Social media are "the land of wonders and plenty" for journalists. Even in Serbia. Media professionals all over the world live in this "promised land" every day. Last year, the BBC introduced the use of social networks as a required tool for journalists, while the AP appointed a director for social media. Domestic journalists and the media seem to be afraid of using social networks in the process of identifying, following, creating and promoting information.
Although we are painfully aware of our proverbial slowness to adopt new technologies, it is still necessary to find out why most of my colleagues in Serbia have such an attitude? Why do journalists and editors hesitate to use the social media, and the internet in general, as an accepted and very useful journalistic tool?
First, it is evident that media owners, editors and superiors are not willing to let journalists have a free hand: news are not accepted unless reported from the field. This is an old-school approach, which implies that journalists are supposed to roam the streets until they run into a news. Most of editors still claim that internet is a place where issues from the offline world are only reflected, or a good way to "waste time on Facebook".
For many journalists, searching for information on the internet involves only a casual search using Google. When it comes to social media like (for example) Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Digg, the mistrust is even stronger, while usage of these networks by media companies demonstrates the lack of understanding of these new journalistic tools.
- It is true – use and following of social media requires time, willingness and knowledge, and such resources cost money. It is not possible to join an online community in a social network and earn people's trust in only a few days. The trust is the keyword the new media environment. Regardless of whether you want to receive or share information, you have to make people trust you.
- The old problem of journalism – reliability and ability to check sources – is even more evident here. Someone's 'tweet' on Twitter could be correct, but it also could be completely false or a PR spin. But the internet can be viewed as any other source of information which should certainly be checked (if possible).
- In the "offline" media, audience is still viewed as a passive consumer of news, not as an active participant in communication and conversation – the new pillars of online journalism, as claimed by Paul Bradshaw. Unlike the rest of the world, which discovered these new principles on September 11, 2001 in the USA, and later perfected them in numerous global crises from natural disasters to wars, our media outlets do not have a habit of involving the "common citizens" in the process of creation of information (except for their role in "human interest stories"). A half of British, French and German journalists use some of the social networks in their everyday work, and this percentage is continually growing, shows the research "Digital Journalism Study" conducted in 2011. These tools are not a replacement for traditional journalistic sources and skills, but serve as their useful complement.
What are the additional benefits of using social networks in journalism?
- Real-time reaction and instant feedback. This characteristic can be used to a great advantage. Journalists write in order to reach their readers. Appearance on the web – whether with the aim to gather information, post articles or just join the community – will always be noticed and commented upon. Even critical reactions can be used constructively.
- Ability to check the value and attractiveness of topics – viral spreading and the power of information to be (almost) spontaneously shared on the internet overshadows its initial availability in the source media.
- Multiple sources – if you know what and who to follow and where to look, the internet allows you to have much more sources than what you would have in a real world, even if you worked for 24 hours a day.
- Ability to be different from others – whether we like it or not, new and interesting topics are hard to find. Most of the content is taken from press announcements and PR agencies or translated from foreign sources and media web sites. All newspapers look alike. All media outlets offer the same news, with only small differences.
- Advantage in speed, closeness or direct contact. In some situation, like the elections in Iran or the recent killing of Bin Laden, sources from the social media are the most direct, closest or fastest. A significant advantage, for those who can use it.
- Searching these networks can offer you much more than "official information" about a person. Following of private photographs, opinions and attitudes can be very useful for creation of stories. There is an increasing number of available online tools for searching or cross-comparison of information on various networks – like, for example, web sites www.spokeo.com or www.pipl.com, or the application wheredoesmymoneygo.org.
It has been clear for a long time that the traditional journalism is in the process of transformation. It will not disappear, as many predict, but it certainly has to evolve. Why can't we use new, shiny tools to create news and articles, without neglecting the old ones? Besides, if the product is good, who cares about the tools?
About the authors
MC Newsletter, June 3, 2011