Journalists need to carefully guard their online reputations, according to Marie K. Shanahan, a professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut, speaking at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism 2013 convention in Anaheim, California on Aug. 26.
Credibility is a key component if you want to be a successful journalist,” Shanahan said. “It’s your calling card.”
Where once, journalists only had to worry about their tweets and public Facebook posts, now all sorts of publicly visible social media interactions are under scrutiny.
“Now ‘public’ includes any online posts,” including liking an image on Instagram.
This should be familiar territory for journalists, even if they’re not used to being the objects of the scrutiny: We use search to do research on our sources; there’s no reason people aren’t going to do the same to us.”
Shanahan recommends that journalists vanity search themselves on Google and Google Images.
And don’t be fooled that deleting an image or post or tweet makes it go away: “The Internet is a giant copying machine; it never really forgets.”
Likewise, restricting a Twitter profile is just a red flag that a journalist has something to hide, she said.
Shanahan recommends journalists be pro-active about their online reputation:
“Use a consistent byline” online and regularly associate their identity with the company they want to be known as working for. (And find out the company’s social media policy and abide by it.)
Get journalists should get their own Web domain, preferably with their byline name as the URL, which will rank high in Google searches for that name.
She recommends that journalists use nice headshots for their profile pictures on social media: “Don’t make your Twitter profile pic an egg. No one trusts an egg.”
Shanahan also recommends that journalists take a look at BrandYourself.com and AllMyTweets.net.
“News consumers are turning to Twitter in ever-larger numbers when big news breaks. But the news media make the same well-publicized mistakes during breaking news and most organizations fail to use the platform to its full advantage.
On Aug. 26 at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism 2013 convention in Anaheim, California, Prof. Kelly Fincham of Hofstra University and P. Kim Bui, an adjunct professor at Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California and mobile product manager for Los Angeles-area NPR station KPCC, ran through best practices for covering breaking news using social media.
The panel was inspired, Fincham said, by how much of the media mishandled the Christopher Dorner manhunt story this spring.
One way to do better is to make a plan before a big breaking news event happens, and to plan how to spread the load.
“One person can handle all social media, but that doesn’t mean that they should,” Bui said. “Work this stuff out ahead of time.”
Also created ahead of time: an online Twitter list of all the relevant first responders to watch when something happens.
“We made a big long list of all the people who would tweet (breaking news) and that includes our competitors,” Bui said. “Once there is a fire, or a terrible accident, all you have to do is pull up that list and it’s all there. … That’s something I suggest you do TODAY.”
If a newsroom doesn’t want to openly follow, say, politicians,Twitter lists can be made private, so no one but authorized account users can see it.
And vet the list ahead of time: KPCC checked out all of the first-responders they put on their list, and discovered a fake fire department account.
And one more task to do ahead of time: Figure out the hashtag for an imminent event.
KPCC staffers contact first responders about what agencies they’re going to use in their communications. In Southern California, and other areas, for instance, large wildfires are named. The station, Bui says, gets in touch with fire agencies to find out what the official name of a small blaze is before it turns into regional news.
And they don’t try and brand the breaking news hashtag:
“It makes more sense to latch onto a hashtag than start one yourself,” she said. “#KPCCRimFire — no one’s going to follow that,” as opposed to following the then-recent hashtag #RimFire. (And don’t go crazy with hashtags; use them when they’re appropriate and no more.)
But the biggest, most infamous — and most recurrent — problem news organizations have when covering breaking news with social media is getting things wrong, whether it’s the Sandy Hook massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings or any number of smaller, regional news events.
Avoiding that sort of basic error requires going back to journalism basics: question the origins of information, and verify it.
“It’s totally OK for you to ask (someone reporting news) ‘were you there? Did you see it?’” Bui said. “If you’re unsure, ask. You don’t have to be first on everything.”
Google Image Search allows journalists to upload images to discover their origins — think of the Hurricane Sandy subway shark image that was passed along, unquestioned, by many news organizations.
