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The relationship in social media

The relationship in social mediaNovember 3: In the dark ages before social media, relationships between journalists and their audience were considered a one-way conversation. Today, however, the advent of Facebook and Twitter has changed the level of familiarity reporters have with their readers, listeners or viewers, resulting in a whole new dynamic.

“We have changed the traditional feeling that a newspaper only interacts with its readers via its printed pages,” said Scott Kleinberg, social media director of RedEye and Metromix. When he first started using social media, he was told that the cardinal rule was to never let people see the person behind the mask. But he quickly learned that the advice wasn’t sound. “People know me, Scott, as the voice of @redeyechicago and @metromixchi. People know they can talk to me about something – circulation, editorial, whatever. And they know the voice is coming from one person who knows them and remembers them,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Besides growing closer to readers, Kleinberg noted that social media bridges the gap between all facets of the newsroom. He works with marketing and advertising, and he said social media provides him with a direct line to the circulation director, allowing them to solve issues within 24 hours. “Whether it’s an empty newspaper box in a high-profile location or a botched Saturday delivery, we can make a difference for our customers, even if it’s one at a time. And even in the case of Saturday delivery issues, many times we can fix those the same day. All because of Twitter,” he said.

For Matt Krupnick, an education reporter with the Contra Costa Times, social media, specifically Twitter, has expanded his readership in California and throughout the country. Although he currently only uses Facebook on a personal basis, he said he is considering opening a work-related account to more effectively create a dialogue with his readers.

But with the good comes the bad, even in the social media arena. In traditional reporting, news is reviewed by several editors before being published, whereas tweets and Facebook posts are published in an instant. “Social media puts the power of publishing directly into the hands of a reporter, which can lead to costly mistakes, both legal and ethical,” Krupnick said in an e-mail interview. “Reporters must be careful to avoid offering opinions on Twitter and Facebook, and to realize that the technological advances do not relieve them of their journalistic responsibilities.”

John Friedman, a senior columnist for MarketWatch, recently wrote that he was afraid the level of familiarity he had acquired with his readers through social media was making him “wimpy.”  “I worry that I’m getting a little too familiar with people I should keep a professional distance from. And in turn, I’m letting them become too chummy with me,” he wrote. “They generally act like we’re old college buddies while hoping to influence what I write in my columns.”

Friedman’s worries may be a legitimate concern for journalists as the media continues to embrace the benefits of social media. But Robert Hernandez, Web journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wchat, a weekly chat for Web journalists held on Twitter, believes that if journalists stay true to their values, they will remember to abide to their mission of objectivity and transparency.

Regardless of any negatives, he said social media has changed the media landscape for the better. “It allows journalists to not only connect to the community for feedback, but, more importantly, it gives us access to the community in a much stronger way. There is the power of crowdsourcing and the reality that many readers will be first-hand witnesses to breaking news events,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Now instead of a one-way conversation, journalism combined with social media has become an ongoing dialogue, noted Hernandez. “There are many obstacles and new challenges journalists face in this constantly evolving tech world. One big debate is on how open journalists should be when it comes to social media. We all have opinions and biases, but should we openly express them? Some say no … some say yes, embracing being more transparent,” he said. Meanwhile, other concerns are that this influx of new technology distracts journalists from doing journalism. “We don’t have the right answers here … We don’t know where the line is … so we, like everyone else, are trying to figure this out as we go along.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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