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Engaging in Social Media: The News Organizations' Social Imperative

Engaging in Social Media: The News Organizations' Social Imperative

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Published by: djmoraleda on Jun 20, 2012
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Engaging in Social Media: A News Organization’s Moral Imperative

By Diana Moraleda For Asian Center For Journalism Fundamentals of Multimedia Journalism (MMJ180)

“News organizations have to embrace social networking to enable them to compete with the public on breaking news stories. The risks involved in getting the story wrong outweigh the threat of loosing relevance in the changing media landscape.”

We want to know things that may affect us and we want to know them fast. Technology has almost completely satiated this human instinct with the advent of social media where information can be transmitted by anybody to anybody as fast as the internet connection allows. This challenges journalists to rethink and restructure the way they gather, organize, and distribute the news. As in any technological shift, there are early adopters and there are laggards. But more journalists come to realize that people will get their information from individual sources whether they want to or not. People are now operating in what Clay Shirky, lecturer at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media and Public Policy, termed as “the shock of inclusion” where the former audience is surprised by its newfound participatory powers and have become feverish disseminators, syndicators, and users of the news. Popular examples are the 2011 Egyptian Uprising , updated through Facebook; the killing of protesters in Bahrain, shown through YouTube; the Hudson River Plane Crash, Whitney Houston’s death, and Osama bin Laden’s raid and death, reported through Twitter. There is little traditional media can do to control the flow of information. So goes the mantra: if you can’t beat them, join them. Why news organizations should engage in social media According to online education portal Schools.com, which pooled research from sources including the Washington Post, Pew Research Center, and Reuters, 27.8 percent of people all over the world generally get their news via social media. Over 50 percent have learned about breaking news from it rather than traditional sources. And some 46 percent get their news online at least thrice a week. Aside from the fact that online news revenue has now surpassed print newspaper revenue, news organizations can not persist to exist solely on print because of the possibility of losing their audience, and therefore their raison d’etre. “A newspaper must not define itself by its medium,” says Jeff Jarvis, head of the Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He argues that a newspaper is not even a product, and journalism is a service, a process, and an organizing principle. With this paradigm, journalism could therefore use the benefits of social media to continue the process of organizing information and serving communities.


John Einar Sandvand, editor and part of the senior management team at Media Norway Digital , owner of four of the major media houses in Norway, enumerates five reasons why news companies should have a strong presence in the social media. First, social media should be used to distribute content. Sandvand points out that people trust tips from friends more than others and stories shared on Facebook and Twitter have a higher chance of being clicked on. People also spend much more time on social network sites than other sites so shared material are more likely seen and consumed. Second, social media creates engagement and provides useful information about the audience which news agencies will struggle to find on their own. Third, social media helps journalists pick up news fast which helps them monitor and chase a story. Fourth, social sites are a venue for dialogue. Media is no longer seen as a monolithic unchallenged entity that produces information but is a partner for finding out truths. This intimate interaction with audiences actually increases news consumption and ups the standards for producing content which should be credible to the presented public. Last, social media facilitates building a brand. How companies dialogue with their readers reinforces or diminishes their brand value. Social media risks and how to curb them Although engaging in social media ensures a news organization’s relevance in the changing media landscape. It is not without risks. In 2010, CNN’s Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs Octavia Nasr was fired amidst a flurry of controversy resulting from her tweet praising Hezbollah leader Sayed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah upon his death. An internal memo stated, “we believe her credibility in her position as a senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised.” More recently, CBS sacked blogger Adam Jacobi who tweeted the demise of Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno a day before it actually happened. These examples show how, in a cut-throat media culture that assigns value to being first, journalists using social media can become lackadaisical and therefore prone to making mistakes. The ubiquitous medium also cultivates the tendency of journalists to treat it as a personal platform where they are free to say whatever they want, losing objectivity and credibility in the process But the tool is not the problem. Katie Rosman of the Wall Street Journal, said that that deputy managing editor Alan Murray had a very succinct solution: “Don’t be stupid.” Unfortunately, stupid is relative. It is surprising that not every journalist would apply the same rigor in writing for print to writing for social media. Accepting that individuals are the problem helps the media industry apply safeguards and not completely shun social media technology. Crafting Social Media Policies. Mitch Pugh, Editor of Sioux City Journal, in a webinar called Ethics and Credibility of Breaking News Online for Poynter Institute, emphasized the need to craft and institutionalize a social media policy in newsrooms so staff can maximize the medium while avoiding the spread of rumor, misconceptions, and misinterpretations.