Digital photos also have metadata encoded in them that can reveal when and where they were taken. The data can be exposed in Photoshop and there are also smaller, dedicated EXIF data viewers to see the information as well.
At the moment, the only Facebook posts that can be edited after the fact — if, for instance, a update ends up being wrong — are photo posts, although the company has said that will be changing soon.
(Bui is a fan of Twitter, but says both major social media platforms have their strengths: “It’s easier to curate on Twitter. … It’s better to have photos and long deep conversations on Facebook.”)
To avoid misinformation coming out unvetted, Bui said, at KPCC, “(journalists) can break breaking news on Twitter, if your editor knows.”
But it’s not the end of the world to not be first on a news update — it’s something that mostly only journalists care about.
“If you’re the fifth person to retweet that the mayor got shot, you’re not breaking it,” Bui said, and don’t hashtag it #breakingnews.
If you can’t be first, she said, embrace it and fill in background details and other facts. During the Dorner manhunt, she tracked down who actually asked the media to stop tweeting. (Something widely attributed to the police or district attorney’s office.)
“It was really just one guy.”
And gone are the days when acknowledging the existence of other competitors — many of whom will also be appearing in readers’ social media feeds alongside your posts — was taboo.
“Journalism has changed so much that ideas like ‘it’s our exclusive, we can’t retweet it,’” Fincham said. “That horse has bolted.”
“Is it OK to retweet your competitors? It depends on your news organization, but I wish they’d all say ‘yes,’” Bui said.
But no matter who created content, whether it’s professional journalists or users creating YouTube videos, give credit where credit is due. It’s not just good karma, but it enhances your credibility with your audience.
And while the tools may change, the mission does not.
“We’re storytellers first,” Bui said. “That should never, ever stop.”
“The smartphone is increasingly an everyday tool for journalists, alongside the venerable notebook. On Aug. 26 at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism 2013 convention in Anaheim, California, Newsday’s online local news editor suggested ways for journalists to get the most out of this new part of their arsenals.
“We use our smartphones for a heck of a lot of things” at Newsday,” Corry told the journalists in attendance.
(And it’s not just print journalists who do so: Washington-area radio reporter Neal Augenstein now uses just his iPhone to record audio, Corry said.)
Using smartphones can enable journalists to do their work faster, and enable to them to take on modern tasks, like interacting with readers and audience members via social media and engage in multimedia storytelling.
None of this is optional for Newsday journalists, according to Corry.
“You don’t have a choice any more; these are expected skills,” he said. “You have to come in with a basic knowledge of smartphone journalism; you have to be willing to try everything.”
Even when journalists bring along some of Corry’s suggested optional equipment – a Bluetooth keyboard (which I used to liveblog at EIJ13 to great effect), gloves that work with touch screens and external lenses, microphones and lights – the entire kit is much more portable than more traditional mobile journalist equipment.
The multimedia journalism enabled by smartphones is helping accelerate the convergence between traditionally isolated branches of the media.
“You’re not ‘print journalists,’ you’re not ‘broadcast journalists.’ You’re all just ‘journalists,’” Corry said. “If I talk to someone just coming out of #journalism school and they tell me they’re a ‘print journalist,’ I feel sorry for them.”
New York photojournalist Ben Lowy famously used his iPhone to cover the Arab Spring in Libya.
“These phones now, the (photo) quality is great, and can be used in print or on TV,” Corry said.
Lowy even applied filters to some of his work, shooting photos with the Hipstamatic app. The company has said they’ll be producing a Lowy-inspired set of filters in the future.
“If you tell people it’s coming from a mobile device … I think they get it, at this point,” Corry said.
Similarly, Instagram photos have appeared on the front page of the New York Times.
For more traditional photo manipulation, Corry recommended the Photogene app.
Other recommendations included using Dropbox to share files between mobile devices and the newsroom, any of a host of video-editing applications (including VideoPro Camera, Filmic Pro or iMovie) and Google Voice to record phone interviews for later download.
