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Chapter Seven: Social Media
Reporter Cameron Steele uses social media

Reporter Cameron Steele of The Anniston Star uses social media to find sources and information, and to alert audiences to breaking news.

 

 

Introduction

           When Cameron Steele joined The Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala., in June 2010, fresh out of Washington and Lee University, the newspaper didn’t pay much attention to social media. There wasn’t much evidence that the readership in rural Alabama was very tech-savvy.

           “But in a year, that has changed a lot,” says Steele. A study by the paper’s multimedia and advertising departments found an increasing number of readers accessing The Star online and finding out about stories through shared links on Facebook and via Twitter.

           “Twitter and Facebook are huge parts of a beat reporter’s job now,” Steele says. “As the cops and courts reporter, I use Twitter to tweet in real-time about trials, police stand-offs, hostage crises and other breaking news. I also use Twitter and Facebook to search for sources for my stories. It’s great for people who want to give you information on background for you to follow up on.”

           An example of how social media can help reporters find information was Steele’s use of Facebook to try to contact people who knew a homicide victim and were willing to be quoted in her stories. A powerful example social media’s strengths in telling a story happened in the fall of 2011. Steele wrote a story for The Star on the shooting death of an Anniston police officer on routine patrol. The following day, after an autopsy was conducted by forensic experts in Huntsville, his fellow police officers and officers from across the state and country formed a seven-mile long processional to accompany the officer’s body on the two-hour trip back to Anniston.

           “Residents lined the streets of every town the procession passed, crying and praying and holding up signs for the passing police,” Steele says. “I rode along in the police car behind the van carrying the coffin, tweeting to my followers about the procession’s progress, the outpouring of public support and the emotional radio traffic between the police officers involved.”  When she got back to Anniston, she wrote a full story for the paper’s website and the next day’s print edition.  

           Afterward, a grieving former colleague of the officer who had since left the city sent Steele a Facebook message:

           “I cannot begin to thank you for the incredible news coverage of my buddy’s …  unexpected death…. When I woke up this morning and I read your article I was truly touched. Through his family you had painted a beautiful picture of my friend’s life. But what has helped me the most was your dedication to Justin’s life this afternoon. As I sat hundred of miles away, you were able to paint a picture for me [through social networking] of him coming home …. Even though I am miserable where I am, you allowed me to have the brief moment of triumph. Throughout this afternoon I was able to follow you. For that brief moment this afternoon I felt I was with him.”

           “Social media are powerful tools,” Steele says, “especially when you want to get out breaking news that evokes a mood while it’s happening.”

 

What are social media?

           If most of you were asked to define social media, your reply would probably be something like that of the Supreme Court justice who said he couldn’t define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. You are probably among the more than 800 million people worldwide who now spend up to several hours a day on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In or a host of other sites. Others – Foursquare, Instagram, ScribbleLive and Storify, for example, might be less familiar to you. Still, it might be helpful to offer a definition or two of social media to make sure we are all on the same Facebook page. (Sorry.)

           Merriam-Webster.com, an online dictionary, defines social media (also known as social networks, social networking or social network sites) as “forms of electronic communications…through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content….” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20media) Researchers Dana M. Boyd of Microsoft Research and Nicole B. Ellison of Michigan State University offer a more comprehensive definition. In the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication they see social media – what they call social network sites – as “web-based services that allow individuals to 1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, 2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and 3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.” (http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html) (See Box 7.1)

 

    

Box 7.1 Social media defined

           Merriam-Webster.com, an online dictionary, defines social media (also known as social networks, social networking or social network sites) as “forms of electronic communications…through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content….” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20media)     

           The website econsultancy.com was inspired to ask contributors to submit definitions of their own via Twitter, with its now-familiar 140-character limit for tweets. The invitation yielded 23 brief definitions. (http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/3527-what-is-social-media-here-are-34-definitions )

 

Social media in reporting and writing

           As Steele says, in the space of barely a year journalists and audiences around the world have discovered the power and utility of social media to find sources and information and to quickly share what they learn with audiences. Veteran journalists will readily recognize in social media two familiar jobs of the journalist – finding information — traditionally called reporting — and disseminating it to audiences — or publishing.

