New journalism means knowing your social media

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a debate in journalism training about shorthand. Is this a skill that is still relevant to new journalists joining the news media? The reality is that shorthand is headed for extinction unless there’s some major industry intervention. But, while old school editors and journalism tutors may deplore the death of shorthand, the rest of the industry is much too preoccupied with survival in a Force 10 digital storm.

And let’s face it, shorthand will not be missed because technology offers so many alternatives that are proving to be as good as if not better. There are miniaturised video and audio recorders and ubiquitous smart phones that can record virtually anything. An iPad application called SoundNote records interviews as you type. Even badly type written notes can guide you to the points in an interview that you might need to transcribe for a quote.

While debate rages over whether technology improves journalism, the fallout over the News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK shows how technology also enables where journalistic ethics fail.

One guarantee is the way journalists tell their stories has to change under the crushing weight of technological innovation. The future of news content is destined to be immersive, interactive and multi-faceted.

It follows that multi-media versatility is going to be an essential part of a journalist’s skill set and we are starting to see journalism schools increasingly incorporating this dimension into their curricula.

From a social media perspective, we’re seeing more media organisations embracing ways to share their content across the social web. But it’s also a safe observation to make that many journalists and media organisations are uncomfortable or ambivalent about using social media platforms.  You could say many journalists still profoundly misunderstand the web and are baffled why a collaborative, amateur built resource like Wikipedia works!

But those that do understand how the social web works see opportunity and recognise the game changing nature of platforms like Twitter and Facebook as an increasingly important information ecosystem existing within the digital revolution.

For the journalists that do get the mobile/social/digital shift – and even those that are watching on the side-lines – I recommend two brilliant resources that help media professionals target and locate content on Twitter and Facebook as part of the process of news gathering.

Twitter for Newsrooms is an important starting point for journalists who are new to Twitter and those who think they know it all. There are tips on using Twitter’s advanced search form to get narrow and defined results to help with any story. It is so useful for scanning breaking content when the Twitter stream is a flood of spontaneity that is being throttled on your Tweetdeck.

For finding older tweets, there’s Topsy which allows journalists to go back in time to view Twitter traffic in a given time frame.  Also incredibly useful is information on how to link directly to an individual tweet. If you’ve had sleepless nights trying to figure how this is done, here’s how.

There are also a number of Twitter partners that provide ways for news organisation to visualise or curate Twitter data about particular news stories – a terrific way to demonstrate the impact of a story on Twitter and by extension on internet traffic. I started with Mass Relevance, a tweet curatorial service, and there are many others out there.

Facebook searches are another way to find public content. Searches can be carried out in group, page, event or people categories and also in posts by people, friends and groups. People’s privacy settings determine what is in the public domain and is means Facebook lacks the capability to really amplify content the way Twitter does. But Facebook users can message others even if they are not friends and this is a useful information circuit breaker.

Twitter and Facebook searches and techniques are becoming an essential part of a journalist’s skillset. Journalists will also need to pay attention to emerging social media platforms like Google+ and there are other platforms like Quora and HARO (which is an acronym for Help A Reporter Out) that help journalists find answers from potential sources. I have used HARO and I can see its value (although it can be hit or miss) as a regular way to source opinions or comment on issues from a global pool of social web savvy respondents.

Every journalist needs to understand that Twitter is not a passing fad and Facebook is not just a way of talking privately among your friends. The accumulated online babble might be deafening but by skilful manipulation of search criteria, social media platforms are essential, information-rich resources. Journalism might be losing the struggle to keep shorthand but the profession has no choice but to join the rest of us on the social media street.


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