Lessons from Liverpool: the power and passion of the people


AAt the recent INMA/OPA Europe Conference in Krakow, I received a link to a BBC web site. Read it with me. What's your reaction?

It uses social media networks like Twitter and Facebook as well as its own web site forum to keep its members informed. We've focused on propaganda, viral content, and info-graphics to boost membership and illustrate what's happening. We've produced content in various media, including a video documentary. We have around 27,000 members who we're able to contact in an instant if there have been key developments. The different groups are learning to work together and build a common platform that enables us to respond quickly with huge numbers of fans when news breaks, or when a good idea arises. It's amazing how many different people from so many different walks of life have come together. We have academics, finance experts, film directors, lawyers, writers, graphic-designers, even multi-millionaires.

Doesn't this sound like newspapers? Isn't this a way we should publish and interact with our readers online and offline? Isn't this what we need to do to attract audiences and advertisers? Isn't this what we say we want to do at industry conferences? Isn't this the future of media? Is this our business?

How many times did you answer with a “yes”?

The only word I don't like is “propaganda.” But you will forgive it if I reveal to you that these are the words of a man named Roy Henderson, an IT worker from Dundee, Scotland. He also is one of the thousands of fans of football club Liverpool FC, a team whose owners show no respect to the history and passion of the club while seeking economic gains. With dramatic results for the team off course, the fans stood up against the owners and organised themselves, using every possible way to reach more fans and inform them about their actions. An agreement was reached to sell the club to the American owners of the Boston Red Sox, a group that has shown it has a heart for the team and is willing to invest.

What can the newsmedia industry learn from this? A lot, I think. Publishers often think that we need to report or reveal, but we're afraid of taking positions in debates. We are neutral and we only inform, like we have no opinion. I agree, but not for all subjects. Imagine the following possible events in a local market:

  • The major sports club might go broke.

  • The national government plans to build a new nuclear plant in your market.

  • Some villages were badly hit by a terrible flood.

  • An investment in a new business park is stopped due to budget cuts.

  • A local athlete wins the U.S. Open.

Positive and negative news, but important for your readers. This is probably what they talk about when they meet in pubs or shops or at work. Most of the issues will have fans and opponents, so can we as newsmedia take a position? My opinion is simply “yes.” But not on every possible issue. You need to have criteria.

Let me give you some criteria that are necessary:

1. An in-depth research of the subject. The newspaper needs to have a 360-degree view on the subject before it can decide to take a position. Make sure your audience knows that you're the specialist.

2. Simplicity. You need to be able to convey the message in three sentences, in simple words, with a “yes” or a “no.” If possible, “draw” the problem and solution.

3. You need to be able to win. Or realise small wins. Don't start a fight you can't win. Or align yourself with winners like if you create a group to support a local hero.

4. Justice. Make sure that an outsider can find objective elements to justify your actions.

5. Go to the end. If you make a choice to stand up and take a position, make sure you are ready to go to the finish.

6. Objectivity. Give people who think differently the chance to publish their opinions.

There certainly be other criteria possible, but for me these are the basics.

Many publishers will not agree and will use arguments like “we lose our objectivity.” That might be correct, but what is worse:

  • If you lose your connection to your market?

  • If another publisher becomes more relevant to your market?

We all agree that communities are valuable to publishers, so what stops you from creating new ones? What stops you from showing leadership on issues that go straight to the heart of your target group?

In the case of “Save Liverpool FC,” somebody from Dundee took the lead and could in no time create a group of 27,000 people to support his point of view. I am convinced that newsmedia have a chance, or duty, to stand up for important causes in their market.

If you take a risk with that, think about the old saying “no guts, no glory.”

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