A Retool for the News

Journalists adapt to the rise of social media in their jobs

By Joseph Cardenas | Felix Varela High School

In the early morning of May 2, 2011, Sohaib Athar was sleeping in his Abbottabad, Pakistan home when he heard helicopters hovering above the city.

His tweets reported a huge window shaking into a bang.

The 33-year-old IT consultant was the first to report the U.S. takedown of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Social media outlets were once nothing more than sites to converse socially. Now, they are essential tools for producing and distributing news.

Many journalists in broadcast and print journalism have found them to be useful in doing research and to promote their work. They have been used by everyday people and journalists to instantly discuss events. News stations and newspapers actually give credit to these sites as sources, often quoting a tweet or Facebook update.

The spring revolution in Egypt was organized on a Facebook page and people’s “likes,” a device that allows readers to endorse a message. People in other countries received news of the revolution every day, often before the media got to it.

“Social media is all about community and realtime interactions,” said Rafael Sangiovanni, a social media strategist for rbb Public Relations in Miami.

“In that sense, social media can be a journalist’s best friend. A quick Twitter hashtag search can reveal on-the-ground insight of an incident or lead to a new source for a story. The Facebook business page of a particular company you’re writing about can give you insight into how they interact with their customers.”

While using social networking can help a reporter with articles, they must tread carefully.

“Journalists who use social networking sites for sources do so at their own risk,” said Miguel Lorenzo, a sports digital media producer of Telemundo. “Anyone can post anything online and in some cases, some people can hack other peoples accounts to say something false. This is a huge risk journalists take if they base stories off information they see posted on social networking sites.”

Ihosvani Rodriguez is a South Florida Sun-Sentinel multi-media platform reporter who uses Twitter as his primary social networking tool. When coming to the scene of a story, he doesn’t hesitate to pull out his phone and instantly tweet the latest.

“Social media, for my job doing breaking news, is a huge thing for me,” he said.

Many reporters like Lara Jakes program their Facebook and Twitter profiles to do much more than update their status. She is a war correspondent for The Associated Press in Baghdad. She tweets from her phone and uses programs such as Skype for interviews if she can’t meet a source of do a phone interview.

“I post links to my stories on Facebook and Twitter to get both max play and max feedback,” Jakes said. “Twitter has been especially helpful in that it lets me blast my stories out to specific audiences that I know care about the topics I cover.”

Lorenzo said most journalists today are involved in social media to some degree.

“It’s a way for a journalist to promote his work, provide insight and feedback a viewer or reader wouldn’t normally have access to and it allows a journalist to connect with his or her audience,” he said.

Bridget Carey, technology and media reporter for the Miami Herald, also finds it essential.

“As a reporter who covers technology and social media, logging onto the sites is vital to knowing what is going on in this fast-changing beat,” she said. “It also helps me get the word out about my stories and build a community that follows my technology coverage.”

TV producer Lorenzo agrees.

“With social media, I can personally reach out and converse with my audience which helps me identify who they are, where they are from, what their age and gender are, what their preferences are and much more information that helps me determine how to create content that is going to best resonate with my audience so that they will keep coming for more.”

Rodriguez, however, notes the danger of this trend.

“When being on Twitter as a journalist you still need to be objective,” he said.

Journalism schools and websites such as mediabistro.com have courses on the subject of the professional use of social media, including how to increase your privacy and promote your business.

“They need to have their finger on the pulse of a developing story, and often times social media provides an incredible avenue to do so,” Sangiovanni said. “I think social media is helping journalists be better journalists.”

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