Other tips include leaning against a solid surface when a tripod isn’t available for shooting photos or video and putting smartphones into airplane mode to avoid calls while recording multimedia. He also recommends keeping an eye on the #iphoneography, #smartphonejournalism and #mojo (for “mobile journalist”) hashtags on Twitter.
“A couple years ago, no one did (smartphone journalism),” Corry said. “Now an increasing number of people are doing great work.”
“Facebook, the world’s most popular social media site by a 2:1 margin over Twitter, offers journalists both a way to connect with audience members and to gather news.
Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s Journalism Program Manager, ran through some of the ways to use the site at his panel Aug. 25 at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism 2013 convention in Anaheim, California.
Journalists actually have two primary ways of establishing a professional presence on Facebook: Creating a standalone page or enabling Facebook users to follow public posts on their personal pagewhen the New York Times’ website recently went down. Status updates on Facebook max out at about 63,000 characters, according to Lavrusik.
News organizations and journalists including Diane Sawyer have used their Facebook pages to host Q&A sessions with fans by enabling the page administrator’s ability to reply to comments. (Not available on personal pages.)
The site can also be used to track down publicly shared information using the site’s new Graph Search feature.
“You could find school bus drivers in New York, New York,” Lavrusik said.
He also showed off the ability to find publicly shared photos from a site he knew had been affected by Super Storm Sandy and narrowed the photos down by date.
“You can actually find ‘books liked by people who work at NPR,’ which is an interesting one.”
The site has also recently implemented the use of hashtags, similar to those popular on Twitter and Instagram. Although many users aren’t using them, millions of them are, according to Lavrusik. Twitter-style Trending Topics are also on the way.
Similar to the feature on Twitter, Facebook also allows the creation of lists to make following large numbers of people or pages managable.
And ProPublica has used the Facebook Groups feature to build communities around stories they’re working on.
More resources for journalists on Facebook are available at: Facebook.com/journalists, Facebook.com/fbmedia and Facebook.com/facebookpages.
“Although Google+ hasn’t caught on the way some other social networks have, its ability to host live video conferences for up to 10 participants was highlighted Aug. 25 at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism 2013 convention in Anaheim, California.
The feature, known as Google Hangouts on Air, builds on the Hangouts chat technology already familiar to many Google Talk (known colloquially at “Gchat”) users. Hangouts makes the chat technology available inside Plus and Hangouts on Air adds video conferencing to the equation.
“Hangouts are essentially multi-person video chats,” Nicholas Whittaker, Google’s Media Outreach Lead, told panel attendees.
Hangouts on Air can both be watched live by audience members — anyone with the link to the conference can watch it — and uploaded to YouTube later. Up to 10 people can participate in one conference. (The Los Angeles News Group’s Inland group has used the technology to host editorial meetings.) Whittaker recommends using Google+’s Circles feature to set up lists of who to invite into a given video conference ahead of time.
“We don’t have to bring people into a news studio any more, and go through all the trouble, just to engage with them,” Whittaker said.
Who’s displayed in the main video depends on who’s talking, although the host can click on a portrait and lock the video on them. (Something I wish I’d known when I used this technology for a video interview with a local graduate turned astronaut earlier this year.)
The technology is already being used by various networks on their broadcasts.
“You can cover breaking news much quicker than if you had to make sure a studio was available,” Whittaker said.
It also enables live remotes such as, locally, wildfire coverage using the mobile apps to stream video and audio from the field back to a reporter back in the newsroom.
The videos is instantly saved to (but not publicly displayed on) YouTube, but viewers who come in late can also rewind the video within the Hangout On Air itself.
Plug-ins on the left side of the Hangouts On Air screen allow the addition of “lower third” participant identification and other features.
For newsrooms that intend to show this video to their audience, Whittaker recommends buying better webcams and microphones than typically come with a laptop as well as additional lighting and a portable tripod.
“People will forgive bad video, but they will not forgive bad audio,” he said.
A better camera and microphone will cost about $75 each, he said, and a tripod will cost about $150.
He also recommends the use of an Ethernet connection in lieu of wifi, although he’s had good experiences with 4G/LTE wireless Internet connections.