The uncertainty plaguing traditional media is in large part due to its apparent nemesis – social media. It’s not necessarily that those in the social media space are out to get their traditional media counterparts, but rather that market and consumer demands are shifting to the more instant, accessible and affordable online media. And stuck in the middle of this battle between aging print- and broadcast-based giants and youthful, nimble, social media outlets are the journalists who hold the power of content in their hands (or pens, or keyboards, or teleprompters). Many of these journalists have chosen to embrace social media as an additional tool for researching and disseminating stories rather than staunchly refuse to reconsider traditional journalistic methods, and we’ve compiled a list of innovative ways that journalists are embracing social media.
In their Professional Organizations
The Society of Professional Journalists is the largest professional journalism organization in the U.S. with just under 10,000 members. In the May/June 2010 issue of Quill, the SPJ’s bi-monthly publication that follows the pulse of American journalism, they covered the top 20 journalists to follow – and the main criteria for choosing these journalists was their use of social media.
All 20 of the journalists highlighted use some combination of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media to fuel their reporting. The SPJ even created a list on Twitter so that interested readers could follow all of these avant garde journalists at once. These are the kinds of journalists who question the future of the industry, experiment with user-generated content, use Tweets as potential leads, and crowdsource a story. And their leading professional organization is sending the message that they have the keys to the future of journalism.
In the AP Style Guide
For those in the journalism industry, the Associated Press Style Guide is the be-all and end-all of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It is a manual that offers structure and formatting rules for journalists to follow so that the industry has some consistency.
The latest AP Style Guide update is all about social media. Changing “Web site” into “website” is one of the biggest changes, and is due, in part, to search engine and user demands. According to the update’s press release, the new style guide has:
42 separate entries on such terms as app, blogs, click-throughs, friend and unfriend, metadata, RSS, search engine optimization, smart phone, trending, widget and wiki.
The press release goes on to tout the popularity of the AP Style Guide by pointing to the many Facebook fan pages it has spawned (including one called “The AP Stylebook is my Bible”)and even a parody Twitter account.
In the Hunt for Sources
There is a lot of contention over using Twitter as news source. Because Tweets are so hard to verify, you’ve likely heard about the “death” of Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot that was taken up by the mainstream media using a false Tweet as the sole source, or the myriad of misquotes and only quasi-fact-checked news items coming out of Twitter, Facebook and other social sources.
Most traditional journalists know, however, that Twitter and the lot are only part of the toolkit. If used for leads, they must be verified and fact-checked using traditional journalistic methods. It seems pretty clear that outlets like CNN are bent on using Twitter for its more sensational aspects, but in a practical sense it is useful, and will continue to be used, as a jump-off point for further investigating into up-to-the-minute reporting.
In their Activism
There is a dividing line in journalism between those who believe they must be objective reporters and those who believe they should be active in trying to improve the often dire situations they encounter. To the relief of the latter, activist journalism has gained new momentum thanks to social media.
Twitter can be used to hunt for sources, but it can also be used to broadcast abuses of media professionals by governments, raise awareness of otherwise overlooked social ills, or even raise money for a cause. The now-famous case of James Buck, a graduate of University of California Berkeley, who alerted his followers on Twitter that he was arrested by the Egyptian police back in 2008, illustrates how Twitter can be used to ensure transparency between activist journalists and governments. Journalists have also used social media to help authorities locate people during earthquakes and other natural disasters, and to add their voice to political protests.
In their Community
Just like many other professions, traditional journalists are beginning to see the value in creating a community online. Twitter lists of fellow journalists, Facebook groups, blogs and other social media can help journalists integrate into the online community and form trust between themselves and their readers.
NPR does a particularly good job of creating community for its journalists and readers/listeners to interact. Along with a vibrant Facebook community, NPR has several active Twitter accounts and their own social network which we covered in more detail in April. This can lead to story generation, verification, and ensuring that the stories are interesting and relevant to readers.
Some traditional journalists are scared of the new media, and their fears aren’t completely unwarranted. There will be change and growth, and along with this, some pain for those journalists and outlets unwilling or unable to adapt. But for those who seek new places to innovate and new ways to report the news, social media is a fresh, new tool that can be used to compliment their next investigative report.
This is a repost of Lauren’s article from June, 2010.