You are here

Social media bad for newspapers? Waah

Submitted by yelvington on September 23, 2012 - 11:57am

I don't know whether to be appalled or just amused at the reported quote from AP's Liz Sidoti that social media is a "time suck" threatening young journalists' understanding of reporting basics.

I didn't hear it myself; I think that comment came while I was across the street from the Seigenthaler Center, in the parking lot dealing with Vanderbilt police about vandalism and burglary of my truck (which is another story).

But I have a couple of things to say about it.

About an hour later Friday morning, I was on an APME panel with Jay Small and Frank Daniels III, moderated by Ellyn Angelotti, discussing social media. And what I told the editors is this: social media is at the core of why people use the Internet.

If you define yourself as a "newspaper," social media is bad for you. You are going to lose. There is no way around that. But if you frame your world differently, the scene changes.

Like the universe, journalism is expanding. AP plays a shrinking role in that universe, at the head end of the reporting process on primarily world and national news. Journalism used to be describable as "gather, order, and present" -- or reporting, writing and publishing. AP lives in the first two layers, disconnected from and sometimes baffled by the rest.

But that's not the process any more. Journalism doesn't end with publication of a story, or even necessarily begin with the reporter. Journalism now is a dynamic and continuous process that can begin with the "people formerly known as the audience" and continues after publication in a public, social interaction in which the community discusses, digests, processes, adds to, remixes and redistributes information.

One-way journalism was an illusion of the 20th century. It's over. Past tense. It was illusory anyway. Social processes existed even when we didn't see them.

Practicing journalism in this century requires social media literacy and engagement in all the layers. Yes, it's a time suck, along with everything else. As an old copy editor once told me, "that's why they call it work."

And while social media may be bad for "newspapers," it's bad for us only if we fail to grasp larger, more complex definitions of journalism, our products, and our business models. It's bad if we screw up. And the first, easiest way to screw up big-time is to imagine it's not important.

Comments

I definitely hear both sides of this: that social media is a distracting time suck, while the skills one attains using it may end up being part of what creates journalism in the digital age.... Journalists are like anyone else: they don't necessarily have better capabilities of discernment nor the emotional abilities to disengage from social media as we might expect. That's older journalists as well as younger. I've seen folks like David Carr get into awful tit-for-tat emotional exchanges on Twitter that cause me to wonder his exact age. And that's not unusual for people in general. Social media technologies are still relatively new and there hasn't been enough psychological research done to know how they change our personas, if there really is a thing such as "Internet addiction" (to the point where it changes the brain for the worst, not the best,) and so forth. There are workplaces that struggle with knowing how much social media time is acceptable vs how much interferes with the work needed to get done. We have C-level executives who still deny the power of social media because they can't see an ROI figure for their last campaigns. What is perhaps needed are newsroom mentors who help everyone at every level understand how to balance social media with other kinds of work that are necessary to getting the story done. Not everyone is a David Carr who can bicker on Twitter and then produce a column (although who knows--one day his work might suffer too.) Perhaps what's needed are seasoned social media people who can help everyone deal with engagement and balance their time. Or maybe just workshops on social media time management?

You're right, Steve. Everything changes. Get used to it.

The problem with social media is that it is filled with lies and damn lies. Journalism organizations need to find a way to establish themselves as credible sources among the social media. No one has discovered how to do that yet.