Communicate

All things media and comms related

The Key To Effective Journalism: Embrace Social Media


Like many other people these days, it seems an impossible task for me to turn on a computer without first logging in to facebook.com, closely followed by twitter.com. I find that, alongside a cup of tea, a little bit of light procrastination is the best way to start the morning and ease into the day’s workload. It’s a chance to catch up on all the latest happenings whether they are posted from friends, celebrities or just particularly interesting people. But I also feel it’s a fantastic source for updates on UK or even global news and for discovering the latest trends. Usually, I would allow myself half an hour to have a thorough browse and share my own semi-interesting thoughts with my followers. Then I am free to continue with my daily pursuits.

March 11th was one such typical morning. Yet, social media played a larger part in that day than I ever could have expected. Waiting for me at the top of my twitter newsfeed was a tweet from @BBCBreaking: “Huge earthquake hits Japan.” Shocked, I scrolled down. @guardiannews: “powerful earthquake hits Japan,” @TelegraphNews: “Tsunami hits Japan after 8.8 magnitude earthquake.” And then my eyes caught the trend on the right hand side simply stating “#pray for Japan.” I, and the rest of the world, said a prayer for all those affected, although, the number was yet to be known.

The rest of the day was spent frantically watching each and every bulletin trending on twitter. I was redirected to news websites with more devastating information, images and videos. It showed a country under ruin, under rubble, under water. Few buildings had survived. Few people had survived.

And for those who had survived, their lives had been shattered.

Youtube videos were uploaded of the tsunami rapidly covering the land, boats crushed under bridges, cars washed away, homes drowned. It was truly terrifying to watch. I found myself moved to tears as images were uploaded onto Flickr as the crisis was unfolding. A small boy and his father are pictured looking out into the distance, facing the destruction that was once their home. With their backs to the audience, we can only imagine their saddened expressions. Another image showed a tiny little girl, perhaps no older than 5, being rescued from the rubble. I wondered what she was thinking and feeling behind her confused and worried little face. I wondered whether behind the photographer she had parents waiting to meet her, or whether hers was another tragic story.

Facebook seemed to be a popular medium for reassuring loved ones that all was well. It was a distressing time but the Japanese locals and those in the country on work or on holiday were desperate to let everyone know they were safe. Others hadn’t been so fortunate. On March 12th @guardiannews shared on twitter: ‘Japan mourns amid fears quake toll could hit 10,000.’

Piece by piece, each social network website played a significant part in informing and showing the world the tragedy as and when it happened. It then dawned on me the huge impact social media has on global news reporting. How a simple four-word tweet had grabbed hold of my attention and maintained it for an entire day through continuous reports of the horrendous natural disaster. Not only by informing through the one social platform but by redirecting me to their websites with more details, to other related articles and informing of special not-to-miss news programmes.

It seems that social media has become a new platform for journalism and a new and accessible method for distribution. Had I not logged into my twitter account it is likely that the message would not have reached me so quickly and the sheer enormity of the situation may not have been fully grasped had I not seen the massive response from journalists and users around the world. I decided to speak to journalists in the professional industry to discover to what extent social media is reshaping journalistic practices.

Karen Fowler-Watt, ex journalist for the BBC and senior lecturer at Bournemouth University, explained to me how Journalists are utilising social media to get their stories out quickly and effectively. She said: “Journalists’ lives have been transformed… there is no more waiting for live feeds or pieces to camera as they can tweet a headline and follow up in more depth later.”

It is this referral to newspapers and websites for more depth that is perhaps acting as a life-saver to the newspaper. It can be seen to be generating traffic to newspaper websites and from there to the printed papers.

Reading Chronicle editor, Sally Stevens, said social media platforms are not only effective for informing the public of breaking news but also for reporters who use the online mediums as a source for information. She said: “Reporters here will use Facebook and Twitter to track people involved in specific issues and to invite people to send in their personal experiences.” This was seen during the recent events in Japan with many news teams requesting additional information from their Twitter followers. @TelegraphNews wrote: “If you have any pictures/videos from the earthquake in #Japan or #tsunami damage, please email.” Sally explained that this is not a new technique as radio and television news have been asking their audiences to contact them for many years, but online media makes this a more accessible task.

On the 15th January 2009 it was twitter users that broke the news of the plane that crashed in New York’s Hudson River. @JimHanrahan was the first to tweet: “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive [sic] in manhattan.” At this event citizen journalism was at its finest with images, videos and tweets documenting the unfolding drama. It was fifteen minutes after this that the mainstream media began to report on the crash.

Social media has also been a great source for contacts for showbiz entertainment news. Celebrities left, right and centre have their own Twitter and Facebook pages now which they continuously use to promote their latest news, both personal and professional. Ex news editor of financialtimes.com and Bournemouth University lecturer, Liisa Rohumaa, said: “Showbiz journalists track twitter for updates, for example about Lilly Allen’s pregnancy, as well as to break scoops, such as when TMZ used twitter to announce Michael Jackson’s death.”

I must admit, breaking news for celebrities seems to feature rather heavily on my twitter feed due to the number of celebrity gossip gurus and magazines I follow. For me it has perfectly transformed the art of celeb spying. A recent example tweeted by @OK read: “Kym Marsh has given birth to a baby girl! Full story on its way…” Of course, I stayed tune.