           Lynn Sweet, who covers the White House for the Chicago Sun-Times, offers a succinct reminder of the role of traditional journalistic values and practices in using social media to report and disseminate. “News is news, no matter how I get it,” Sweet told a conference on journalism and social media at the University of Maryland in October 2011. “Twitter is a tip.” Sweet said she subjects tweets and Facebook posts to the same tests of accuracy that she would any other source of information before disseminating them to audiences.

           Sweet’s characterization of social media is also a reminder that they are used almost exclusively to disseminate information to audiences a fact or two at a time. The journalist will later organize all those chunks into a full story for dissemination on a website, newscast or in a newspaper.  

           Freelance online journalist Jeff Cutler, a heavy user of social media, similarly cautions that social media represent “new tech[nology], not new techniques.” The term “citizen journalist” has been coined to describe audience-generated content for web- and social media sites. But, Cutler told the University of Maryland conference, audiences who contribute tips, story ideas and other data for checking and developing are “citizen reporters, not citizen journalists.”

           Social media also have introduced a newer role for the journalist, one that presents both a wonderful opportunity and a daunting challenge. Warren Webster, president of the news website Patch.com, says that many reporters once saw the publication of a story as the end of their work. Now, Webster says, with social media particularly, “the story [is] the start of a conversation.” That’s because social media users can respond to the story, blurb, tweet or other message immediately, sharing insights, challenges, complaints or more information with the same mass audience that first saw the news item. More about that in a minute.

 

Using social media

           We can identify a number of ways journalists are coming to rely on social media. While most, as Cutler says, are readily identifiable as part of any journalist’s responsibilities, social media can expand and facilitate the journalist’s job as reporter (See Box 7.2):

           1. Alerting. The journalist learns what issues and events audiences are concerned about and are paying attention to at a given moment. Traditionally, this feedback took days, sometimes weeks or months. Now, through social media, the journalist can check this public pulse numerous times a day.

           2. Searching. The journalist can cast a wide net looking for sources to comment on or offer their expertise. Instead of relying on a file of sources built painstakingly over years, or a blind one-at-a-time finger-tour through a telephone book, journalists can contact hundreds, maybe thousands, of potential sources at once.

           3. Tips. Sources use social media to contact journalists with tips and story ideas, just as they have traditionally phoned reporters with possible scoops. But with social media, instead of waiting for a direct contact, the journalist can mine several sites for nuggets social media users are tweeting or posting to each other.

           4. Crowd-sourcing. Similar to searching, the journalist uses social media to seek help from her audience in reporting a story. But, unlike contacting one source at a time, the journalist can throw a problem or question out to an entire audience and solicit ideas and answers.

           5. Verifying. If the journalist relies on a vast and often pseudonymous social media audience for tips, quotes and crowd-sourced solutions, she can also rely on social media, within limits, for verification of information submitted from other sources, either via social media or from elsewhere. With social media, verification can be a challenge, because the journalist must also verify that the respondent is who he says he is and knows what he says he knows.

           6. Feedback. The nature of social media means that a journalist can and does get immediate responses to stories, posts and tweets. That feedback can serve as a fact-check, a forum for audiences to weigh in with opinions, and a source for followup story ideas, including an angle on a story that the journalist might have missed the first time.   

           7. Judging the power of a movement. Journalists covering the uprisings of the “Arab spring” in 2011 – beginning in Tunisia and spreading to Egypt, Libya and several other countries – learned to gauge the strength and intensity of these groundswells by the traffic they generated on social media. Social media were among the first indicators to journalists that the uprisings were not only broad-based, they would be long-lasting.

           8. Staying connected with a popular movement. Just as they used social media to judge the nature and strength of the Arab Spring uprisings, journalists used social media to get in touch and stay in touch with those movements’ leaders and even their rank-and-file. That gave journalists a speed and nimbleness in their reporting that would have been difficult or impossible without social media.

           9. Communicating with alternative and movement media. In addition to using social media to contact rebels in Libya or participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests directly, journalists relied on social media to open and sustain contacts with alternative media — including advocacy or persuasive media – also covering the movements, and media generated by participants themselves. That again not only allowed journalists to judge the strength and intensity day-to-day, it provided them with tips and story ideas.

