Lecture 11: Social media journalism


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  • Welcome to lecture 11, social media reporting.
  • Today we’re going to think about some ways to incorporate social media sites, such as Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and Linkedin, into our work reporting news stories. We’ll talk about ways to find sources and story ideas using social media, and we’ll also go over some dos and don’t for using social media in journalism work.
  • Social media can be used by media organizations for several reasons. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to go into a newsroom that isn’t using some form of social media for reporting, sourcing, and distributing news throughout the day. Let’s talk about some of the most common uses of social media in newsrooms today. Journalists use social media sites like Twitter & Facebook to distribute breaking news quickly and broadly. Let’s take a look at this example. Say you are driving down the road in your car and you see a large plume of smoke in the distance. So you check your phone to see if there is any news about it. Then, up pops this update on your Twitter feed explaining there is no danger, and giving a link for more information. Journalists post these kinds of updates throughout the day to keep people informed of what is going on in their community, state, or country. Social media can also be used to help reporters find out information on developing breaking news stories. Remember when a jet airplane had a bird sucked into its propeller and was forced to land in the Hudson River in New York City a few years ago? Officials withheld most of the information about the crash until they could figure out how to put their own spin on it. Reporters turned to social media to ask for eye witness accounts of what happened, and they were rewarded with numerous photos and accounts of what happened from viewers on the scene, as well as a video of the plane going down. Journalists also kept people informed of the rescue effort throughout the ordeal using social media. Social media can also be used to invite comments or feedback during a breaking news event. Say a crash occurred on the highway, and officers were too busy dealing with the crash to keep reporters informed of what is happening (as they often are). A reporter could post an initial update saying a crash occurred and invite readers to comment on the traffic flow and other details from their Smartphones on the scene.
  • Social media can also be used in journalism to promote stories and attract readers to the news website. News organizations will often create FB and Twitter accounts for their reporters to publish to in order to promote their stories. Many people use Twitter exclusively as a news feed for all the new organizations they follow. Look at this one, for example. The news organizations Slate, The New York Times, and BBC News regularly post their top headlines with links to the story so readers who are interested can stay up to speed throughout the day.
  • Social media is best used by journalists who want to obtain varying perspectives on a news event. Let’s look at the example below. A couple of years ago, there was a shooting at a Jacksonville school, which ended in one teacher getting killed and the student turning the gun on himself. Traditionally, the reporter would have placed a call to the police department and probably the school board and gotten minimal information about the incident at the same time as other media outlets. They also would have sent a reporter down to the school to try to talk with students, teachers, parents, or anyone around there who may or may not have even heard anything about the shooting yet. Reporters still do all those things, but now they also harness the power of social media to break the story earlier and get information that isn’t just what officials want them to report. By posting the quick note seen here on Twitter & Facebook, the reporter did two things: First, he provided a link for people to all the news that would be posted about the school shooting so people could follow along as things develop. Second, and most importantly, he reached out to the community in hopes that someone with information about the shooting, either a witness or a parent or teacher, would call with good information. The reporter, equipped with a Smartphone capable of Tweeting and receiving emails and Tweets, went to the scene and was able to do all the things he did before while gathering and distributing even more information online.
  • Finally, journalists use social media to get to know their community. Most news organizations now have Twitter and Facebook pages that you can follow or like, which provides you with easy access to all the information posted by the publication. This not only builds a steady base of readers who will likely click on many of the links posted on the social media site, it also encourages those readers to retweet or share the stories they read on social media, thus expanding the online audience. Also, whenever you follow a news organization on Twitter, it will usually follow you back, which means journalists there will have access to your Twitter feed and might identify you as a good source for something when reporting a story down the line.
  • Social media can be a powerful tool that can be both helpful and harmful. When you are using social media as a reporter, or in any business for that matter, there are some rules you need to keep in mind. First, proofread. Nothing destroys your credibility faster than a poorly written Tweet or FB post. Remember, you are representing your organization, so good grammar and AP style skills are especially important online where there is no editor looking over your work before publication.
  • Next, avoid profanity. Most social media sites try to regulate profanity, but, as you can see, there are ways around it. When you are representing your organization, there is absolutely no excuse for using profanity. It is juvenile and unprofessional, and it should be avoided always.
  • Be careful not to polarize your posts. When you take one side or another, you risk alienating part of your audience, which your organization probably would not view favorably. Take for example these posts, the first one disparaging Democratsand the second Republicans. You are, of course, entitled to your opinions. But when you are representing your organization online, you are speaking for the organization as a whole, not just yourself, so you are responsible for all that you post.
  • In the same vein of thought, it is important not to offend any segment of your audience. Posts like these are fire-able offenses. Be sure to think twice before posting anything that could be considered offensive to a reader. This is an extreme example, of course, but these things can happen accidentally. When Asian-American basketball player Jeremy Linn was on a tear last year, a young ESPN.com intern posted a headline reading “A chink in the armor.” He meant the post to be a playful pun, but he failed to realize he had used a racial slur that was highly offensive rather than funny. He was quickly fired, and he is not likely to find a good job in the field any time soon.
