Why Social Media Is Mandatory Not Optional for Journalists

As they say, the only constant in life is change, and that’s just what’s been happening in newsrooms across the world as social media has continued to play a bigger and bigger role. Five years ago, social media may have been optional, but today, it’s mandatory. According to a 2014 report from the Indiana University school of journalism, 40 percent of journalists said social media networks are “very important” to their work, and over a third said they spend between 30 and 60 minutes each day on social networking sites. Social media gives journalists access to a 24-hour news network that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have. It gives them story ideas, allows them to stay up to date on what kind of stories their competition is covering, gives them an opportunity to connect with their followers and allows them to develop their own personal brand. Reporters who are active on social media are considered to be trustworthy people who are experts in their field.

This week, we’ve been tasked with explaining why people in the following three positions should use social media and why they would benefit from using it.

Foreign news correspondent

Social media isn’t just a city-wide thing, nor is it a state-wide or a country-wide thing. Social media is global. As of this January, worldwide social media users exceeded 2 billion. By being active on social media, a foreign correspondent has the ability to see what people from all over the world, not just the area where they live, are talking about. Rather than simply relying on the various articles in Google News to tell you what’s happening, you can get all your news in one central location. You can see which hashtags are trending and look into them further if they pertain to the specific foreign news topics that you cover. Last week, we learned about the importance of social media use in foreign news reporting with the example of British news correspondent Alex Thomson who was sent off on a reporting assignment to Ebola-hit Sierra Leone last November. Although he had no prior knowledge of how to use the app, his editor asked that he take some six-second videos with Vine while he was there. When he finally shared these videos on Twitter, it caused quite the stir. In the end, the general consensus was that these Vines helped more people get a better grasp of this horrific situation in Africa.

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Local beat editor

While it’s becoming the norm, not all journalists maintain a presence on social media. But those who do, reap the benefits. Take Jim Armstrong, who I wrote about last week, as an example. The CBS WBZ reporter is in charge of covering politics in the Boston area. During the trial for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Armstrong live-tweeted the entire event. He made sure to give his followers a play-by-play of everything that was going on in the courtroom. His vivid descriptions made you feel as if you were inside the courtroom listening to Tsanaev’s verdict first hand. As a result of his social sharing, he received lots of positive feedback from his followers, thanking him for his detailed reporting during this time.

Fusion’s Director of Media Innovation, Tim Pool, is another great example of someone who’s become a social media storyteller. During the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in 2011, he quickly received recognition for his live stream of the protests — captured on his mobile phone. He also played a big role in covering the riots in Ferguson, Mo. After the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown, the town began protesting. Pool was at the scene constantly publishing content to his personal social media networks, making sure that his followers received updates of what was going on in real time. Although Pool didn’t study journalism, he realized pretty early on in his career the kind of effect sharing news on social media could have. “Unbeknownst to me, I started doing journalism, just because I was bearing witness,” he said. “I started understanding that technology created a real opportunity to help share information.”

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Cameraman at TV News

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video would be deemed priceless. Videos add an extra element to stories that pictures can’t always compete with. They act as the visual element of a story, giving you a better ideas of what things were like at the time that an event took place. Although they’re not traditional journalists in the sense that they’re not constantly writing and editing articles all day long, cameramen are just as much in-the-know. Without them, we wouldn’t always have live, high-quality coverage of a breaking news event.

A cameraman at TV News should be as active on his personal social networks as an online or print journalist because they have just as much to say. Being behind the lens all day gives him a different perspective on situations that we otherwise might not get from a traditional journalist. Although he might not always have his camera gear on hand, he could opt to use Vine, Instagram or even Snapchat to capture an event right from his phone. Being active on social media also gives him an idea of what topics are trending, what events are occurring near him and what kind of people he should be interviewing for his videos.

Final Takeaway

No matter what type of journalist you are, the important thing to remember is that social media is a great way to stay up to date on what’s going on and to share information with people from all over the world. If you’re not active on it, you might want to rethink your decision.

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Jim Armstrong: A Storyteller and an Eavesdropper

A couple weeks back, we were tasked with reaching out to three reporters on Twitter to ask them how social media has played a role in their career. Sadly, I didn’t hear back from the three I had chosen. Now, looking back on it, I wish I had reached out to Jim Armstrong, an Emmy-winning CBS WBZ reporter based out of Boston. Jim knows how to leverage the power of social media to further his role as a journalist in the 21st century.

Although I just recently learned about him, Jim Armstrong has already given me a feel for the kind of journalist he is. In his Twitter bio, he refers to himself as a storyteller and an eavesdropper. A more perfect description of what today’s journalists should be doesn’t exist.

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Journalists as Storytellers

Social media allows journalists to be true storytellers. Despite Twitter’s character limit, it’s an extremely powerful social platform that gives journalists an opportunity to connect with people from all over the world who might not have access to the TV channel they’re featured on or might not read the specific articles they write. When journalists choose to tell stories on Twitter, they’re giving users an opportunity to take part in the conversation, something they might not otherwise have been able to do.

What I like most about Armstrong’s style on Twitter is that he doesn’t use it primarily for self-promotion, something that so many celebrities fall victim to. Instead, he uses it as a means to live tweet his beat and inform the public about what’s going on in his area. Reading his feed is almost like a play-by-play of Boston’s current events.

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Journalists as Eavesdroppers

Live-tweeting about a news event happening on their beat is a great way for journalists to increase engagement and follower growth. According to Twitter’s section on Media Best Practices, for journalists who post a concentrated number of tweets in a short time span, follower growth is 50 percent more than expected. Thanks to his live coverage during the trial of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, Armstrong saw his follower count go up by more than 1,000 during the trial, with a 14 percent bump on the last day.

More recently, Armstrong live-tweeted from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial in Boston to make it easier for the public to know what was going on behind closed doors. Rather than making his coverage text-based only, Armstrong opted to include some visual elements as well, such as the painting below showing Tsarnev’s facial expression as he hears that he’s been sentenced to death.

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While text-based tweets are extremely informative, incorporating an artistic component in your coverage of a live event, like Armstrong did, will likely incite a bigger emotional reaction from your Twitter followers. It’s one thing to read something and imagine how it’s all playing out, but it’s a totally different one to see a picture of what’s actually going on.

Journalists as Humans

We often forget that journalists are people, too. I think the ones who choose to use social media to show their human side as well are able to develop a closer connection with their followers and, are, therefore, able to further advance in their career. I loved this tweet Armstrong posted after the trial was over. It shows that he was experiencing this journey right alongside his followers.

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And it seems that his followers loved it too.

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Final Takeaways

Believe it or not, many journalists are still behind the eight ball when it comes to using social media to enhance their journalism. They view it more as a platform to promote themselves and their work rather than as a way to provide a unique value to their followers.

The past few weeks in this class have made me realize how important it is for journalists to educate themselves on how best to leverage the power of social platforms in order to see what their competitors are talking about, gather new story ideas and better connect with their followers. Those journalists that choose not to make social media part of their overall reporting strategy are missing out on the opportunity to enhance their careers and engage with and inform their followers. Fortunately, Armstrong doesn’t fall into this category.