    

Box 7.2  How do journalists use social media?

1. Alerting. Journalisst learn what issues and events audiences are concerned about and are paying attention to at a given moment.

2. Searching. A journalist can cast a wide net looking for sources to comment on or offer their expertise.

3. Tips. Sources use social media to contact journalists with tips and story ideas, just as they phone reporters with possible scoops.

4. Crowd-sourcing. Similar to searching, crowd-sourcing allows the journalist to seek help from her audience in reporting a story by reaching out to an entire social media community at once.

5. Verifying. The journalist can rely on social media, within limits, for verification of information submitted from other sources, either via social media or from elsewhere.

6. Feedback. The nature of social media means that a journalist can and does get immediate responses to stories, posts and tweets.

7. Judging the power of a movement. Social media are often among the first indicators to journalists that movements, uprisings or revolutions might be broad-based and long-lasting.

8. Staying connected with a popular movement. Social media allow journalists to get in touch and stay in touch with movement leaders and rank-and-file. That enhances the speed and nimbleness with which a journalist can cover a story or issue.  

9. Communicating with alternative and movement media. Journalists rely on social media to open and sustain contacts with alternative media — including advocacy or persuasive media – that also cover movements and issues.

10. Curating. A journalist can organize the ongoing exchange of information, data and feedback among journalist and audience members on social media into a coherent account, as well as confirm facts and debunk myths, inaccuracies and lies.      

           As we indicated earlier, these uses of social media fall mostly within the broad traditional reporter’s jobs of finding and gathering information and disseminating it effectively to audiences. But now we turn to that newer role we mentioned above that social media have thrust on the journalist. Social media watchers sometimes call this new responsibility curating – organizing the ongoing exchange of information, data and feedback among journalist and audience members into a coherent account, as well as confirming facts and debunking myths, inaccuracies and lies. It’s what Liz Heron, a social media editor at The New York Times, calls “finding the news within the noise” – verifying and challenging huge amounts of information.      

           Cameron Steele’s use of Twitter at The Anniston Star during the mourning for the fallen police officer is an example of using social media effectively to share information. An example of using social media as a reporting tool was her reliance on Facebook to try to contact people for quotes about a homicide victim. The role of the journalist as curator in the social media universe can certainly encompass both the reporting and information dissemination functions. But it is usually more comprehensive than that. In a speech at the London School of Economics in November 2011 New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger gave his audience an idea of how comprehensive that role can be.

           “A healthy democracy is built on an informed and engaged population,” Sulzberger said. “News organizations are a critical part of that. We want people to be well and reliably informed. We want to lift the global conversation.” The Times launched a dedicated Twitter account for breaking news, @NYTlive, to provide audiences a constant stream of tweets, links to stories and multimedia, and re-tweeted updates from Times reporters and other sources. It also established a live debate “dashboard” in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election that includes real-time fact-checking. Readers could tweet requests for Times journalists to fact-check a claim a candidate made while a televised candidate debate was still going on. (http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/2011/11/01/the-continuing-digital-transformation-of-the-new-york-times-by-arthur-sulzberger/)

           The reason The Times is so committed to social media, Sulzberger said, is its audience. (Does that sound familiar from earlier chapters?) “We have an incredibly enlightened, intelligent and sophisticated group of users who are highly engaged with our products,” Sulzberger said. “We value what they can share with us and with other users.” 

           It isn’t just legacy print media that are waking up to social media. An article in TVNewsCheck, a business publication for broadcasters, highlights the way several stations around the nation incorporate social media into their live newscasts. In Phoenix, Ariz., KTVK-TV now features anchors who pull content from iPads while they are on the air. The content includes tweets by reporters and anchors and viewer-generated content and comment. (But the article also tells of a Roanoke, Va., station that dropped social media from its 7 p.m. newscast after two years because viewers said they wanted a more traditional newscast. And one researcher points out in the article that as few as 5 percent of viewers engage with TV news using social media.) (http://www.tvnewscheck.com/article/2011/09/20/54102/how-social-should-a-newscast-be#.TniMr1jssnU.email)

           Heron, of The New York Times, says social media can also give audiences valuable insight into how reporters go about their jobs, and the effort they expend to get a story. That is often referred to as “seeing how the sausage is made.” For example, Heron said, followers of Times reporters on Facebook and Twitter got ongoing updates of their extraordinary efforts to get into Libya in 2011 to cover the civil war that led to the overthrow and killing of Moammar Gadhafi.   

