Journalists aiming for success in social media in 2015 and beyond need to awaken from their bubble of like-minded media mavens and join digital conversations in ways that enhance authenticity and build trust. While I love “journalism Twitter” as much as the next person and find it a valuable source of ideas and inspiration, I think Nieman Lab director Joshua Benton is right that “journalists and their audiences often value different things in the news they consume.”
Journalists need to start listening to the communities they plan to serve in much broader and more focused ways and participating in conversations already happening online in ways that add information and insight, rather than simply broadcasting the same messages through new channels or talking amongst themselves. They need to use social media to be transparent about their process in a way that helps reassure a public that currently trusts little about any major institution, much less “the media.” I’ve got my eye on Reported.ly as one great example that may show us the way forward in 2015 on how to do this.
Over and over, I hear from journalists who are reluctant to do more than post a few headlines and links on social media because it feels to them like the whole thing smacks of narcissism and self-promotion. I get it, believe me, but I think that gets the whole thing exactly wrong. Participating in the distributed digital conversation *is* about sharing your work as well as some parts of your personality and interests. However, if you are doing it right, it’s not all about you. The mindset should be one in which you are willing to genuinely and openly share your knowledge and ideas, mindful of what might be useful or interesting to others, and then get some back in return.
This sounds simple and even trite, but I think it’s critical and often misunderstood. Think of it this way — lurkers who just read posts but never share anything of their own are just taking and taking from the community but never giving back. I had a former colleague once who prided himself on reading everything in my Twitter feed and that of others but never posted himself. While I always argue to my students that listening is more important than talking, this felt voyeuristic and strange to me. If, as a journalist, you really don’t believe that the things you are uncovering and reading and learning on the job aren’t worth sharing, you are in the wrong profession.
Equally perplexing, however, was one journalist that recently told me about Twitter: “I never actually read my feed anymore.” Social media is a rich resource for reporting, and even if it’s only for a few minutes each day, these tools should be helpful for getting all kinds of perspectives that the traditional media Rolodex (remember those??) of typically old white men in power didn’t offer access to. If tragic events and the resulting outrage in places like Ferguson, MO, have taught us nothing else, it is that there are any number of important issues simmering in many communities that have been historically undercovered in mainstream media that are now finally getting a larger voice. Best we listen.