Sunday, May 12, 2013

Experiential Journal: Exploring Social Media as News Outlets

By Katie Attinello

On April 20, The New York Times, the Knight Foundation, and the BBC College of Journalism hosted a day-long Social Media Summit in The Times Center in New York City. That Saturday’s event hosted several famous journalists, including Andrew Golis, Director of Digital and Senior Editor at Frontline; Roy Sekoff, President and Co-Creator of HuffPost Live; Editor in Chief of Guardian U.S. Janine Gibson; and Mark Thompson, President and Chief Executive of The New York Times.

Many panelists noted the tremendous shift in the way that the public “consumes” news, and that this shift is most likely permanent, not unlike the dawn of the Internet. As a result, it’s become clear that there needs to also be a shift in how reporters and journalists connect with the public.

Speakers shared their thoughts on how social media is changing the nature of journalism. Some offered suggestions on how to keep a consistent and clear voice when reporting via these platforms. Yet there was also a reoccurring hesitancy to rely on social media so heavily. Questions regarding the reliability and accuracy of Twitter as major events are unfolding were examined in the context of the Boston bombings, still fresh in the media that week. There were arguments to both use caution and embrace Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites for reaching the public with breaking news and everyday reporting.

Of the platforms being utilized for such, Twitter is currently one of the biggest media outlets. A few panelists mentioned checking Twitter during their morning commute to get a sense of what’s going on that day. Twitter’s standard construction of 140 characters or less (including links) per tweet makes it read somewhat like a feed of headlines. This short window of words forces writers to be selective, concise, and to-the-point with their message—something that all journalists can learn from.

I feel that this mini-conference, attended on a whim at the suggestion of a fellow graduate of Ramapo’s creative writing program, was a tremendous addition to this course. While there wasn’t an enormous environmental focus, it did come up (as it always seems to!) in regards to Twitter’s usefulness to provide minute-by-minute updates during Hurricane Sandy. There’s also the idea of digital news reporting, which (while there’s another debate for this topic in terms of the newspaper industry) can help reduce the amount of paper manufactured each year.

Overall, there was a great deal of advice and ideas to be gained from this event, and because it was applied to reporting in general, I feel it would be relatively simple to apply the same information to environmental reporting. There’s a large audience to be reached through a successful Twitter or blog account. If done well, social media can capture the attention of even those most uninterested in current environmental issues. It’s the job of the reporter to create this appeal.

Videos and photographs (another topic of the day), as well as citizen reporting, are huge components of social media, and utilizing them to their fullest potential makes every issue hit that much closer to home. 

You can read about baby seals covered in the oil of a negligent corporation’s spill, but watching even a cell phone video of animals struggling to clean crude oil from their fur can make a completely different impact. And that’s what reporting on the environment is at its core—utilizing all means necessary and available to expose all issues and ultimately demand change.

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