 

Mining social media

            Not surprisingly, just as search engines like Google sprang up to help people navigate their way through the torrent of content on the Web, a cottage industry of search engines for social media has already evolved. They can be powerful tools for a journalist looking to Facebook, Twitter or other sites for comment on or information about a topic, issue or event. 

           And, in the wake of social media search engines, yet another tool has been developed – social media aggregators – services that put information from various social media sites together in a powerful form of data mining that allows journalists and others access to what social media users might have thought was closely guarded information.  For example, a reporter might be able to start with the kind of face-recognition software by which some social media, including Facebook, automatically tag people in photos. But, through skilled use of social media data aggregators, they can soon uncover the person’s social security number, home address, financial profile and other closely held information.

 

Policies governing social media

           In response to the emergence of social media, many news organizations have written policies regarding the appropriate use of them in reporting and writing. By fall 2011, though, many others, including The Anniston Star, had not. 

           “The absence of one has created problems,” Steele acknowledges, “ — reporters not knowing what our style should be, what we should re-tweet and shouldn’t, when we should insert our own personalities/opinions into tweets, etc.”

           Most of the news organizations’ policies toward social media use focus on the reporter’s responsibility to identify himself or herself as a journalist when using social media; the obligation to verify information before posting, tweeting or re-tweeting it, and the appropriateness of reporters posting personal information and opinions on issues on their own Facebook and Twitter sites. See the website socialmediagovernance.com for the social media use policies of some 175 entities, including local governments, major corporations, professional associations and news organizations.

 

Nuts and bolts for reporting and writing

           Using sophisticated (and sometimes expensive) social media search engines and aggregators to mine information is beyond the scope of this course. You will, however, learn and practice basic reporting and writing skills for social media. Reporters who have incorporated social media into their work offer these tips (See Box 7.3):

           1. The cost of using social media as reporting tools is time, says Jeff Cutler. If you wait until a few minutes before deadline to begin mining Facebook and Twitter for information or quotes, you are bound to be disappointed. Because of the way audiences use social media (and the fact that many in your audience have day jobs, classes or other obligations to attend to first) you will need to get an early start. You need to learn when your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are online, and to plan your posts accordingly. Time and timing are the keys, Cutler says.

           2. When you are not on deadline, use social media to build an audience and establish rapport with your social media followers. Just as reporters generally get more cooperation with sources they have met face to face than from a source they cold-called once by telephone, social media audiences are more apt to respond to a reporter they think they know. While as a reporter you should avoid stridency and spewing opinions, particularly on issues you cover, Cutler recommends that you strive in your posts and tweets for a combination of pontificating, disseminating information, linking to other sites, posts or tweets, and asking for help with a story.

           3. When you ask for data or quotes from social media audiences, make sure they know who you are and what you intend to do with what they tell you. The obligation to make clear that you are a reporter seeking information or quotes to use in a story is even greater when you believe you are dealing with younger social media users. They are far less likely to understand how the reporting process works than, say, your municipality’s city manager. Make sure also that your users are old enough and savvy enough to give informed consent.

           4. In writing for and disseminating via social media, the same advice you have been reading since Chapter One applies: Know your audience. Where and how do they most frequently access information? On a news website a few times a day? Through more frequent updates on a mobile device? By constantly following Twitter and its 140-character tweets? As Facebook posts from you or that their friends link to your story from?  (Remember, though, the example above of the Roanoke TV newscast that listened to its audience and abandoned social media in favor of what they watched – a traditional local news broadcast.) 

