In this section of the Engagement Series, I want to explore how industries other than marketing are using Social Media engagement. I asked this question of Debbi Morello, a journalist and a woman whom I admire a great deal. This great post is her response!
Where do I begin? Needless to say there is a great deal of discussion and many opinions about journalists using social media and if you asked a journalist six months ago I suspect the answers would be different than they are today, or more specifically, since the dawn of the Arab Spring. More broadly, since the beginning of 2011, what I consider to be an unprecedented year insofar as ‘news events’ literally one after the other in natural disasters, civil unrest and conflict. Try to imagine these “major news events” before social media. I know for the younger audience, that may be difficult. For the more seasoned of us, it’s not.
I am one of these “cross-cutting” people, an experienced journalist, experienced in the world of disaster relief, experienced in conflict zones … at a time when the only way to transmit information was through satellite phones… kind of like messages in a bottle when we fast forward to 2011. And certainly being a purist and a traditionalist I was not using any social media tools at this time last year, May 2010. Fast forward to May 2011, I’m in a new world.
I’ve been the consumer, the observer, the engaged individual, communicator, activist, advocate, news junkie, loud speaker, amplifier, opinionator, broadcaster, conversationalist… well, you get the idea. And while I’ve been consulting mostly for the last year and reassessing my priorities and professional ‘status’ – this period of time has provided me with exposure to invaluable information, ideas, connections, and time to understand – just a little bit – how the world has changed.
How has this happened? From my engagement in social media. I speak the journalist language, and I know many journalists – as a communications and media relations consultant I wear both hats. I pitch them and I work (think) as one. Once a journalist, or photojournalist in my case, always a journalist. I will say this, nowhere, no how, can anyone consider a communications strategy – or any strategy that involves outreach, information, or advocacy, without social media being an integral part. Enough said.
I believe, like anything in the world, when it comes to journalists using social media as an engagement tool, how journalists see this runs the gamut:
A conference News: Rewired – noise to signal, was held in London on 27 May 2011 at Thomson Reuters. The conference was to look at “turning the noise and chaos of large datasets, social networks, and audience metrics into a clear signal for both the editorial and business side of the news industry.”
“Journalists have been quick to incorporate social media into their processes for gathering and distributing news,” Financial Times journalist Martin Stabe, author of the report, said in a release. “But journalists see social media sites primarily as a channel where they can communicate directly with potential sources or engaged members of their audience…”
Research for the report: ‘How social media is changing the role of journalists’, commissioned by Daryl Willcox Publishing, found social media an emotive subject. Out of the 922 journalists surveyed, more than 200 made additional comments – “some scathing, slamming social media as a pointless communication channel to manage, and some pointing to the fact they are now dependent on these websites as news sources”. Media Release: Journalists rate social media as a professional tool May 26, 2011
The trend for journalists using social media, I believe, has changed significantly just in 2011 alone. There wasn’t a choice really. As the golden rule for journalists is that there is always someone ‘closer’ to the story, social media put that in a context that changed everything. One of the best examples of that lies in great initiatives of journalists themselves like Mark Little. A twenty-year veteran journalist, Mark Little founded Storyful in 2010 and said in a recent post: “We wanted to be the first news agency purpose-built for the social media age. Our objective was to help others discover, verify and deliver the most valuable content on the social web. I had always been confident about the assumptions which drove Storyful but it wasn’t until the early bloom of the ‘Arab Spring’ that I could see the practical impact of our work.”
The Human Algorithm is a must read for those of you questioning the direction of journalism and social media. Mark Little is spot on with his many observations and relevant points in his post such as:
“Every news event in the age of social media creates more than a conversation, it creates a community. When news breaks, a self-selecting network gathers to talk about the story. Some are witnesses – the creators of original content – others are amplifiers – passing that content on to a wider audience. And in every group are the filters, the people who everyone else looks to for judgment.”
This is happening more and more, and with innovations like Storyful and Global Voices, or see what Andy Carvin with NPR has been doing on Twitter since the beginning of the Arab Spring. Not only are journalists using the tools, they are ‘engaging’ forming communities and they are having ‘conversations’. As Mark Little says in his post:
“Technology gave us the tools to map these news communities and engage directly with their members. But it is the oldest journalistic skill of all which gives this process meaning and that is engagement. It is the skill most easily overlooked in the rush towards a brand new journalism: the supreme importance of interaction between two human beings.”
Debbi Morello has had an eclectic career path including cause marketing for a little paper that was just getting started called USA Today. Inspired to pursue photojournalism she spent nearly 15 years working for news organizations on several continents and winning international awards. For the last 10 years she has combined her keen eye and storytelling skills as a communications and outreach specialist for humanitarian organizations, U.S. government and UN agencies worldwide. Now she is eager to stay on this side of pond. You can talk to her on Twitter: just look for @debmorello!
This is post #64 in the Engagement Series, by the way. If you are worried you might miss more great posts by people other than me, feel free to hit that subscribe button! 🙂