Journalism graduate and social-media fan Kendall Walters looks at the impact Facebook, Twitter and its ilk are having on newsrooms.


Kendall WaltersJournalism graduate and social-media fan Kendall Walters examines the impact Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and their ilk are having on newsrooms today.

A journalist searches Facebook for photos and comments in the wake of a death. Another culls the endless sea of crowd-sourced opinion on Twitter. Yet another enters their resume into LinkedIn. Meanwhile another reporter replays past political speeches on YouTube, checking for inconsistencies. Social media is everywhere you go online and an important part of any journalist’s day.

Essentially, social media can be used for real reporting – and real reporting can happen on social media, according to Dom Sagolla, one of Twitter’s creators and author of 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form.

These circles are dominated by social media giants Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Brazen Careerist, LinkedIn and blogging. Social media is an important tool for journalists, both in professional branding and in the newsroom.

Facebook

@KendallWalters #Facebook: More than just drunken photos?

Facebook is often viewed as nothing more than a place to chat with friends over drunken photos posted and tagged, but its uses have expanded far beyond that.

With the spread of popularity and advent of new features and applications, Facebook is certainly being taken seriously now.

Not long ago, Facebook created Pages to allow businesses and individuals to market themselves by inviting users to become fans. Facebook Pages is a function of the site that can be useful to journalists by allowing them to build an online brand by posting photographic work, links to their writing, RSS feeds to their blog, Twitter updates and a variety of other information. Journalists can create a “following,” as it were, of people who like their work, which allows a professional point of contact with other users, separating the journalist’s professional Facebook presence from a personal one.

It can also become a vital tool in news-gathering. For example, many journalists, rather than shoving recorders in the faces of grieving friends and family, are opting to use Facebook to find a photo of the deceased and search memorial pages for friends or relatives who may be willing to speak with them.

Twitter

@KendallWalters #Twitter: Redefining the meaning of “crowd-sourced.”

The new kid on the block, Twitter, is increasingly being used by professionals in the media industry.

The site is a hit with journalists because it allows for ease of access to an enormous pool of opinion on any given topic.
Sagolla says Twitter is a great example of how the link between journalism and social media is a natural progression in the history of the media industry.

Twitter can also be an excellent source of on-the-scene information and updates, especially in the midst of a crisis such as the recent disaster in Haiti. In recent cases, many people on-scene have posted Twitter updates, often including photos showing the wake of the devastation. There have also been instances in recent years when someone has broken a story via Twitter.

Not only can Twitter provide simple ways to gather and distribute news, journalists can also easily use the micro-blogging site to find sources for stories, especially if they need opinions on a given topic.

YouTube

@KendallWalters I’m sure the uses are practically endless, but I know I like to #YouTube my writing music.

YouTube went online in February 2005 and has since garnered billions of hits. Every day, people around the world watch hundreds of millions of videos. 

Up-and-coming journalists in the broadcast field could conceivably use YouTube to upload portfolio clips and share them with others, including potential employers.

Recently, YouTube has become a source for breaking-news video. Many television newsrooms are not using YouTube for distribution, however. The real gem that YouTube provides to reporters is that of citizen contributions, or user-driven content, said Stacey Woelfel, chairman of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) in an interview with Mashable.

MySpace

@KendallWalters I still don’t get why the chaotic mess of #MySpace is so popular.

MySpace made its debut in the fall of 2003. The original idea of the site was to provide a music-driven version of the earlier, popular Friendster  (which is now one of the top social networks in Asia, but has essentially been replaced by Facebook in North America).

Journalists typically only utilize MySpace if it is being used as the official page or launch page of a band or musical artist. In respect to music journalism, MySpace provides an easy way to connect with most musical groups, especially those just starting to build a fan base. However, outside of the music industry, MySpace is typically not used for professional means andis often ignored by the media business.

Brazen Careerist

@KendallWalters Not going to lie, I think I really just tried if for the name… With something as catchy and gutsy as #BrazenCareerist, who could go wrong?

Officially launched as a professional network in 2009, Brazen Careerist is often compared to LinkedIn. However, the site user-base is decidedly younger. According to Brazen Careerist’s latest online press release, dated March 9, 2010, the site’s membership base has grown by more than 600 per cent in the last six months alone.

Brazen Careerist says that it sets itself apart from other professionally-geared social networking sites by focusing on the ideas, rather than the traditional resumes, of its members.

“For less-experienced workers, ideas are a better indicator of how they will perform than their experience is. Brazen Careerist dismisses the traditional online resume approach and replaces it with a job-seeker profile that has a social ‘idea feed’,” the site says of itself.

This approach allows rookie journalists to link to their blogs, Twitter feeds and other writing samples as well as highlight work they are most proud of, in order to present a picture of themselves to potential employers that shows a little more than just their resume.

LinkedIn

@KendallWalters I highly suspect that #LinkedIn is the place where I’m most likely to connect with current news editors…

Founded in May of 2003, LinkedIn was actually one of the first social media sites to make it big. A networking site for professionals, LinkedIn now has over 65 million members in more than 200 countries.

