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Reporting in a Social Media World

Reporting in a Social Media World

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Published by bgrueskin
A speech given to the Atlanta Press Club (March 2013) on the changing dynamic between journalists and news organizations
A speech given to the Atlanta Press Club (March 2013) on the changing dynamic between journalists and news organizations

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Published by: bgrueskin on Mar 21, 2013
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07/15/2014

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REPORTING IN A SOCIAL-MEDIA WORLD:THE CHANGING DYNAMICBETWEEN JOURNALISTS AND NEWS ORGANIZATIONS
Remarks delivered to the Atlanta Press ClubMarch 19, 2013
Bill GrueskinDean of Academic AffairsColumbia University Graduate School of Journalism@bgrueskin
 
 Today, I want to tell you the stories of two journalists, both working for U.S.publications, both based in the Middle East. One is a Wall Street Journalcorrespondent who was stationed in Baghdad in 2004 and covered some of the bloodiest months in the Iraq war. Another is a New York Times bureauchief who was sent just last year to Jerusalem, and was soon enveloped inthe recent crisis in Gaza.Both of them used digital means outside their own news organizations toexpress their opinions about the conflicts they were covering. Both cameunder intense scrutiny for doing so.But eight years separates their time in the spotlight, and the difference
 –
inthe velocity of changing technologies and the reactions of their newsorganizations
 –
raises questions that, I believe, will affect all of us whoteach or practice journalism in the digital era.So let me start with the first reporter.In the fall of 2004, as the U.S. invasion of Iraq was veering dangerously off course, Farnaz Fassihi, 
the Wall Street Journal‘s Baghdad bureau chief 
sent what she thought was a private email to several of her closest friends.
 
I want to quote it at some length, because her passion and eloquence areimportant to our discussion today.
Being a foreign correspondent inBaghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest
,‖ Fassihi wrote
.
―M
y most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but tostay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am asecurity personnel first, a reporter second.
 In detail after detail, she showed
how American policy had gone awry. ―Theinsurgency … is rampant with no signs of calming down,‖ she
wrote.
If 
anything, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated Cops
are being murdered by the dozens every day, and the insurgents are
infiltrating their ranks.‖
 
 
Then, Fassihi went beyond mere description of the carnage, using whatshe thought was the comfort zone of a private email to go beyond standard journalistic norms
. ―
Despite President Bush's rosy assessments,
‖ shewrote, ―
Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat,under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and activethreat.'
‖ She called the war ―
a foreign policy failure bound to haunt theUnited States for decades to come.
  As I said, she wrote this as a private update to a close circle of friends
 –
 something she had been doing for several years, since the September 11attacks.
―Close friends and family wanted to know what was going on,‖ she
told me in a recent interview.Keep in mind, this was 2004, when social media was in its infancy
 –
that is,this was shortly after Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard University tocreate Facebook, and years before Twitter would become the powerfulsocial network of billions of instantaneous thoughts.But something happened with this email, something Fassihi did notanticipate. The digital platform acted as an accelerant, providing fuel to thespark of her unsparing prose. That, combined with her status as a WallStreet Journal reporter covering a controversial war, just months before ahotly contested presidential election, ensured that her email would movebeyond the small group she intended to reach. Indeed, it found its way intoincreasingly larger concentric circles outside that group. It took a fewweeks, but eventually her private email would be published
 –
in part or inwhole
 –
on blogs around the world. An electronic letter meant for a few friends had become a must-read for tens of thousands of people.
―Nothing I‘d done had ever gone viral likethat,‖ she remembered
when we talked recently
. ―Suddenly I was getting
emails from as far away as South Africa, fr 
om Australia.‖
 Many of us found her account compelling. At the time, press critic and NewYork University Professor Jay Rosen wrote
,―It‘s really journalism, an
eyewitness report, giving impressions and conclusions about the struggle

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