Week 13 – Social Media’s New Role

11 Apr

Journalists face increased pressures in reporting an online world. Social media is right there to both aid and abet these pressures. The “open newsroom” idea mentioned last week continues to catch on; more consultants (and by extension, news outlets themselves) are arguing that the way forward is narrow and personal.

Individually tailored content requires more work, but the returns can be much better. The issue is whether organizing news into a social media-focused approach will be bad for people’s awareness of the world at large. It’s up to reporters and editors to curate their offerings such that they still appeal to their target group, while having fringe appeal that will draw in curious readers as well – a decentralized news model.

The new approach is facilitated by the growing number of new journalists who are active on social media. The new generation’s literacy of tools like Twitter and Facebook makes source gathering, story research and fact checking much easier to do. Since news organizations don’t need departments or even teams of reporters on these things anymore, it leads to better content when the same resources are actually devoted to improving the work of one reporter.

“Social media” is one thing, but Google’s Trends and Correlate tools are more of “cultural media.” They give us an online look into people’s heads that can tell us a lot about which stories and topics deserve attention.

For example, I did a Trends search of “tsunami” this morning after news of another earthquake near Indonesia. The results screen reveals news spikes based on the last two major tsunami events (2004 and 2011), but there’s noticeably less “news referencing” of the term in 2004; this can be chalked up to the relative growth of the Internet’s news sector.

For Correlate I typed in “music festival.” (The graph wouldn’t copy, but the results page is here.) There were some very interesting associations. I was expecting results related to the upcoming Coachella Festival in California, but instead I got a series of returns on Myrtle Beach and seersucker pants. Journalists using Correlate would do well to either have some data ready (it encourages use of a spreadsheet) or keep an open mind about where their search terms will lead.

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