Social Media: Today’s News Beat
A perfect storm has formed within the field of journalism. The combination of the 24-hour news cycle, expansion of internet news sites, layoff of thousands of senior beat reporters and the closure of more than 150 newspapers during the last two years alone were enough to change the look, feel and delivery of traditional print and broadcast news. Not surprisingly, news media also have been affected at the most basic level – the news gathering process.
Reporters Follow Potential Sources
Social media has fundamentally altered reporting, and one would be hard pressed to find a societal shift with a bigger impact on the field of journalism.
Since Twitter has found its place next to the police scanner in most newsrooms for breaking news, reporters now proactively work to gain online followers to have instant access to a wide variety of sources and subject matter experts.
According to a 2014 report by the Vocus Media Research Group on the current state of the news media, 76.7 percent of reporters claim to use social media frequently (26.7 percent) or very frequently (50 percent) in their reporting. That same report also examined how reporters use social media, finding about 48 percent use it to connect with viewers and readers, and 30 percent use it for research. Another 37 percent use it for both purposes.
The journalism trade press is filled with features and articles about how to build one’s online brand and develop a social media following. Media conferences now feature workshops on the same. It is clear the news media has not only accepted and recognized social media as a powerful tool of the trade; they are now keenly focused on learning how to use it more effectively.
Depending on one’s perspective, this evolution both complicates the news gathering process and simplifies it. It incites debate regarding issues of integrity and accuracy. At the same time, it succeeds in giving more people a voice and presence in the news and as part of the public comment process.
The question many are left asking is, “How does one respond to this foundational shift in reporting?”
Leverage The Platform
Social media provides tremendous opportunities to build relationships with reporters and stay abreast of stories in development. Recently, Ward noticed a local reporter using Twitter to find sources for a story that obviously would stand in opposition to one of our client’s interests. By contacting the reporter and providing insights on the other side of the issue through an interview with our client, we were able to assist the journalist in presenting a more balanced story in which our client had a voice.
In another case, a reporter posted an interest in sources on a subject matter well within a client’s area of expertise. Ward was able to connect our client with the reporter giving him an opportunity to weigh in on an important topic for his industry and build his eminence among his peers.
Acknowledge The Change
It is critical we all acknowledge that social media has fundamentally changed information gathering and make adjustments. Denying the shift not only robs you of opportunity, it places you at a distinct competitive disadvantage. With 1.28 billion Facebook members and 255 million Twitter users, your employees are on social media, and they are discussing your industry. The media see these discussions, and in times of crisis, the media relies upon these discussions. Use this to your advantage by keeping your employees informed about happenings within your company or organization, but be sure to reinforce your company’s media spokesperson policies, as they may not realize their comments are being read and used by reporters.
Empower, Train Those Responding
Next, understand that with or without you, the story will advance, fast. Within a few seconds, misinformation can circle the globe and damage your reputation, your brand and potentially even your operational response in an unplanned event. Whether the bad data comes from the media or is going to the media, you must correct misrepresentations of the facts rapidly before they propagate. This means you must not only monitor social media, you must empower those responding on behalf of your company to act independently and authoritatively. You cannot bog down your response with layers of reviews and approvals. Give your social media responders training and then trust them to protect you. Make sure your legal counsel is abreast of the trends so they do not provide out-of-date counsel that creates unnecessary cost and damage to the company.
Plan For Emergencies With Social Media In Mind
Finally, you must account for social media in all of your media outreach strategies, especially those you employ in crisis situations. As corporate communicators have gotten savvier about responding during an emergency, crisis communications plans have become more and more regimented. Checklists step executives through the process to make a controlled and comprehensive response. However, by the time you step in front of a microphone to give your official statement, you should assume the news media already has any information you are about to “release” through their social media channels. If you do not acknowledge what the rest of the world already knows, or correct what it thinks it learned through social media, you will look ill-informed, outdated and out of touch with what is going on in and around your own organization.
Social media has forever changed the field of journalism. Twitter has become today’s tip line, and Facebook is the new “beat.” Instagram provides reporters possibilities for in-demand imagery for their digital publications. One thing we cannot dispute is that social media has become a vital tool in the reporting process and will continue to shape our news – and the process and ethics related to news gathering — for years to come.