction to Tiger Woods’ playing around – and not on the golf course.

Be that as it may, the simple fact is that the social networking genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and is a serious competitor to print media in particular.

‘In other words, are the digital versions of our newspapers attracting new consumers or being supported by those moving across from print?’

At the same time the Federal Government’s decision to seize on this issue to wage a war against the Opposition over its treatment of women, including the Prime Minister raises the prospect of restrictions on freedom of speech justified by an ostensible community desire for political correctness.

It is unlikely that social networking sites would feel the heavy hand of such draconian moves by the government, which is mulling over the reports of its two inquiries into the media. But print and electronic platforms, including the internet, would.

And all this is happening while print media is being squeezed by falling circulation, readership and advertising.

It is only a matter of time before the digital platforms created by the newspapers to capture readers who have or are losing interest in print start to come under financial pressure.  After all these sites are chewing up a lot of money to present the same or similar information to that contained in the newspapers which are rapidly losing appeal.

In other words, are the digital versions of our newspapers attracting new consumers or being supported by those moving across from print?

In this context it would be interesting to see whether the spin off from the Jones affair or the row over the behavior of Peter Slipper before he quit as Parliamentary Speaker had any discernible impact on circulation, readership or digital hits.

It is here that the real challenge lies for newspaper editors … how to compete with something that is immensely popular because it is a gossip platform.

The chatter on social networking sites, such as Facebook, cannot be dismissed as superficial. While these sites are totally different from anything that resembles traditional media they are the emerging news and information centres for the future.

There is a growing market, comprising young people in particular, who want to create and share their own information and are not interested in going to newspapers to find out what is going on.

The argument from traditionalists that this market is under informed or ill-informed is simply not cutting through.

Malcolm Colless is a former senior executive at News Ltd and writes a column for the Australian’s media section

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