           5. Write for your medium as well as for your audience. In most cases, you will use social media to provide brief alerts and updates on events. You will organize all those nuggets – and more — later into a full story. Keep in mind the limitations of social media and the technologies by which audiences frequently access them. For example, you learned in Chapter Three the value of using an anecdotal lede for some stories. But even when anecdotal ledes are ideal for the kind of story you are reporting, remember that they are subject to the limitations of your medium. A four-paragraph anecdotal lede followed by a nut graf can sing in a print or Web story. But if you are posting a story on a mobile device, a user might have to scroll through five or six screens before she learns what the story is about. That’s too long. Re-write your lede, or, if that would compromise your story, use mobile devices the same way you use social media — as a heads-up for your audiences. Use those alerts to drive them to a website, newscast or print newspaper for the full story.

           6. No matter how you choose to approach the writing of your story, post, status or tweet, be clear first, short second. If you can’t tell the truth in a 140-character tweet, send two, one right after the other. Or simply find another medium to tell your audience what it needs to know, clearly and accurately.

           7. Write Facebook posts as ledes or blurbs. But, given the limitation of Twitter, write tweets as headlines. Headline writing is a skill that is distinct from organizing and writing ledes and blurbs, and some of its basics are different from what you have learned so far in this course. Good newspaper headline writers develop that skill over many years. But you can incorporate the basics:  Write in the present or present imperfect tense. Drop articles (a, an, the). Focus even more on nouns and verbs.

           Let’s look at the print story we sweated through in Chapter Three: 

          City Manager Don Prentice’s job remains secure for now.

          Last night Prentice survived two City Council members’ latest attempt to force him out. City Council refused to discuss Prentice’s performance. And Council Members Eaton Wise and Rondah Bullard could not persuade their colleagues to consider a resolution asking Prentice to quit.  Mayor Delmer Hostetter called the resolution ill-advised.

          Wise and Bullard had approached the Finance Committee last week with the same resolution, but the three-member committee also declined to vote on it. Wise and Bullard say the city budget contains irregularities that Prentice won’t explain.

           On Twitter, you would tweet once at the beginning of the meeting:

                 Valleydale City Manager Don Prentice fighting for his job at City Council meeting.

           Then, when council made its decision, you would tweet something like:

                 Valleydale City Manager Don Prentice to keep his job, survives attempt to fire him.    

           You can provide more in subsequent tweets, and then drive your audience to The Jeffersonville Herald website by tweeting again when you’ve finished and posted your story, and including the link.

    

Box 7.3 Tips for using social media

           Reporters who have incorporated social media into their work offer these tips:

1. The cost of using social media as reporting tools is time. If you wait until a few minutes before deadline to begin mining Facebook and Twitter for information or quotes, you are bound to be disappointed.

2. When you are not on deadline, use social media to build an audience and establish rapport with your social media followers. Just as reporters generally get more cooperation with sources they have met face to face than from a source they cold-called once by telephone, social media audiences are more apt to respond to a reporter they think they know.

3.When you ask for data or quotes from social media audiences, make sure they know who you are and what you intend to do with what they tell you. The obligation to make clear that you are a reporter seeking information or quotes to use in a story is even greater when you believe you are dealing with younger social media users.

4. In writing for and disseminating via social media, the same advice you have been reading since Chapter One applies: Know your audience.

5. Write for your medium as well as for your audience. In most cases, you will use social media to provide brief alerts and updates on events. You will organize all those nuggets – and more — later into a full story.

6. No matter how you choose to approach the writing of your story, post, status or tweet, be clear first, short second. If you can’t tell the truth in a 140-character tweet, send two, one right after the other. Or simply find another medium to tell your audience what it needs to know, clearly and accurately.

7. Write Facebook posts as ledes or blurbs. But, given the limitation of Twitter, write tweets as headlines. For tweets, write in the present or present imperfect tense. Drop articles (a, an, the). Focus even more on nouns and verbs. 

 

Ethics

           Some of the journalistic practices and ethical issues involved in using social media as a journalist will already be familiar to you: What is my obligation to my sources in identifying myself as a journalist working on a story? How do I verify the information I am given? How do I know what I know, and that its source is who he or she purports to be? How do I properly attribute information in my story, both to make my sources accountable and to give appropriate credit for the information I have gathered? When does the audience’s need for information justify invading the privacy of sources or the subjects of our story, particularly nonpublic people?