Following tweet skirmishes involving media outlets, some of them have come up with policies with varying levels of control. While Bloomberg encourages its employees’ use of Twitter, it also warns against tweeting stories that are in progress or using Twitter for breaking news. On the other hand, the New York Times assumes a less draconian approach by allowing its staff to reply to comments. The strategy is, “You can be conversational, you can be funny, you’re not writing a story – but you’re still not going to say anything that gets you into trouble.” Whereas Bloomberg admonishes the “Ask questions now, tweet later” mantra, the Times’ opinion is, “People screw up every once in a while, but it’s OK. We have to be able to push the boundaries of what we can get away with.” No matter which part of the spectrum news agencies are, whether they be more conservative or liberal in using social media, making one single policy for everybody to follow will clarify and professionalize usage and will most likely make it clear that the standards that the agency uses in news gathering and reporting will be the same standards in using social media, that is, if they would not put the information on air or on their own website, they would not use social media to report the information. Importance of Editing. Editing or content curation is a function of professional journalism that the common untrained blogger or citizen journalist does not have. Aside from policy in place, and despite the convenience of being able to publish instantaneously through the internet, an editor is needed to filter information that passes through the newsroom’s social media conduits. The New York Times, for example, has a standards editor around when journalists have questions. An editor who understands the platform while imbibed with journalistic ethics ensures that the social media policies are applied. Collaborative Journalism. That social media has opened communication gates very widely assures quick data verification. The public is fiercer and more unforgiving of errors than a single or several editors. And they will let news outfits know. This can be a positive thing. Today, in an effort for verification, transparency, accountability, and fairness, news organizations exercise critical collaboration with competitors as well as NGOs, the academe, and the government to report stories. This trend may have debunked the media as an independent fact-checking institution but has added a new depth to its materials. Cleansing process The media is important as long as it creates something that people value. As a tool for public service, its role is hinged on its ability to tell the truth and tell it in a timely manner. News organizations must, at all times, see to these. The changes in the media landscape redefine what timely means. However, these changes aside from being a risk to journalists credibility, also are an invitation for journalists of whichever medium to hold fast to their professional ethics and continuously guide the manner in which news is being gathered and transmitted. They have no choice but to be at the forefront and work within these changes. Who else would safeguard the value that the profession holds except its practitioners?


Sources: Ellie Behling. “The New York Times talks Twitter.” February 25, 2011. Available at http://www.emediavitals.com/content/new-york-times-talks-twitter . Accessed on June 12, 2012. Summer Harlow. “Bloomberg issues social media guidelines: Ask questions first. Tweet later." May 5, 2011. Available at http://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/bloomberg-issues-social-media-guidelines-askquestions-first-tweet-later . Accessed on June 12, 2012. Matthew Ingram. “Social Media Policies: Let’s Talk About What You Should Do” May 3, 2011. Available at http://gigaom.com/2011/05/03/social-media-policies-lets-talk-about-what-you-should-do/. Accessed on July 12, 2012. Sam Laird. “How Social Media Is Taking Over the News Industry [Infographic]. April 18, 2012. Available at http://mashable.com/2012/04/18/social-media-and-the-news/. Accessed on June 13, 2012. Sam Laird. “Sports Bloger Ousted Over False Paterno Tweet.” January 28, 2012. Available at http://mashable.com/2012/01/27/cbs-fires-paterno-tweeter/. Accessed on June 12, 2012. Jeff Jarvis. “News as a Service to be Sustainable Rather than a Product to be Sold” in Brave New Worlds: Navigating the New Media Landscape, the International Press Institute. Mitch Pugh. Webinar: Ethics and Credibility of Breaking News Online. Clay Shirky. “The Shock of Inclusion and New Roles for News in the Fabric of Society” in Brave New Worlds: Navigating the New Media Landscape, the International Press Institute. John Einar Sandvand. “Five reasons news companies should have a strong presence in social media.” September 24, 2011. Available at http://www.betatales.com/2011/09/24/five-reasons-newscompanies-should-have-a-strong-presence-in-social-media/. Accessed on June 13, 2012. Erik Wemple. “Washington Post editor: no responding to critics on Twitter.” October 15, 2010. Available at http://www.tbd.com/articles/2010/10/washington-post-editor-no-responding-to-critics-on-twitter21988.html. Accessed on June 12, 2012


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