But with all the positives of social media it seems a little too good to be true. There must be some downsides surely?

Sally Stevens said it’s extremely frustrating when a reporter accidentally gives away an exclusive they are working on due to the fact that social media is such an open forum for conversation. Asked the same question, Karen Fowler-Watt explained to me that consumers today are bombarded with alternative ways of engaging with the news due to the many prompts to create traffic via social media. When a viewer sits down to watch the news or listen to the radio they are repetitively told to follow them on Twitter or to become a Facebook fan which can be quite frankly annoying. Also, many academics argue that social media can encourage journalists to lapse into opinion reporting, often blurring the boundary between an objective account and a subjective story. But she said: “Social media is here to stay and the key is that journalism practice embraces it but still keeps a beady eye on the need to be impartial and to present a balanced account.”

Yes, whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. And I believe it’s for the good of both the public and the professional journalistic practice. Social media has the power to provide fascinating, real time running reports and real life accounts of major incidents which alongside traditional, trusted methods of reporting creates an eye-opening story. As horrific as it was to watch, it’s undeniable that the ability to share over the internet information and footage of the Japan disaster from those experiencing it at that very second, has transformed journalism.

Photos: google images/flickr/twitpic

March 26, 2011 Posted by | Features, Journalism, Portfolio, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

A condensed guide to media law


At first glance media law can seem, to say the least, a little bit daunting. When my Journalism lecturer presented an hour of rules and regulations, what you can and cannot say, who you can and cannot identify, all of a sudden reporting seemed rather scary. One mistake and you could have a libel case on your hands and even worse a damaged reputation as a journalist.

Of course, I was aware that there were restrictions, but journalists really do have so many barriers in-between free speech and the responsibility of informing the public.

Below is my condensed list of media law from the NUJ and PCC code of conduct:

  • Accuracy is vital. Yes, we all know that sloppy grammar, punctuation and spelling is not professional but, more importantly, a simple slip could drastically change the meaning of the matter you are informing about. On the occasion an inaccuracy is published, correct and apologiseIMMEDIATELY!



  • Be subjective. ‘Said’ is such a simple, and slightly boring word, but it does the job. Words like ‘confirmed’, ‘suggested’, ‘acknowledged’ puts your own stance on the matter and you must remain neutral. Also, ensure that you get balanced quotes so that the story is not one-sided.

 

  • Be cautious in establishing what is fact and what is rumour. Rumours should only be reported in the interest of the public. Make sure you are always supported with authoritative sources. Oh, and don’t sensationalise, stick to the facts.

 

  • Always report in good taste. Avoid publishing graphic details and gruesome photographs. Firstly, because you must respect victims and their families and secondly, who actually wants to read a horror story over breakfast first thing in the morning?

 

  • Obtain information, photographs and illustrations by straightforward means. Remember to be ethical in collecting information and remember to protect confidential sources. The public interest should always come first.

 

  • Never encourage discrimination. Only publish information about age, race, gender, marital status and sexual orientation if it is relevant.

 

  • Be aware of reporting restrictions with regards to children. You must not identify them if they are under the age of 18 and involved in court proceedings. If you are reporting on non-judical matters then always seek permission from a parent or guardian.

 

  • In court – now this is a complicated one. You should include in your report the name of the court, the defendant’s name, age and address and the charge or charges. Then of course you should state the plea, verdict and sentence. When writing about the case include details of who did what to who, where, when and how. Ensure you get accurate quotes. To obtain accurate quotes in court. Learning short-hand is a great idea as dictaphones and cameras must not enter the court room. You can identify the magistrate by name, however, you must not identify the jury. I suggest further research into court laws!

 

Hope this helps!

Picture: google images

March 1, 2011 Posted by | Journalism, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Embrace the wonder that is…Social Media


Ever since completing the web communications unit in the second year of my degree I have become fascinated by, and I must admit slightly addicted to, social media.

No, I don’t just mean ‘facebooking’ long lost friends, although this is a great bonus, I mean creating a list of business connections on Linkedin, sharing specialist topics and trends on Twitter, photo sharing on Flickr, video sharing on youtube and blogging about all things media and comms related on WordPress etc. And what’s more linking each of these together to maximise the potential for hits, followers and networking with those in the media industry.

I am particularly interested in how social media can be used by companies to create successful PR and Marketing strategies. Perhaps due to a lack of understanding, many companies seem to be concerned and sceptical about moving from traditional media platforms and into this new realm. 

However, social media doesn’t need to be used as a replacement but instead combined with the likes of print and broadcast media to reach a wide range of stakeholders. They can then be involved in two-way dialogue throughout a campaign as they’re  encouraged to post opinions and feedback. It  is then vital for companies to respond to these posts ensuring that they are seen to be listening to their publics and taking action. In my opinion, engaging with publics is essential to build relationships and create a mutual understanding on a particular point or issue.

If you have ever wondered why everyone claims it’s important for businesses to get on board the social media bandwagon then check out the slide show below. It provides astonishing figures and statistics about the amount of users posting, commenting and connecting online every day. Just ignore the swearing!

February 1, 2011 Posted by | Blogs, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment