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The benefits of social media for the lone journalist 2 November 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Multimedia, Networked Journalism, Social Media.
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The above video explains in that unique Common Craft way just how social media is supposed to work and, in the usual Common Craft way, it manages to explain the basics very well but miss completely why sites like Facebook, Delicious and YouTube (the most popular social media site according to a report in March) are so useful.

As I see it there are two principle ways in which individual journalists, not publications, can benefit from social media sites: they can provide a valuable source of information during the creation of a story and they can greatly assist in disseminating that story to a wider audience.

Social media sites have the potential to be a very useful tool in the research and creation of a story, but it is the aspect of social media’s influence on journalism I find myself most sceptical of. Building up a network of contacts on sites like Twitter can help keep your ear to the virtual ground in a way that Web 1.0 never could, but how is it possible to develop a story with any kind of exclusivity when all your communication is shared? Journalists must survive in a competitive market and social media tools, by definition, do not allow users to share information privately. For that we have to revert largely to Web 1.0 tools like e-mail or the humble telephone.

Having said that however there are a lot of stories out there that need to be told and if the increasingly tech savvy public embraces social media as much as we all hope they will, these sites have the potential to replace the letter, the phone call, the press conference and the walk in as the primary ways in which local newspapers get their information from the public.

Where I see the greatest potential for social media is in the dissemination of news stories. In 2007 BBC writer Ben Hammersley reported from Turkey for two weeks in the run up to the Turkish elections using nothing but social media tools, such as this Flickr photostream. The exercise proved highly effective in delivering up to date news on the situation thanks to the immediacy of social media software, but his exposure obviously benefitted from the backing of the BBC news website which built a portal for all of Hammersley’s reports. Sadly it also seems to have been considered little more than an ‘experiment’ by the BBC, and one which it has not chosen to repeat since, even on a more limited scale.

The practice of link journalism which has evolved with Web 2.0 has helped journalists to get their voices heard as well. Social media sites are extremely useful tools for established journalists but the reader first has to find your work among the world’s 200 million plus blogs. Search engine optimisation plays a huge part in this, but so does the fact that now it is considered good practice to create hyperlinks within the text itself to your sources. This provides a level of free advertising to your work which no targeted campaign could ever hope to achieve.

There has never been a better time for the lone journalist entering the profession to get their voice heard. Blogs have helped to democratise the news in a way like nothing before and social media sites are now helping to make sure that big news does not drown out the little guy.

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Comments»

1. egrommet - 3 November 2008

I tend to agree. Networks like Twitter are public fora, so not necessarily the best place for getting that exclusive – but what does that mean anyway. How many exclusives are there really?

I agree that Ben Hammersley’s Turkey reporting was really interesting and I think it’s a shame that this hasn’t been taken further. But then a lot of this is still early days.

A little bit of world 1.0 savvy and some web 2.0 smarts can go a long way to helping journalists figure out what their role is and who they are working with/for.

Niche/entreprenuerial journalism (aka freelancing in the old school) is viable for those who spot the gaps in the market and could potentially become a much bigger deal over the next couple of years. American J-schools are discussing how to make this part of their mainstream offering/

2. Is Twitter the future of blogging? « Jordan Farley’s Weblog - 8 November 2008

[…] your voice heard, but perhaps even more important today are practices like link journalism (see last week’s post), social bookmarking tools and of course […]


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