LinkedIn’s niche in the social media market is strictly professional and the site boasts that it is a host for “your professional network of trusted contacts.” According to the site’s About page, “executives from all Fortune 500 companies” are members on the site.

Like others, journalists seem to utilize LinkedIn for its professional aspects.

LinkedIn, unlike many other social media sites, has included a handy little feature useful to journalists: On the About page, there is a link labelled ‘LinkedIn for Journalists’, which lists articles, some produced by LinkedIn itself, detailing the best ways for journalists to get the most out of LinkedIn, including how to use the site to find experts and sources.

Blogging

@KendallWalters #Journalist = #Blogger extraordinaire.

Around for years before other types of social media, blogs seem to be everywhere on the web. Blogging software varies almost as much as individual blogs, however, some sites have achieved popularity for several reasons, often through offering free hosted blogs. WordPress, TypePad, Blogger, Tumblr, it doesn’t really matter what software a journalist uses, however one thing is fairly widely agreed upon: having a blog is an essential part of any journalist’s professional branding effort.

BusinessWeek’s Stephen Baker says that blogging is good because it helps build connections and community.

“Vulnerability. It’s a good thing. It’s what people need to establish healthy relationships, and it’s why journalists (among others) should blog…. To be vulnerable is to have your defences down. Whether this is in a relationship or at work, it usually leads to better communication,”  Baker wrote in a piece on BusinessWeek.

Kirk Lapointe, managing editor of the Vancouver Sun, said he started his blog as a personal-motivation tool and it grew from there.

“I do it to discipline myself to read … what’s going on in media,”  he said. However, as a prominent figure in media, Lapointe is mindful that he is construed as a representative of his media company. This is one of the primary reasons his opinion is rarely found in his blog.

This content filtering has certainly not hurt the popularity of LaPointe’s blog.

“Now, most days I’m pretty disappointed if I don’t get 2,500 to 3,000 views,”  he said.

Issues

@KendallWalters If anything, the Internet needs more editors, not fewer. #SocialMedia

Verification and accuracy have become one of the top issues in the journalistic use of social media. Not fact-checking a tweet, or running with a story found on Facebook simply because competitors are doing so, has already caused several false news reports

Harry Hodge, managing editor of Metro News Edmonton, knows about the dangers of running unverified social-media stories. His paper was one of many that falsely reported Gordon Lightfoot’s death in February 2010.

 “Many of us were reeled in by early reports,” Hodge said.

Metro saw stories online and on the wire about the Lightfoot death and so Facebooked and retweeted the news. Within an hour they found out it wasn’t true.

In an era where everyone can publish online to a worldwide audience, many people believe journalists and editors are becoming less significant. However, with false reports circulating around the Internet like wildfire and new incorrect items being posted by the minute, journalism and what it stands for may be needed more than previously thought. The roles that journalists perform – fact-checking and sifting through the dearth of information to find truth – have become even more important; review by a second set of eyes before publication has become what separates professionals from amateurs, and adds credibility to those who need it, Sagolla argues in his book.

Separating Personal & Professional Identities Online

@KendallWalters Now I just need to Photoshop that tequila bottle out of my professional profile picture...
#ProfessionalBranding

There’s one big issue that’s struck at the heart of many a professional (especially those newly emerging from university): What to do with their Facebook page? Maybe the problem is ranting status updates, inappropriate photos, or what friends tend to write on your page.

The question is: Should it be kept separate from professional interactions?

Many users have come up with creative responses to these predicaments.

I have a friend who changed his last name to the second half of his first name, so that potential employers would be unable to find him (or at least verify with some accuracy that it really is him).

Lapointe said he feels differently about journalists’ attempts to separate personal and professional aspects of their online lives.
“I don’t think that you can separate your persona,” he said in an interview. “I think the two pretty much converge.”

What Next?

@KendallWalters #SocialMedia is the #FutureOfJournalism. If one thing is clear about social media it’s this: Its future is intertwined with that of journalism.

“Social networks are like any other community meeting place and a journalist should be where his audience is,” said Paul Balcerak, assistant editor for new media at Sound Publishing.

“Just like you go down to the local bar or town square to get the scoop on what’s making news/what people are talking about, you should also be monitoring Twitter/Facebook/whatever.”

There is no decided-upon one way to use social media correctly, and that seems to be one of the things about it that not only has people talking, but also has them trying things that are outside the box. While sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Brazen Careerist, LinkedIn and blogging are dominating the social media scene right now, there’s no doubt that there’s room for even more change and innovation.

More than ever before, journalists are hopping on the social media train and using the resources available to their fullest advantage. Journalists have had a long history of staying a step behind technology shifts; social media is truly a chance for the media business to step to the forefront and assert itself as an innovator.

Kendall Walters is a recent Thompson Rivers University School of Journalism graduate. She has worked for the 100 Mile Free Press, Metro News Edmonton and is currently at Kamloops This Week. Walters is an avid photographer and social media enthusiast. This fall she plans to pursue her Masters of Journalism degree at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

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