About five years after it took the internet by storm, it is apparent that social media has changed how we do journalism. At the Guardian, CNN and soon the NYTimes, a collaborative journalism of a whole new kind has emerged
It wasn’t love at first sight, but finally news organisations learned to embrace social media. Facebook was launched in 2004, Twitter in 2006. Today, both tools are heavily used by nearly all media organisations.
Currently there are five different ways in which journalists use social media. It all started with distribution and feedback; from there new forms of collaborative journalism emerged with crowd sourcing, or the integration of the users in an investigation – the most experience news outlet here is clearly the Guardian who had great results with Investigate your MP’s expenses, and recently launched the World Government Data platform.
The latest turn is the use of friends or followers as content curators. It seems like with Twitter, interesting Twitter users became the new editors. It is of no wonder that the New York Times is about to launch a social news platform called news.me.
The NYTimes is one of the news outlets that understood the social aspect of news most profoundly. Already two years ago they’ve launched their own Facebook-like platform TimesPeople, and recently integrated a Facebook box on their frontpage informing you what NYTimes articles your friends have liked or commented.
Editorial judgment vs. social curating? Why not both
With news.me later to be launched that year, the NYTimes obviously isn’t afraid to accept that beside the editorial judgement of their journalists their users like to know what their friends, or the people that they find interesting and follow on Twitter, are reading. Services like Paper.li or Twittertim.es show, there is a new editorial judgement out there.
News.Me is developed by their Research & Development team, and albeit the NYTimes hasn’t revealed any details, one can expect it to aggregate of information from several platforms, preferably the NYTimes. Controlling a service like this would gives the NYTimes the chance to go social while at the same time push their own news in a prominent place.
Behind a paywall but still on social media?
Another topic is social media and the paywall. Using social media for distribution and spreading the news is widely common, it will be interesting how news organisations that are fully or partly moving behind a paywall like Rupert Murdoch’s Times, and in early 2011 the NYTimes will deal with that issue.
Will they leave social media? Post a link, and he or she has to pay for the full story? Or will articles posted on social media be fully available? As journalism becomes more collaborative and it is important to engage with the reader, this is a crucial decision.
Due to social media, a new collaborative journalism is on the rise
Investigative reporters like the Guardian’s Paul Lewis are using social media as part of their investigation, for example asking people to help with their knowledge or filmed material; prominent example is the research of the death of Ian Tomlinson for which Paul won a British Press Award.
Furthermore, crowd sourced approaches help to evaluate a situation better as CNN proved with the Haiti earthquake or the recent New York storm, and data journalism asks the reader for help – investigate the MP expenses or the COIN budget data wouldn’t have been possible for the Guardian without the help of its readers.
Social media surely isn’t representative, but it enables journalists to get access to “a wider range of opinion, and gives them access to a whole range of voices” as BBC World Service director Peter Horrocks once put it.
The statistical truth
Finally, social media changed how journalism understands the role of a ’source’. Today, social media gives journalists a chance to reach out to the people more easily, and that changes the role of a source. As the media expert Dan Gilmore explains correctly each single source within social media can’t be checked, and doesn’t need to be.
Like in a mosaic, a single tweet might be wrong but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get the whole picture. In recent years, thanks to social media we saw a new form of journalistic truth rising: the statistical truth.
From mass to source
Slowly the feedback is turning into a dialogue. In most news organisations, journalists are still busy with getting used to the fact that readers comment, correct their pieces, and talk back, but the next step is to turn the feedback into a useful dialogue. Here, CNN is the news organisation that has taken it to a new level.
The CNN iReport isn’t just prominently integrated into their iPhone app. User that register are asked for their detailed contacts. This isn’t done, however, to target them with advertising, but to allows CNN’s editors to contact them.
Like the Guardian, CNN is leaves the notion of the viewer/user as a passive mass behind. With iReport, they activate the mass and turn the users into reliable sources. As we have seen with the Haiti earthquake, the results for their coverage used in web and for their TV reporting were impressive.
From newspapers to radio and television broadcasting, we have seen that each media creates its own form of journalism. The chance of social media is to turn the users into active sources. As two heads are better than one, it could make journalism more reliable than ever.
- Betaworks and The Times plan a social news service, The NYTimes
- BBC news staff told to embrace social media
- How investigative reporting makes use of social media, The Guardian
- Special Projects Editor Paul Lewis on a) the Guardian and b) Twitter
- Investigate your MP expenses, The Guardian
- the World Government Data platform, The Guardian
- The budget database – what the experts think & search it yourself, The Guardian
- CNN iReport