Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Journalists in Jamaica and Nigeria share social media lessons

Emerging markets continue to fuel the phenomenal growth of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. The Middle East, Africa and Asia will be the prime drivers of growth, according to research firm eMarketer. With this growth, journalists around the world are looking at how social media is affecting the way they work and how their audiences are finding, sharing and reading or viewing their content.

Recently, a Jamaican journalist and a Nigerian newspaper looked at the changes in their own countries and what they mean for journalism.

Breaking news online first

The key change is that news no longer waits for press time. Jamaican journalist and lawyer Dionne Jackson Miller recently wrote:

Think of Jamaica just twenty years ago. In the days before the Internet, and in a restricted media landscape, newsrooms could take their time getting news to the public. Events that took place in the evening probably wouldn’t make it into print until two days later.

Now she says that traditional media “have to be racing to keep up”. Fellow Jamaican journalist Barbara Blake Hannah commented on her Facebook pagePageA document having a specific URL and comprised of a set of associated files. A…

However, as Jackson Miller points out, many of the updates being shared on social media were coming from traditional journalists. They were simply breaking news on social media before their TV and newspaper deadlines. This has been one of the tensions in news organisations: whether journalists should break news on social media or whether their first responsibility is to break news on their station or newspaper, regardless the lagLagThe delay between making an online request or command and receiving a response.…

Of course, this isn’t necessarily an either/or choice. Newspapers have websites and, for fast moving stories or sports coverage like the Olympics, it often makes sense to announce updates on social media and websites before the next print run. It allows newspapers to compete with radio and TV for live coverage, and allowing journalists to keep their audiences up to date on social media helps build a loyal audience, not just on Twitter, Facebook and other networks, but also on the newspaper’s website. For broadcasters, who can go live at any time, they are moving to a rapid reporting system that allows them to update their viewers, listeners and social media audiences almost simultaneously.

Jackson Miller said, “I suggest that what we are seeing is a convergence of the old and the new.”

Verification of social media sources

But with speed comes the risk of propagating rumour, misinformation and error. Nigerians are internet crazy, posting whatever happens around them on the internet, Comfort Osegbahe, a reporter for Punch newspapers in Lagos, told Ismail Adebayo Sunday of the Nigerian newspaper the Sunday Trust. Sunday asked his fellow Nigerian journalists how they used social media for their reporting and how they verified sources.

Although some thought social media was just filled with unverifiable gossip, most found that social media opened up new opportunities for their reporting. As for whether journalists felt the sources on social media were trustworthy, Osegbahe said that she followed up with people to verify their comments.

Alhaji Alkasim Abdulkadir of CCTV Africa used crowdsourcingCrowdsourcingTaking a task that would conventionally be performed by a contractor or…

I use the twitter to get my stories without any difficulties. I often use crowd sourcing to establish the authenticity of the stories – many people at a particular place reporting the same thing. It’s now left for you to go and get more of it and verify it.

That’s good practice, and like Osegbahe, many journalists monitor social media for story ideas but follow up with the person who posted the information, either online or on the phone, to verify its accuracy.

Professional sources on social media

As well as allowing journalists to find and talk to people at the centre of stories, social media also provides easier access to professional sources. Joshua Bassey, a reporter for Business Day, said that he will often see if news-makers are online on Facebook and available for an interview. “This would have been difficult, especially when they were not in their offices or even in the country,” he said in the article on the Sunday Trust.

Technology and marketing professionals are often the first to embrace social media, using blogs, Facebook and Twitter to build their profile and market their business. Journalists and politicians are never far behind these early professional adopters of social media, and as momentum builds, soon other professionals and businesses join social media.

Professionals often discuss business on online forums, and many have joined professionally focused social networks such as LinkedIn. While 40 percent of its users are in the US, in 2011, user growth was highest in Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil, according to an overview of LinkedIn use by Amodiovalerio Verde. Africa saw 72.7 percent growth in LinkedIn users in 2011, with much of that growth coming from Egypt and South Africa. Despite the growth in other countries, Nigeria still ranks second in African nations in terms of LinkedIn use according to social media analytics company Zoomsphere.

In addition to using social media to find sources, social media can also be an excellent source of background information for coverage. Professionals often share news stories, business analysis or commentary that they find interesting or useful on social media, and many journalists are using social media to filter the flood of information being published online each day.

Journalists around the world are grappling with the issues of speed, priorities and verification that social media raises. When publishers and editors are thinking about the best way to address these challenges, it is always important to remember:

  • Stay focused on serving audiences, not platforms. This will reduce tension between whether and what platform to break news. Make sure your audience is getting the best information possible to them, when and where they want it.
  • Stay skeptical. Social media circulates information quickly, but it’s better to be second and right than first but wrong. Over time, just as you have done with traditional sources, you’ll build up trust with social media sources, but stay skeptical and verify.
  • Seek specialist social media sources. There are important sources to be found beyond the big, popular social networks, and specialists often highlight their expertise on their own sites and blogs and discuss issues in specialist forums and on professional social networks. Social media is much bigger than Twitter, Facebook and the other big personal social networks.

Article by Kevin Anderson

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