Will television be the next news medium to undergo a dramatic transformation? Robert Washburn explains how social TV products such as Apple iTV and Google TV will add a social layer to television programming that will change the way we consume broadcasts.

Will television be the next news medium to undergo a dramatic transformation? Robert Washburn explains how social TV products such as Apple iTV and Google TV will add a social layer to television programming that will change the way we consume broadcasts.

With Rogers and Bell in hot pursuit of Apple’s iTV technology, the move to social TV is well underway in Canada.  The blending of traditional broadcast and social media is expected to be the next big wave within the industry. While it is being embraced as a revolution in television viewing, little is being written about its impact on news broadcasting.

A deal between 10 broadcasters and ConnecTV last November might provide a glimpse of what may come. Gannett, Hearst, Belo, Scripps, Cox, Media General Meredith, Post-Newsweek, Raycom and Barrington signed the deal to provide synchronized context and conversations around whatever the audience is watching on a computer, tablet or other mobile platform.

Viewers will download apps or visit a website. It will identify what you are watching and then serve up companion content and conversations either live when the program is broadcast and when time-shifted. Shareable content will appear with things like factoids and polls, along with tweets from show accounts or personalities. Through Facebook, viewers will be able to tell if friends “like” the show and they can invite others to join them while watching a show.

What is most interesting about the deal is the involvement of local TV stations, not major broadcasters. That does not mean the big conglomerates are not pursuing social TV, but it may mean they have not figured out how to leverage the tools to the greatest advantage just yet.

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With the arrival of Apple’s iTV in Canada, the usual group of early adopters who must have the latest, greatest technology will likely embrace it. It may be a bit longer until the mass audiences get on board. What this specific technology means for journalists is not so clear.

Certainly, social media is a platform for delivering and consuming news, along with being a tool to find stories, gather information and connect with potential sources. As journalists become more familiar with the technology, it is also becoming clearer that not every app or interface can be used in every situation. Twitter has distinctive advantages in disseminating breaking news and live coverage. Its integration into live blogging makes it a powerful tool for creating interactive conversations around news events by allowing several feeds at once. It is easy to use with mobile hardware and its brevity keeps the content crisp. Facebook does not behave in the same traits. Both are tools for audience building, reaching people in different ways. However, like so much of social media, these can be transient audiences, who follow for short periods of time and then leave.

As a study done in 2011 by Professor Alfred Hermida, of UBC’s School of Journalism, points out, 36 per cent of Canadian adults consider social media on an equal footing with traditional news sources. It says that number jumps to 61 per cent for those below age 34. There is no question social media is part of the news media fabric.

News organizations are already embracing social media. Nobody in the industry is left untouched by the current transformations going on inside newsrooms. It would be mere hyperbole to suggest Apple iTV is going to revolutionize news because the current environment is one of major change. It may be the next step in enhancing the interaction between audiences and journalists in broadcast newsrooms, but it is not hard to imagine journalists are already travelling down that path or a similar one already.

For anyone pining for the old days of traditional news media platforms, the chorus of negativity will rise up once more. What is always crucial is not the technology, but the principles and practices of journalists. The greatest threat is the loss of credibility and trust in the face of a tsunami of information that is increasingly hard to manage and unreliable. One of the last battlegrounds must be for veracity. If journalists allow the technology to undermine the ability to provide accurate, balanced, fair information, then all is lost. It is this territory that will distinguish it from everything else whether it is Apple iTV or the local TV news broadcast over cable. Staying focused on this aspect of journalism must remain at the heart of any debate about new technology and the future of news.