Social media helps journalists inform the public
By Andrew Martasian
You might not get the newspaper delivered to your doorstep, or tune in to the nightly news every evening, but chances are pretty good that your social network keeps you up to date on the news.
The Pew Research Center’s biennial news consumption survey, released in September 2012, found that “the most dramatic change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites.”
The survey found that 33 percent of adults under the age of 30 said they saw news on their social networking site. The percentage of overall Americans who said they saw news on a social networking site “doubled from 9 percent to 19 percent,” said the report.
The change in the way news is consumed has not gone unnoticed.
Journalists are taking to social media sites to engage with readers and distribute their stories.
Robin Lubbock, director of social media at WBUR in Boston, said social media has become another tool for journalists in the digital age.
“It gives you a whole lot more,” he said. “It gives you a lot more access to more people.”
Lubbock said social media allows reporters to reach out to their audience to ask questions, or simply see what people are already saying about a particular story they are considering.
“Social media is not a thing that just one person does, it’s something that is integrated into the whole system,” Lubbock said.
Lubbock said some reporters are better at social media than others, just like some are better photographers than others.
He said more and more reporters will be comfortable using social media as younger generations of journalists grow up with it in their life.
“I think it’s a very fascinating and interesting changing environment,” he said. “I think the way that people consume news is going to be different and I think we need to be aware of that and we need to be responding to it.”
Lubbock said news organizations need to look at social media and online news as “media in their own right” and avoid simply shoveling traditional news onto a social media platform.
Sara Jacobi knows all about creating news specifically for an online and social media environment.
Jacobi is the editor of the South End Patch, an online community news site where social media plays a significant role in the type of street-level reporting the site is known for.
The site itself allows readers to comment on stories and even submit their own blog posts, but Jacobi also posts on Facebook and Twitter to connect directly with the people who live in her beat, or community coverage area, so she can report on issues important to them.
“It helps inform your coverage of the neighborhood because you want to write about what people care about,” Jacobi said.
“I always tag whomever I’m writing about on Twitter and then they can easily retweet my message,” she said.
Differences in how people see news on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook influence how she crafts her posts.
On Facebook for example, readers see a headline, photo and summary of the story so “it’s important to make sure all three components are exactly the way you want them,” Jacobi said.
Twitter on the other hand is more concise. Jacobi said, “you want to be succinct and you don’t want to just tweet the headline.”
“You want to try to find a way to get the message out on the story you’re presenting and say why people should care in 140 characters.”
Jacobi’s job doesn’t end once a story is written and posted. At that point, she has to moderate conversation on the subject.Sometimes she is the first person to comment on stories, just to ask her readers what they are thinking and to get the conversation going.
Other times she is there to have an “editor/moderator presence” so people understand they can’t get away with profane or offensive comments.
“We want to get conversations going because it’s so important to the neighborhood,” Jacobi said. “We want to get people talking.”
Social media news is still news
By Andrew Martasian
Social media is one of the newest tools in the toolbox of journalism, and as with any new tool, journalists should take care to read the warning label before they use it.
The features that make social media so useful to journalism are its speed and personal touch. Reporters can see in an instant what people are curious about, and reach out and talk directly to them on Facebook or Twitter or any other social networking site.
“Everything is just faster, better, more interesting,” said Robin Lubbock, social media director at WBUR.
But speed has its drawbacks.
“The pressure to do things faster means you’ve got to be quicker at your fact-checking,” Lubbock said.
“Everything you see out there isn’t true,” said Adrienne Lavidor-Bermen, social media producer for Boston.com and the Boston Globe.
Reporters need to treat information gleaned from social media the same way they would treat information from a phone or email tip and do the appropriate follow-up to make sure the it is true.
Putting news on a social media platform does not give journalists an excuse to be inaccurate.
Karen Bordeleau, deputy executive editor of the Providence Journal, said it does not matter where their news appears, it is all held to the same ethical guidelines.
“It just matters that it’s accurate, it’s fair, it’s objective,” Bordeleau said. “We expect the same thing whether it’s Facebook, whether it’s a Twitter feed or whatever.”
While it’s clear journalists have to be accurate and fair in their social media reporting, it is a little more difficult to determine how to interact with readers on Facebook or Twitter.
Pamela Cotter, assistant managing editor of breaking news at the Providence Journal said some of the Journal reporters were hesitant to use social media at first.
“Journalists want to be objective and Twitter is very personal,” she said.
Bordeleau said Cotter gave some “Twitter 101 and Twitter 102” sessions to some of the Providence Journal’s reporters and photographers to help them feel more comfortable with social media.
“About a third of the reporting staff uses [social media] pretty frequently,” said Bordeleau. “They’re getting really great at it.”
Sara Jacobi, editor of the South End Patch, said social media is a place where you can connect with your audience and keep them coming back. To do so, she needs to make more of a personal connection with her readers online.
Jacobi tries to let her audience know she is a part of their community and “not just a faceless news gatherer.”
She says if she eats at a local restaurant she would post on Facebook or Twitter to let people know she is out in the community.
“I try to connect with people but keep it professional,” said Jacobi. “I’m not posting pictures from my weekend on my work page.”