Although many Web-savvy journalists have embraced social media in a variety of creative ways that enhance reporting and help them fulfill core journalism values, evidence seems to abound lately that far too many are still behind the curve.
After attending sessions on the future of news at the Missouri School of Journalism’s big centennial bash last week, a professor described trying to explain social media to newspaper folk who still think Twitter is something a bird does. A colleague of mine got the hairy eyeball in an interview for an assistant professor position in a journalism school because he said that he would require students to Twitter and use other social media in the classroom. And while I’ve seen a large number of journalists popping up on Facebook, many of them are pretty quiet on the site, observing more than participating.
It also kills me when I hear academics refer to “the blogs” as though they are some monolithic entity and bemoan the lack of original reporting they produce as though that was a matter of the form itself, rather than of function.
I’ve learned a lot by writing this blog and being an active participant on Facebook that I don’t think I could have learned just by reading the trade press or otherwise being a passive observer of technology trends.
For those who haven’t realized this yet, social media is a great original reporting tool – you can learn a lot about “what’s going on.” Every good journalist I know talks about the importance of hanging out in diners and coffee shops and other mechanisms to figure out what regular folks, not just “official sources” are talking about, but most say there is less and less time these to do that kind of out-of-the-office reporting. Well, social media may not ever be able to replace the shoe-leather, but it tells you a lot without you needing to leave your desk. (Here’s one example of how it helped journalists covering the Republican National Convention; they abound if you read any journalism blogs or Web sites).
I also find it a little funny that people whose work by definition takes some of the things that were, in many cases, once private and makes them public tend to be a little bizarrely concerned about their own privacy. Sure, you don’t have to and, well, probably shouldn’t bare the secrets of your soul on Facebook and the like (hello). But I just don’t see why it’s so scary to share some of yourself and your life beyond the byline with the public sphere. By doing so, you are engaging with your readers – and potential readers – in new ways, and you are creating the conditions by which more meaningful conversations can start.
I don’t mean to suggest that no journalists are doing this – some certainly are. But I’d just like to see a little bit more active participation. If nothing else, I’ve seen great conversations about the future of the profession pop up in these forums, and it’s also the best way I’ve ever seen to keep track of friends scattered around the country and even the globe in our mobile society.