Thursday, October 1, 2009

Social Media's Place in the Craft of Journalism

Regular readers of this blog know I have fully embraced some of the social media tools out there enhance my journalistic efforts. I know that many of my brethren are still suspicious about using things like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, CoverItLive and YouTube, among dozens of applications.

The fall 2009 edition of Nieman Reports argues that social media is not a "tool" for journalists, but "the ocean we’re going to be swimming in—at least until the next chapter of the digital revolution comes along. What needs our attention is how we’re going to play roles that bring journalistic values into this vast social media territory," writes Geneva Overholser.

But another writer for Nieman Reports, Robert G. Picard, questions whether all these new technologies and platforms really a good idea for news organizations.
"Is each one equally useful? What are the real costs in staff time and the operating costs to be on the various platforms? What is actually achieved for the news organization in being there? Does every news organization need to be active on all of the platforms? Finally, how can a news organization achieve optimal benefit across platforms?" he asks.

Picard does see a benefit of journalists using online tools to get "information, ideas and feedback." While social media and blogs allow the public and and journalists to interact and bring up topics that may have been overlooked, he feels it could become a double-edged sword.

"In many instances, the content that news organizations produce (at a cost) is distributed by others, thus removing the need or desire for many people to seek out the original sources of the information," Picard wrote. "This circumstance, of course, threatens the commercial model because of its deleterious effects on revenue and cost recovery."

Evidence is growing that news organizations’ Web sites are offering some benefits, said Picard. "Less evidence has been found to show that social media activities do likewise, especially for newspapers," he mused.

The thing about social media is there's really no handbook for journalists -- or anyone else for that matter -- on how to use it most effectively. It's all just trial and error. I try different things all the time; some things work, and some things don't. But as a journalist colleague recently told me: don't be afraid to fail. And you'll never know what works best for you if you don't at least try. You can click here to see a dizzying array of the Web 2.0 tools and applications out there. Have fun!

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