  • Whenever you are posting on behalf of your organization, it is important to weed out information that is not useful so the readers don’t get bored and begin to ignore your posts. Mundane posts like these have no place on a professional social media site.
  • For your homework, you will use social media to come up with three story ideas that affect your community or the Salisbury or SU community directly. You will then choose one of the ideas and provide a list of at least four sources you find on social media that you would use to report that story. Remember, for a journalism story, you may not use friends or family. However, you can use Twitter sources you follow or representatives of organizations you like on FB. You will explain how you found them, how you plan on connecting with them, and why you think they would make good sources for the story you chose. I’ll go through an example now to give you an idea of what to do.
  • First, I am going to go to my social media sites and see what people are talking about. You can see that several people I know are talking about Chick-Fil-A’s recent statement denouncing gay marriage. Although that is a national story, I could pitch an idea to cover the reaction locally, talking with diners at the local Chick-Fil-A as well as supporters and opponents of gay marriage for their thoughts.
  • Looking at Twitter, you can see I follow several local organizations, businesses and people. I don’t necessarily know these people, but I follow them to stay in the loop about what is going on locally. If you don’t have a Twitter account, I highly recommend you sign up for one. Then, in the Twitter search engine, type the name of some local organizations, groups, businesses, local media and people. From there, you should be able to cultivate a good list that will give you a sense of what is going on locally. You can see here that I have Tweets linking to popular pubs in Salisbury, a feature story about a 6-year-old racer, and a tweet from SU about partnering with the city for roadway safety improvements. For the purposes of this assignment, I will choose the safety improvements story.
  • Now that I have my story idea, I need to find sources. First, I’ll look to Twitter, conducting searches that might lead to more information on my topic, searching for people who are included in the press release and any related organizations. Next, I’ll try a professional networking site, like Linkedin, to try to find specific people within the organization to talk with, like SU president Dudley-Esbach or the head of the MVA. After that, I’ll perform a Google search looking for blogs or others who have mentioned my topic.I will also look for the organization on FB and send personal messages to people who have posted interesting comments on the organization’s website asking them for an interview about the topic.
  • So, to review, you will do as I did, finding three story ideas on social media that affect your community, or Salisbury or SU. Along with your story ideas, you will need to provide one sentence for each idea explaining where you got the idea from. You will be graded based on the quality of those ideas and their relevance to the community. Next you will find four potential sources for one of your story ideas using social media. You should identify specific people by name. For example, you would need to say Kristy Nichols, manager of Salisbury’s Chick-Fil-A, rather than just saying “a manager at Chick-Fil-A.” For each source, provide a brief explanation of how you found them, how you would connect with them to ask for an interview, and why you think he or she would make a good source for the story. You will be graded on how appropriate the sources are for your topic and whether you have provided a diverse range of sources to talk with. For example, a list of four representatives from Chick-Fil-A would not result in a good grade, but one local company source, one gay marriage supporter, one gay marriage opponent, and one person who doesn’t care either way but just likes Chick-Fil-A food would make a great list of sources.
  • Lecture 11: Social media journalism

    1. 1. Social media reporting
    2. 2. objectives• Think about ways to use social media in reporting news stories• Discuss ways to find sources & story ideas• Social media dos & don’ts
    3. 3. social media in journalism• Breaking news • Headlines & links on Twitter & Facebook • Story sourcing • Inviting feedback/comments
    4. 4. social media in journalism• Promote headline & stories • Create professional Facebook & Twitter feeds • Draw people into the news website
    5. 5. social media in journalism• Get alternative viewpoints • Get readers to help define news coverage • Allow readers to help provide opinions different from officials • Talk to sources you might not otherwise use
    6. 6. social media in journalism• Get to know your community • Gathering place for loyal followers • Expand the audience with retweets and shares • Follow community members for more information
    7. 7. Using social media professionally• PROOFREAD!
    8. 8. Using social media professionally• PROOFREAD!• Avoid profanity
    9. 9. Using social media professionally• PROOFREAD!• Avoid profanity• Don’t polarize
    10. 10. Using social media professionally• PROOFREAD!• Avoid profanity• Don’t polarize• Don’t be offensive
    11. 11. Using social media professionally• PROOFREAD!• Avoid profanity• Don’t polarize• Don’t be offensive• Have a point!
    12. 12. Social media activity• Three local story ideas based on social media posts• List of four sources (not friends or family!) you would use for one of the ideas• Explain: • How did you find them? • How will you connect with them? • Why they would make good sources?
    13. 13. Finding story ideas
    14. 14. Finding story ideas
    15. 15. Finding sources
    16. 16. Social media activity• Three local story ideas based on social media posts • One sentence explaining where you got each one• List of four sources (not friends or family!) you would use for one of the ideas• Explain: • How did you find them? • How will you connect with them? • Why they would make good sources?
    17. 17. announcements• Social media journalism activity due Wednesday at 5 p.m.• If you haven’t already, contact me to set up a phone conference tomorrow to check in on your project two progress• No lecture Tuesday; phone conferences• AP style quiz tomorrow, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.• Wednesday: social media promotion