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Newsroom Policy Post X

On March 16, 2012, Steve Myers posted an article to Poynter about the New York Times and its potential search outside of the realm of journalism for the esteemed paper’s next social media editor. This search is necessary because the current social media editor at the Times, Liz Heron, left her position with the paper.

One quote from the paper hits home a point that a lot of journalists simply aren’t understanding. “There’s a difference between running a Twitter account and working on a social media strategy…knowing how to use social media to amplify the impact of your journalism.”

I follow some media outlets that use Twitter to simply post a list of links every single day. This is not engaging or effective. Twitter can be used to amplify stories and to communicate with the community. It should not be just another link machine.

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On September 13, 2010, Mashable reporter Vadim Lavrusik posted an article about The Future of Social Media in Journalism. This is the first article I’ve read on the topic that doesn’t pretend like the reader emerged from a time machine that just left the 1700s. The introduction is simple enough, but he soon gets into deeper points that deserve attention.

The section on collaborative reporting touches on the fact that on-scene citizens, not necessarily journalists, can start to cover the story before the figurative (or literal) news van arrives. In this sort of news delivery setup, a journalist needs to learn how to utilize the community community as information gatherers, going to the sources who saw “it” first and captured pictures or videos on an iPhone or similar device.

As long as phones get cheaper and more advanced, people are always going to get the scoop on live events before journalists. After all, journalists aren’t everywhere at once, but people are.

This Top 15 list from the Center for Sustainable Journalism creatively informs readers of the rise of social media in journalism, and how the new medium has been effectively used over a dozen times in contemporary situations.

As a journalism student who grew up alongside computers, I have a solid understanding of social media’s strengths and weaknesses. What I don’t have – or didn’t have prior to reading this list – is a list of examples where social media undeniably enhanced coverage of a specific event.

The most striking number on the list to me is number 11. A New York Times reporter covered the Joplin tornado via social media, and the list links to a large blog post by him about his experience using that tool to do his job.

This post isn’t really a typical post, per se. It’s actually just a page advertising a one-hour Webinar led by Poynter faculty. However, it does highlight some of the most important things journalists should know about social media.

It seems that controversial tweets, including those regarding the recent media fiasco with Joe Paterno, has revealed to news organizations that the public deserves the same accuracy in social media as it does in print and other traditional news mediums. There does seem to be some kind of mental disconnect between journalists and social media, as there is not shortage of examples of reporters “getting it wrong” in social media.

This sort of webinar is crucial for anyone who’s struggling to come to terms with social media as a content delivery tool. Because the messages are so short the technology seems inherently simple, but there are still rules to follow, and responsilibities to the audience that must be maintained.

In April, USA Today posted an infographic explaining the role social media has in replacing traditional journalism as a news source.

That fact that stands out as most prominent to me is that over 50% of people learn about breaking news through social media rather than through traditional news sources. It does make sense, though, looking at this statistic through a personal lens. I learned of Osama Bin Laden’s death through Twitter, as well as the deaths of celebrities like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

There is a pros v. cons chart near that bottom that exposes the fallacies of social media as a news source, which is necessary because it is often placed on a pedestal. Social media does allow a limited character count, and it is meant for smaller, more digestible pieces that people can read on the go with little distraction.

Robert Quigley, the social media editor for the Austin American-Statesman, wrote a short blurb about the popularity of social media and its effect on working journalists. Quigley cites the ability to immediately interact with readers and “build valuable relationship with the public” as one of the greatest strengths of the young medium.

The story reads like it’s meant for someone who heard the word “Twitter” and ran in fear. It’s short and digestible, and the writer quickly gives a few examples of reader interaction with reporters.

I think the point to take away from this is that when you are a journalist, especially one with a public reputation (possibly for sports writing), people are going to want to interact with you. Sometimes it will be pleasant, but it’s assured sometimes they’ll be angry.

Newsroom Policy Post IV

One week ago, Sapna Maheshwari of the Washington Post published a story about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and how his death led to a “hoodie movement.” The story touches on some background info, but focuses mainly on the “One Million Hoodies for Trayvon” Facebook group.

Circumstances aside (the shooting is tragic, of course, regardless of what actually happened), this is essentially a news post about a Facebook group – something that any kid in middle school knows how to construct. There is an attempt to fill the story with some padding, as evidenced by the “historical” hoodie information and a few graphs about fashion.

What this article shows, journalistically, is how society can dictate what journalists do or don’t cover. By simply posting a picture of oneself in a hoodie, this movement is pieced together, gains traction, and eventually become national news. This is a fine example that journalists don’t just use social media, they are influenced (used?) by it too.

I ran across this informative infographic on PR Daily detailing how to engage journalists through social media (as a common citizen or as a working public relations official).

What’s instantly capturing about this image is how it’s very clearly not meant for journalists. In this case, they are the audience the writer is trying to reach. Everything else we’ve done in this ethics class was viewed through the eyes of a journalist. Now it’s time to switch chairs.

The graphics provides details about which sites are best for research, which are good for PR interaction, and which are the most popular overall. Unsurprisingly, journalists were least willing to accept PR pitches through Facebook.

To my inexperienced eyes, it seems journalists and PR workers must be cautious allies. They both need each other; journalists need information, and a company needs product/service coverage in the media. But there’s a need to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and chatting over Facebook (which, in my mind, is far more personal than Twitter) is more suspect that tweeting bits of info to each other in public view. Conduct business in the open, and nobody will have a good reason to discredit your articles.

Nancy Messieh, a journalist at The Next Web, recently published a story about Myanmar journalists’ use of social media to bypass government restrictions during elections. The country’s tight media censorship has loosened relatively, but journalists are still questioned by the government if criticism is posted about the nation’s rulers or military.

Unlike journalism in the United States, all printed content in Myanmar must go through a censor before reaching an audience. Unfortunately, because news and social media are some of the greatest tools for societal growth and change, prior restraint can damper or hinder progress. To avoid these unfair limitations, 7DayNews, the largest media group in Myanmar, began posting election coverage updates multiple times per hour.

Much like Egypt’s semi-recent use of social media to enact change, Myanmar’s struggle shows how social media can, in a way, act as a conduit for journalism. One of the tenants of journalism (and my personal favorite aspect of the profession) is to serve as a voice for those who don’t have one. Social media can be that voice.

In this Forbes article, writer Dan Schawbel interviews Anthony DeRosa, the social media editor at Reuters. Topics include the impact of social media on the modern job scene, issues with services like Twitter and Facebook, and how these programs impacted DeRosa’s career trajectory specifically.

One thing I found peculiar – and this might be attributable to the fact that I’m part of the generation who grew up with social media – is that the interview didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Yes, social media is ubiquitous. Yes, it’s a now a primary source of news. Yes, it has generated thousands of jobs. It seems to me that this interview was conducted specifically with Forbes’ target audience in mind – old, rich business people who can’t handle an iPhone.

DeRosa’s words highlight, italicize, and bold the problem for the reader: social media is great, but only if you know how to use it. I’ve follow several companies on Twitter that never Tweet. And then I follow some companies that tweet every hour. Not just about their products, but about sales, tech support, and general happenings. Microsoft’s “tweet fleet,” for example, absolutely will respond to your questions assuming they’re not laced with profanity. It’s this sort of service that earns and builds brand loyalty. I wish informed people like Schawbel and DeRosa would hammer this point home more often.