Would you like to know what’s happening around the world, in real-time? Search Twitter for “WTF was that,” says Andy Carvin, senior strategist at NPR’s Social Media Desk. It’s a common question people will tweet in the event of an earthquake, for example.
Carvin was on a panel at SXSW which discussed how media organizations are approaching news gathering in a real-time world. Others on the panel included Jim Frederick, Editor, Time International, Meredith Artley, Managing Editor, CNN Digital, and Ayman Mohyeldin, foreign correspondent for NBC News based in Egypt.
Of course you’ll get lots of tweets and lots of twitterers during a natural disaster, but that’s where traditional journalism tactics come into play. Carvin figures out who his trusted sources are and puts them into a Twitter list (brilliant!), then proceeds to collect information and verify. “You end up using a lot more sources,” he said, “and you have to figure out which characters work best in that moment.”
One problem brought up by Frederick which is prevalent during major news events like Hurricane Sandy is all the misinformation and outright lies that can go viral via social media. Think of the fake photos that were being tweeted and posted during Sandy, like sharks swimming in the flooded streets of Manhattan.
Mohyeldin offered that the public has a certain responsibility along with the media, especially when they have the power to instantly feed bad information to hundreds or thousands of people via Twitter and other social networks. “You have choice as a user to decide what you trust and you should be responsible in reposting things.”
And what of the responsibility of governments and others that hold great power in controlling how information gets shared?
“The first couple of days of the Egyptian Revolution cell phone connection was cut off by the government,” said Mohyeldin. But governments have become wise to the power of social media and are now using it to communicate with the masses, and surely to ‘listen.’ “You wonder how the regimes 2.0 will use these tools.”
But back to news organizations, what are the social media tools they see making a splash in how news is reported in the future?
Carvin gave a brilliant answer to this question. “Whatever gives critical mass the opportunity to have a voice.” How true. A tool can only be powerful when it empowers the people. And that’s where the stories come from.
And what about money? “Can news organizations monetize social media?” asked Frederick.
Artley said this is a subject that is frequently brought up. “Social media attracts new audiences and that is value. Also, clients and advertisers want to do business with companies that are doing things in the social space.”
Carvin added that rank and file journalists now have to think about the money side of journalism more and more. They use their personal brands to promote their work and the organizations they work for. They drive traffic.
Does this mean news organizations have a claim on a journalist’s personal social media accounts?
“That was a conversation that happened years ago when Twitter was new,” said Carvin. A personal Twitter account has the value to the brand of helping to drive traffic, but it still belongs to the individual journalist. “Authenticity [offered by personal brands] can pay off dividends.”
“We have a vibrant social media team that projects an experience, what it’s like to be a reporter,” said Mohyeldin. “That is translated into viewership.”
But social media has also given new power to the audience. They have greater awareness and expectations.
“Social has broken new grounds, we now can be exposed if we’re not covering events, conflicts around the world,” said Mohyeldin.
But the most interesting change social media has caused in the newsroom is in how they start their day. They listen to the audience.
“When we meet in the morning, we talk about what people are talking about in social and what is trending,” said Artley. “We also find stories that way which are unique and we wouldn’t have heard about in another way.”
This of course leads us back to how the panel started, with Carvin speaking of using social to learn what is happening in real-time during a major news event. Social as a listening tool seems to have the greatest impact of all for the media.
What impact has social media had on how you do your job?
Victoria Harres is Director of Audience Development at PR Newswire, the main voice behind @PRNewswire, social media lead for @Business4Better and a frequent speaker and writer on social media for business.