           But, as you might imagine, social media pose new challenges for journalists in applying those traditional values, standards and ethical benchmarks. For example, how justified are journalists, and under what circumstances, in using the data aggregating services mentioned above to identify a person from a live crowd shot and glean the person’s address, social security number and other personal information in seconds? Using traditional information sources, reporters might never have found all that out, or taken weeks to pull it together.   

           Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, identifies some other ethical issues in social media use for the responsible journalist to consider (See Box 7.4):

           1. At what point, and how, do journalists identify themselves in online chat rooms, or among the multi-party chatter typical of much Twitter and Facebook use?

           2. How do we as journalists authenticate sources from social media? How can we determine they carry the authority they claim to, or even that they are who they say they are?

           3. Do social media create a new universe of  “experts”? How do we convey to audiences the type of expertise these new experts carry? Often, it is far different from the credentials of the “experts” we have traditionally relied on – public and elected officials, academics, retired legislators or military people. The most visible of these new experts are people who can tell us about their own lives, and how events and issues affect them directly.

           4. Can we give online sources, particularly social media users, the same guarantees of confidentiality we occasionally need to make to sources we meet face to face?

           5. How far does our obligation go as curator of information – listener-in-chief, corrector of false posts or tweets, mediator of online disputes, constant fact updater, promoter and promulgator of news as a continuous dialogue?

           Deborah Nelson, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Los Angeles Times, offers yet another challenge:

           6. Will learning to use social media as journalists make us lose sight of the fundamentals? And, as teachers, students and prospective journalists, is our mission to train journalists (in your case, to learn to be a journalist), or is it to foster journalism?

    

Box 7.4 Ethics checklist for using social media

           Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, identifies these ethical issues in social media use by journalists:

1. At what point, and how, do journalists identify themselves in online chat rooms, or among the multi-party chatter typical of much Twitter and Facebook use?

2. How do we as journalists authenticate sources from social media?

3. Do social media create a new universe of  “experts”? How do we convey to audiences the type of expertise these new experts carry?

4. Can we give online sources, particularly social media users, the same guarantees of confidentiality we occasionally need to make to sources we meet face to face?

5. How far does our obligation go as curator of information? Is the journalist listener-in-chief, corrector of false posts or tweets, mediator of online disputes, constant fact updater, promoter and promulgator of news as a continuous dialogue, or all of those?

            Deborah Nelson, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Los Angeles Times, offers yet another challenge:

6. Will learning to use social media as journalists make us lose sight of the fundamentals? 

 

Strategies

          Remember these tips for using social media (See Box 7.5):

          1. The cost of using social media as reporting tools is time. Learn when your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are online, and plan your posts accordingly. 

           2. Use social media to build an audience and establish rapport with your social media followers so they will be more inclined to share information and tips with you. Social media audiences are more apt to respond to a reporter they think they know.

           3. When you ask for data or quotes from social media audiences, make sure they know who you are and understand what you intend to do with what they tell you.  

           4. Know your audience. Where and how do they most frequently access information?

           5. Write for your medium as well as for your audience. Remember that in most cases you are using social media to alert and update your audiences about an event. You will organize it later into a full story. Use brief social media alerts to drive readers to a website, newscast or print newspaper for the full story.

           6. Be clear and accurate first, short second.

           7. Write Facebook posts as ledes or blurbs. Write tweets as headlines. For tweets, use the present or present imperfect tense. Drop articles (a, an, the). Focus on nouns and verbs.

           8.  When you use quotes and other attributed information from social media in a full story for the Web, broadcast or print, tell your audience that the information came via social media. That will help readers and viewers judge its credibility. 

    

Box 7.5 Strategies for using social media

1.  The cost of using social media as reporting tools is time. Learn your followers’ use habits so you don’t waste hours waiting for them to respond. 

2. Use social media to build an audience and establish rapport with your social media followers.  They will be more inclined to share information and tips with you.

3. When you ask for data or quotes from social media audiences, make sure they know who you are and what your purpose is.

4. Know your audience. Where and how do they most frequently access information?

5. Write for your medium as well as for your audience. Use brief social media alerts to drive readers to a website, newscast or print newspaper for the full story.

6. Be clear and accurate first, short second.

7. Write Facebook posts as ledes or blurbs. Write tweets as headlines. 

8.  When you use quotes and other attributed information from social media in a full story for the Web, broadcast or print, tell your audience that the information came via social media.   

