Does Social Media Increase a Journalist’s Value?

journalistA major newspaper is about to undergo another dreaded round of layoffs. After the first wave of buyouts, a tough choice has to be made been two journalists of equal talent and seniority. One journalist has a large following and active presence on several social media sites. The other does not. Who offers more value to their organization?

While things are not that simple, the fact is that being social media savvy is becoming an increasingly important part of a reporter’s skill set.

In developing social media strategies for news sites, marketing typically takes the lead on the audience development and content promotion aspects, while the editorial staff focuses more on using social media for sourcing, identifying trends, coming up with story ideas, etc. But there is actually a lot of overlap between the two groups.

Take content promotion. Who would readers rather interact with about a particular story – someone from marketing or the reporter who wrote the article?

A couple weeks ago Tom Foremski and Todd Defren looked at the question of whether or not PR firms could or should use their ability to drive exposure and traffic through social media as a carrot in media pitches. A similar question could be asked of news organizations. Could the strength of journalists’ social media presence impact their ability to get assignments? Will editors favor those who will bring greater exposure to the piece and the organization through their social networks?

That might be taking it too far, but there is no doubt that social media blurs the lines between marketing and editorial and offers a number of new ways to interact with audiences. News organizations that take advantage of these opportunities are putting themselves in a position to succeed.

This blurring benefits the journalists too. In an era where “journalist job security” is becoming an oxymoron, having a strong social media presence makes reporters less expendable and more marketable should they need to find new work.

So what should journalists do? At The Future Journalist session last night in New York, Sree Sreenivasan and Vadim Lavrusik talked about the skills and qualities that media professionals now need to possess. I wasn’t able to attend, but the powerpoint and the syllabus for Professor Sreenivasan’s “Social-media Skills for Journalists” course offer some insights into where they see things heading.

The bottom line: The ways that people consume news and define the “news media” are rapidly changing, and the role of the journalist is evolving with those changes. Journalists who are active in social media bring more value to their news organizations and strengthen their own job security.

Comments

  1. Adam, good post. Anything that helps create an audience for a specific reporter/journalist/photographer is a good thing. Social media can be a tool that turns every good reporter/photographer into a columnist – and like a columnist creates an audience for that specific person. It’s also very measurable – gone are the days when a columnist was important because he/she had a section front column. Now with online activity so easily measureable – a journalist can track the impact he/she has in bringing in an audience – for good or bad.

    If a journalist isn’t building his or her own brand today using all available tools, then they are demonstrating a lack of understanding of today’s media marketplace. And consequently they won’t be making a living as a journalist for very long. Much like those typesetters who didn’t make the transition to computerized typesetting.

  2. Thanks for your input Thom. I like the columnist analogy, that works well.

  3. Another issue to consider is IP/content ownership and branding. As the journalist builds the brand using social media – who owns the twitter name/wordpress blog/Flickr feed/etc, and all of the content on each of those outlets? Most contracts and senior management have no idea how to handle this issue – the journalist has to be conscious about how they go about building their professional social media brand and what those ramifications are. If everything they write is property of big media incorporated – even personal blog posts – they have be cognizant of what that means.

  4. That’s a great point. For general content promotion and reader interaction some news sites opt to go with personas (like The Chicago Tribune’s @coloneltribune). This allows multiple people to provide the content and makes it easy to transition when people move on. @coloneltribune actually did change hands last year and the open handover they did was very well received by its followers. @danielhonigman was its original creator.

    But personas are just one aspect of a diversified social media strategy – individual journalists are doing lots of interaction under their own names, which is certainly a good thing for both them and their organizations. But like you wrote, most companies are still getting their arms around how they want to handle this. Corporate social media policies are becoming more common, but there is still a lot of grey area.

    Specific to Twitter, I see some media professionals using profile names that include the brand, like @ricksanchezCnn, but the majority are operating with just personal profiles. But even if an organization had the “rights” to those kinds of hybrid profiles, what could they really do with them if the person leaves? They still include the journalist’s name.

    Personally I believe strongly in the right of the individual to express their thoughts and share ideas (either personal or professional) via social media, and that those kinds of networking connections and relationships belong to the individual. And as I mentioned in the post, in this age where few journalists have strong job security, developing a personal brand gives them greater value and marketability. But I certainly see the company side too, so reasonable compromises need to be made. There’s usually a win-win.

  5. Thanks Adam for this article and I will support you 100% with your journey. You journey to make a living. Your journey to do what you love to do which is to write and to be read. Your journey to help others understand what it means to be HERE NOW and WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT. This is my journey too, as it is the journey of many of us who find the times to be challenging but at the same time invigorating! I hope that you and I will learn how to connect and to help connect others. Not just like connect the dots, as if we’re all just ones and zeros, but connect in a real way. To listen. To understand. To be interested. And to offer a hand of assistance.

    Will read more of your stuff and am looking forward to it.

    Cheers.

  6. I think you know better than I do that if you want to be a success online, you have to pick a niche and really work it till it’s dead. There’s probably a living in just being a “Chicago Reporter” and report on EVERYTHING Chicago, ignoring the rest of the world. I’d do everything I could to build a brand around my single name so I could take it with me, I’d fight to the death not to write under a non portable personality.

    On the flip side, if I were a business and I was paying for the content, I’d tell the writers to write however I felt like and what ever name suits my purposes.

  7. Wow, that’s quite the comment. Thanks Winston.

  8. I agree Chuck, both sides have a valid perspective and I do feel that compromises need to be made.

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