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Journalists and PR professionals embrace social media in 2010

June 9: Dustin Wilson has only been reporting for WMGT-TV for about a month, but he has found social media to be a great tool for connecting with his viewers and giving them an idea of what stories may be on the horizon.

Although he’s still new to the scene, Wilson is a part of a trend toward social media as reporters across the country embrace the art of the tweet. According to a 2010 survey from PRWeek/PR Newswire, 24 percent of polled journalists said they use sites like Twitter and Facebook to find story ideas and connect with experts, which is an increase from 13 percent in 2009.

Although Wilson said he hasn’t used social media platforms for research often in his young career, “that’s not to say if there was a newsworthy story on Twitter or Facebook that I wouldn’t pitch it,” he said in an e-mail interview.

For Macon Telegraph reporter David Hale, the practice of social media on the sports beat wasn’t common when he started a couple of years ago. “But now it has become so widely used – really in the last 12-18 months – that I would be at a significant disadvantage if I didn’t use it,” he said in an e-mail interview. Besides promoting his coverage, social media has various other uses such as aiding him in his reporting. “I cover the University of Georgia football team, and they aren’t always extraordinarily accessible, so sites like Facebook do offer an outlet to get in touch with players when I have questions – and most of the players use Facebook regularly,” Hale said. He also follows players and coaches on Twitter, which he noted allows him to get a peek at behind-the-scenes news that may not be getting publicized by the university.

Using social media does have its disadvantages for journalists who must travel a thin line between their professional and personal lives. For this reason, even though many newsrooms have embraced social media, guidelines for proper use have been implemented at outlets across the country.

“Be aware of perceptions,” advised the Los Angeles Times in social media guidelines issued last year to employees. “Also understand that readers may view your participation in a group as your acceptance of its views; be clear that you’re looking for story ideas or simply collecting information. Consider that you may be an observer of online content without actively participating.” Likewise, the Washington Post and Thomson Reuters are among outlets that set similar guidelines. Despite these standards, 37 percent of traditional journalists are actually being asked to contribute to Twitter as part of their additional duties, while a greater percentage are being asked to contribute to a blog.

Journalists are not the only ones to have embraced social media. Public relations professionals have also adopted the practice, finding that the medium aids in forming relationships with the media. According to PRWeek, 61 percent of journalists have been pitched through Facebook, while 44 percent have received pitches through Twitter.

Kimberly Greene, an account executive with Ron Sonntag Public Relations, occasionally pitches to journalists via Facebook or Twitter. But before making a pitch, Greene establishes a relationship first. “Just as if you were networking at a party in the ‘real world,’ you wouldn’t automatically go up to someone without really knowing them, immediately trying to sell them on your idea or client. You don’t want to come off as insincere,” Greene said in an e-mail interview. “Read their tweets and blogs to get a sense of what they are interested in, just as if you would research their past stories to see which beats they cover before pitching them.” But social media has its place, so if a PR professional can’t make a pitch in fewer than 140 characters, which is the limit on Twitter, then e-mail and phone are still the way to go, she said.

“What we call social media now will be just how content is covered and produced in the future,” said Jason Falls, principal of Social Media Explorer, in a previous interview with inVocus. At the time, Falls noted that it was crucial for newsrooms to embrace social media. Well the numbers are in and it would look as if social media is increasingly finding its way into everyday media life.

Indeed, media survey author Erica Morris wrote that the results of the survey “indicate traditional journalists’ slow but steady realization of the necessity of incorporating social media into all aspects of their jobs.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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