 

Exercise Seven: Tweeting the gas leak 

           Look again (below) at the fact sheet for Exercise Five, the gas leak at Blue Ridge County High School. But note that this time, the facts are coming to you one or two at a time over several hours. For Exercise Seven, compose a series of tweets you will send your Twitter followers throughout the day. Indicate after each tweet when you sent it.  Remember that your responsibility as a reporter is not just to pass along data. You must be confident that it is true before you pass it along to your Twitter audience. How long will you wait for confirmation of the initial tip before you tweet it to your audience? How will your tweets fulfill your new role as curator of the story?

           Remember that Twitter limits each tweet to 140 characters.

           Your second task in Exercise Seven is to compose a Facebook post or status to help you flesh out your reporting.  How will you use Facebook to make your story richer?

           Finally, after sending all your tweets, and getting response from your Facebook post, write a story for tomorrow’s print edition of The Jeffersonville Herald.    

           1. 10:45 a.m. Some kind of emergency situation at Blue Ridge County High School. (High school student on Twitter.)

           2. 10:46 a.m. Sheriff’s vehicles and fire-rescue equipment being dispatched to BRCHS (dispatches heard on Tori Baxter’s office police scanner.)

           3. 10:48 a.m. County’s fire-rescue squad is responding to Blue Ridge County High School, but for some reason they have stopped some distance from the school. (Tweet from motorist driving near the high school.)

           4. 10:50 a.m. Heard an assistant principal say there was a gas leak. (Tweet from BRCHS student)

           5. 10:55 a.m. Three students reported dead. (Parent of BRCHS student re-tweeting from her daughter.)

           6. 11 a.m. Propane gas leak detected at BRCHS at 10:40 a.m. (Phone conversation with county Fire-Rescue Chief Sissy Baxter.)

           7. 11:10 a.m. Baxter confirms County’s Hazardous Materials Response Team has responded, but cannot drive their equipment near the school for fear of an explosion. Has no report yet of injuries or fatalities. (On-scene interview with Baxter at command post one-quarter mile from BRCHS)

           8. 11:15 a.m. Traffic on Route 15 near the high school is re-routed to Interstate 88. (Sissy Baxter in-person interview at command post.)

           9. Noon Buses begin to arrive in the parking lot of North Service Authority, one half mile from the high school. (Firsthand observation)

          10. 12:10 p.m. Faculty begin walking students from the school to the buses. A teacher says they are doing it by homeroom. (Firsthand observation)

          11. 12:30 p.m. Blue Ridge County Schools Superintendent Howard Fine arrives at command post; refuses to comment to reporters on rumors of deaths of students. (Firsthand observation)

          12. 12:40 p.m. BRCHS Principal Leonard Tilton tells Fine that all students and faculty are accounted for, but one janitor is missing. Fine notices you have overheard, and tells you you cannot use it. (Firsthand observation)

          13. 1 p.m. After talking with Hazardous Materials Response Team leader, Baxter briefs reporters: Leak appeared to come from one of two 5,000-gallon liquefied petroleum (LP) gas tanks behind the school. Tanks are used for auxiliary heating. 15-degree weather this morning thought to be a factor, because shut-off valves occasionally fail in very cold weather. LP gas is heavier than air, so it doesn’t dissipate quickly. (Sissy Baxter, live briefing at command post)

          14. 1-2:30 p.m. Numerous motorists tweet about long traffic jams in both northbound and southbound lanes of I-88.

          15. 1:45 p.m. Traffic jams began about 11:30 a.m. after Route 15 traffic was rerouted to the Interstate. By 12:30 they had reached three miles in each direction. (Phone interview with Virginia State Police spokeswoman.)

          16. 3:30 p.m. Traffic is moving normally again in both directions on I-88. (Numerous tweets from motorists; phone confirmation by State Police spokeswoman)

          17. 5 p.m. Area around BRCHS still not secure. Janitor still has not been accounted for.  (Sissy Baxter, in-person interview on-scene.)

          18. 5:15 p.m. Superintendent Fine leaves, still refusing to comment to reporters.

Discussion

One thought on “Chapter Seven: Social Media

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