In todays ever-changing multimedia world, journalists must embrace any new technology that comes their way if they want to stay current; and like it or not, social media is the main new form of technology that journalists must either learn to embrace and use to their advantage, or ignore and risk falling into obscurity.
As Mark Briggs writes in Journalism Next, “The ease of publishing, combined with the ease of consuming, has contributed to microblogging’s rapid growth.” Briggs goes on to explain, “Twitter is the most popular microblogging service. In fact, the platform is so popular that probably more people have heard of Twitter than have heard the term ‘microblogging’” (Briggs 90-91). As a journalist, ignoring a service that is now utilized by more than half of a billion people is senseless, as that half-billion and growing is an audience your competition will likely be getting their voice out to.
As Steve Buttry points out, Twitter is a silly name, and many people will use the site just for fun, chatting with friends, and posting silly tweets. I personally believe this could be one of the reasons some respected journalists have failed to utilize it yet. However, if used correctly Twitter can be an extremely valuable tool for a journalist, and a silly name and the fact that many people will only use the site for personal uses does not validate journalists or news organizations such as the New York Times, who has many writers on staff that are popular on Twitter yet fails to recognize “tweet” as standard English, failing to recognize the legitimacy it can have.
How is it valuable?
In a blog post titled “10 ways Twitter is valuable to journalists” Steve Buttry lists the 10 ways he feels Twitter benefits journalists as:
1. Breaking News 2. Follow newsworthy people and orgs 3. Crowdsourcing 4. Search for sources 5. Gather community quotes 6. Story ideas 7. Save time 8. Distribute content 9. Continue the conversation 10. Respond to criticism and questions
Breaking news is obviously number one on this list for a reason. With Twitter, ordinary people or journalists can post breaking news from their phones allowing the public to get the story seconds after it happens. Obviously with the good there comes the bad, which can be seen in the reporting of the Newtown shooting where Twitter contributed to a lot of incorrect reporting.
Briggs urges journalists and aspiring journalists to “ Follow smart people on social media who have nothing to do with news,” a benefit of twitter which directly correlates to many of Buttry’s 10 ways Twitter is valuable to journalists, (especially #2) and one I feel is very important to journalists and average people alike. It is always good to talk to smart people; either engaging in conversation with them or reading their work. It pushes you mentally and usually, in my experience at least, makes you think outside of your comfort zone. Social media outlets like Twitter provide probably the most accessible outlet available today for doing this. A journalist can follow another journalist they admire, or someone completely irrelevant to the field that they find interesting, and reading their daily thoughts will help the journalist (or like I said, everyday person) learn and become a better writer and thinker.
The Journalist and the Audience Coming Together
In Journalism Next Briggs writes a “Twitter Best practices” list that includes, “Be relevant and timely…Be informative…Be instructive…include links… reflect your personality… build relationships…” These seem to me to be some generally sound basic rules for tweeting professionally as a journalist.
Briggs quotes Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb saying, “‘We’ve also found lately that Twitter itself is very useful for performing public interviews” (Briggs 101). This is one technique I have observed journalists use on twitter that seems to be very beneficial for developing a retour with the audience. On almost any Television news program, entertainment show or talk show, a journalist will pose a question and tell the viewers to respond on twitter with a certain hashtag. This is not only beneficial to the journalist and program for gathering information, but for developing a two-way conversation with the viewer or reader as well.
The Personal/Professional Divide for a Journalist using Social Media
Buttry also delves into some of the ethical issues that a journalist must address weather writing for a respected newspaper or composing a tweet, saying, “The principles of journalism ethics – seek the truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; be accountable – don’t change, but social networks present unfamiliar circumstances for making ethical decisions.”
Some people will act as though there is a long list of what you should or should not say or do on social media as a journalist, and many people have even created multiple Facebook or Twitter accounts, using one for personal use and another for their professional use. Although you could argue about the ethics of what to do or not to do as a journalist using social media, in my mind this is overthinking the situation way too much. I think Fox puts it in the simplest term when he says, “Don’t be a dumbass. Seriously, Use your head.”
In my opinion, everyone, weather a journalist or not, should follow the general rule of thumb that when it comes to any sort of social media do not post anything that you would not want someone out there to see. This includes your future children, your grandparents, or your crazy ultra-conservative boss. I know everyone says this, but everyone says this because it is true; anything you post on the internet is there forever, and when someone Googles you anything that comes up with your name attached to it is the first impression they will get of you.