There’s no doubt that social media has changed journalism forever.
News is travelling faster than ever and significant delays between the occurrence of events and the news being broken to the public, are a distant memory.
Today, news is shared across the globe instantaneously and journalists must react at lightning speed.
While some have bemoaned the effect of the digital age on their craft, many modern journalists are reaping the benefits of these technological advancements.
In many ways, it is easier for journalists to interact with readers and build their brand, than in the past.
News articles now contain a by-line that not only details an author’s name, but also their twitter handles and other social media accounts.
Building a Following
Journalists can therefore build a loyal audience that will follow their work wherever they go. Whether they switch news outlets or decide to work independently as freelancers, their followers will still be able to access their work at the touch of a button.
It’s a luxury that wasn’t available to journalists just 15 years ago. Back then, citizens read the news from print publications and would easily lose track of their favourite writers if they changed jobs.
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Today, we can put a face to a journalist’s name and find out more about the person behind the polished article with ease.
Journalists now have a better understanding of their audience through sharing their work online and then observing the response to it in the comments. They can also increase engagement with consumers by responding to their comments and instigating further discussions and debates.
Connecting with readers by sharing your personal views and opinions on a broad range of issues can have an added bonus of generating new ideas for stories.
That said, journalists must find a balance between engaging with their audience on a personal level and maintaining their professional integrity.
Having a public profile can unfortunately mean that trolls/naysayers can also find you and vent their frustrations with your work. But there is significant evidence that today’s journalists are promoting themselves as well as their outlets more than ever before.
What the Research Shows
A study conducted by Cision showed that between 2012 and 2017, there was a 12 % increase in the number of journalists who posted content on social media daily.
While some old-school journalists have refused to jump on the social media train, 42% of the study’s participants used five or more social media platforms.
Furthermore, around 20% of respondents said that they had hourly interactions with their audience on social media.
There is also an increasing appetite to stay informed via social media. From 2013-2016, the Pew Research Centre found an increase in citizens’ use of every major social media platform for news.
The number of users who consumed news through Facebook grew from 47% to 66%, while Twitter jumped from 52% to 59%.
However, to truly take advantage of the opportunities social media provides, journalists need to be “tech savvy”. Their ability to understand and engage with technology is now a fundamental part of the job.
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A study conducted by Lisette Johnston showed that modern journalists not only require a broader skillset, but also that social media content is regularly used in news pieces.
For example, she found that a series of the BBC’s news clips on the crisis in Syria began with footage that was first posted on social media.
The Journalists who participated in the study noted that much of the material they gather such as images, eyewitness information and contacts, come from social media.
According to Johnston, they also stated that they “had to harness a variety of new skills to enable them to ‘harvest’ content uploaded to digital platforms.”
“Being capable of processing user-generated content and being able to navigate social media platforms which audiences inhabit are becoming core skills which journalists need to possess and maintain,” Johnston concluded.
Further experts pointed out that social media should not be viewed as some sort of barrier to “real journalism”, but instead as a gateway to many new and exciting opportunities.
But only if Journalists are willing to learn and embrace new skills.
As Jennifer Alejandro, Director of Global Communications at the Reuters Institute (Oxford University), puts it:
“Journalism is not dead but merely evolving and the journalists of the future need to reinvent themselves too.”