It’s no surprise to anyone that we are in the midst of a digital era of news coverage and storytelling. Today we live in the real-time, personal web and the way we find news (or news finds us) is novel. From a PR standpoint, we now include social media metrics into recap reports, we develop hashtags for real time engagement at events, and we even pitch select reporters via Twitter. At the recent journalism session I attended at Social Media Week Los Angeles, however, I got an intimate view into the way social media has impacted the “other half”— as some of LA’s most respected journalists came together to reflect on the impact of social media on today’s newsroom. Below are some salient takeaways:
1. Anyone can be a news producer
Whether they are “reporting” via YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, citizens are reporters, and as a result, journalists have lost the monopoly of information streaming and sharing. They are no longer the messengers nor are they the only valuable information sources—“public” journalism has taken over. As Chris Schauble, the co-anchor of KTLA 5 Morning News stated, Twitter enables users—including him— to be their own “mini assignment desk managers.” As a television personality, Schauble is able to sift through stories in real time—often times during commercial breaks— and weave late breaking news, distributed to him from engaging viewers, into newscasts.
2. Journalists and outlets use social media to humanize
When asked about the paper’s overarching social media goal, Stacy Leasca, the Los Angeles Times’ social media editor, explained that the newspaper’s objective is to “make the LA Times a person worth engaging with.” Whereas in the pre-social media era, interaction with the public was a one way dissemination of facts/opinions, social media has enabled us to have a conversation with our favorite reporters, editors, producers and outlets, and vice versa. We can discuss stories, share feedback, question facts and share additional details. Social media adds a human aspect to journalism that was previously non-existent, and if correctly leveraged, can enable outlets to form human bonds with their audience that run deeper than the type on the page or the words on the teleprompter.
3. There is a Social Media Code of Ethics, and you’d best follow it!
According to Stacy Leasca, words on social media must be chosen just as carefully as the words on the printed page. She presented us with the following sage advice:
- Steer clear of foul language.
- Keep your opinions to yourself— as a reporter/editor, you represent the paper and it’s important to remain unbiased so as not to compromise your credibility.
- Anything you wouldn’t put in the paper, don’t put on Twitter or Facebook.
- Never delate a tweet or a Facebook post. Simply reply to a tweet or comment on a post with a correction. You have nothing to hide.
4.When using social media as a news source, understand its limitations and dig beneath the surface
Social media has become such a force in today’s media market that virtually all television stations and major newspapers have a dedicated social media department. With that said, when reading 140 characters, you can only get to the surface of a news story. Although Facebook allows for longer postings, the fact remains that when using social media as a news source, you must dig deeper to find the whole story, and you must be wary of credible sources. While anybody can be “reporter” nowadays, anybody can also “report” on anything, be it completely true or false. There are two sides to every story, and a tweet, post or photo is rarely, if ever, the entire story.
So what does this mean for us as PR pros? It means that we have an avenue to interact directly with reporters, editors, producers and outlets. If leveraged correctly, we can use it to our advantage to establish meaningful, lasting relationships. It can also work to our disadvantage. And that’s why, as professionals, it’s important that we understand how social media operates in the journalism world, so that we can adjust our engagement accordingly. It’s imperative that we understand our influence as public reporters and that we report with credibility. It’s crucial that we use social media to humanize ourselves and establish a dialogue with media reps and outlets. It’s necessary that we follow the unwritten code of social media ethics. And lastly, it’s essential that we understand not only the power of social media, but the potential limitations.