This year’s Take the Leap From Good to Great! Forum wrapped up with a strong panel brought together to examine how social media is shaping daily news content.

Joe Thornley, Mel Coulson and Scott Hannant explored three main themes: how media has shaped their own consumption habits, how competition from social media has forced news organizations to become more agile and that quality curation has emerged as just as important as quality journalism. In many ways it was a conversation familiar to the audience in the room; in another, Joe, Mel and Scott injected fresh energy and ideas for consideration.

Joe Thornley

It was Joe who largely made the case curation is what really counts, noting news organizations have smart people who know how to sift through and share what’s meaningful. That content is then consumed and further shared by people like him who have replaced their printed newspapers with RSS feeds, radios with iPhone apps, televisions with iPads and appointment news with time-shifting networks like TWIT. Social media have disrupted established models of control which has made it particularly difficult for people like Prime Minister Harper to effectively manage the narrative; he may be able to call the shots with the Parliamentary Press Gallery, but even they can take their cues and pursue sources from Twitter.

Mel Coulson

Among Mel’s key points was the amount of social media noise has increased the need for qualified journalists; people who are trained to know how to qualify leads, scrutinize information and tell stories. Fragmentation, though, has disrupted the news process. Services like Twitter have caused people (noting her university students among them) to only consume and process pieces of issues rather than understand the whole context. This is why I’ve replaced the missive ‘content is king’ with ‘context is king’ and where Mel lost me for a few moments. Of course, there’s also the danger of jumping on their own sword, as Mel put it. She shared a few examples where social media culture (specifically haste and relaxed grammar) has resulted in the untimely reporting of Gordon Lightfoot’s death and the mischaracterization of victims of a crime.

Perhaps most interesting are Mel’s views on Facebook Timelines. She sees yesterday’s announcement that brand pages can now use Timelines as a great opportunity for local newspapers to publicly curate the long term relationship they have with their communities. This new capability could evolve Facebook from its current role as little more than a marketing tool for print dailies.

Scott Hannant

The biggest threat to news is mediocrity. That was the king of all Scott’s tweetable remarks. He focused his arguments on quality and mode, paying particular attention to the difference between news and information – an area he explores with his journalism students. Scott talked about the bygone days in which news editors and producers could dismiss digital. Now news organizations need to take their valuable brands and bridge them into online activities. Specifically, storytelling and the popularity of sharable content has driven news from television to video. Some stories are more suited to this new way. However, newsrooms lack the capacity to participate based on increasing volumes (noise in particular). The challenge for news organizations is to train their salesforce on digital economics; they’re the ones who finance the newsrooms.

This was the perfect panel to take the dated opening question “how has social media changed the way we consume news” and make it interesting.