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.
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.
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.
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.
And it seems that his followers loved it too.
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.