Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Social News

Colin Roose


How do you get your news?

Readers, I have to level with you. Despite being a journalism major, I am unfortunately not an avid news-watcher. Not that I'm not interested in what's going on, but there's just too much stuff I have to do at Ohio University for me to devote extra time to find out what's happening on Capitol Hill, or get the weather forecast, or even to understand what's going on in a nearby city like Columbus.

But social media has come to save me from a stone-age lack of communication with the outside world. Just by liking CNN, or even a local news station on Facebook, the headlines pop up on my feed several times a day. This creates a news distribution much more efficient for me than sitting down in front of the TV every night at 6:30. 

It's no wonder, then, that news outlets are quickly discovering and adapting the Twitters and the Instagrams of the world to reach their audiences. A new type of medium deserves a different way of consumption. But since you can't take the social out of the media, news outlets have to learn a new way to relate to their audience.

Two-way communication

Perhaps the most important aspect of retaining an audience on a social media network is to relate to readers, and make them feel as though they are part of a dialogue. The days of dictation of world events are fast approaching their end. Because of this, on-air personalities on news stations are often required to have their own social media profiles specifically for sharing with an audience.

So how is this friendlier news persona achieved? The School of Journalism at UC Berkeley came up with a guidelines sheet with some rules of thumb. One suggestion of note is to find a happy medium with regularity of posts. Readers do not want a deluge of news with varying usefulness. Their recommendation is five to 10 times per day. Regular enough for people to know your station, but not so much that they get sick of it is the key.

And those posts don't have to just be news. People like to see that even the nightly news anchor lives a normal life just like them, so posting a picture of your Christmas tree, or a pet or a cake you just baked is also advisable. These kinds of posts help with the bonding aspect between the news outlet and its audience, and will help viewers to better trust the outlet for news.

Speaking from experience, my sister is a producer a news station in Kentucky and she made me be friends with both her and her public news profile. Go figure.

But the ethics still apply

It sounds like a great idea, doesn't it? By adding a more personal element to the dissemination of news, there can be a better communal understanding of the news. But this also blurs the lines between what is and isn't legitimate journalism.

As Stephen J.A. Ward from the PBS site Mediashift puts it, ethics are not "one size fits all." If these reporters can post about their daily lives on the same time that they report on serious issues, wouldn't that be mixing personal blogging with the real news?

Another result of the immediacy of social media is that those journalists who make these posts are expected to tell their viewership the second they hear something important. That still means that fact-checking is key, but it has to be done with lightning speed.

Live reporting events are made convenient with social media, but they also lend themselves to shoddy and inaccurate reporting, just because it's so easy to make a Twitter post. And all of the trust built up with those fun posts will come tumbling down if a journalist makes an error with the truth.

Welcome to the new age

Transparency is here to stay in journalism, and bond-building through social media is the first step. Be prepared to know your local news anchors on a first-name basis.

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