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Reporters and PR pros divided on ‘Journalists on Facebook’ initiative

JournalistsONFacebook.KMMFacebook may have originally been created as a way to connect college students, but it has vastly expanded since its inception in 2004. Although it is used by millions to connect with friends or professionals and share pictures, links and status updates, Facebook officials are urging more journalists to get on board.

According to CNN.com, while it has more than half a billion users, Facebook has lagged behind Twitter and Tumblr in adoption by reporters. As part of the push, Facebook has launched a page called Journalists on Facebook, and has hired former Mashable community manager Vadim Lavrusik to serve as journalist program manager. But while many journalists have visited the new page and “like” this newest effort, the concept of using Facebook as a professional media tool has received mixed reviews.

Some journalists like Menachem Wecker, a freelance writer for titles such as the Huffington Post and Houston Chronicle, find Facebook an ineffective reporting tool. Typically, Wecker uses LinkedIn and Twitter to track down sources, follow organizations, monitor his brand, and field pitches. He also uses social media platforms to help search for neglected stories and trends. “I will invest my digital blood, sweat and tears only in a network that spits out information and introduces me to people that I wouldn’t have ever known to seek out,” he said in an email interview. “Twitter and LinkedIn do that for me, because they have search functions that I can create feeds for and track easily through alerts. Facebook has a lot of content that is behind privacy walls, and even the content that is out in the open is difficult to scan quickly and create feeds for. I find Facebook a fantastic tool for keeping in touch with people I already know. I find Twitter and LinkedIn function as crystal balls that teach me all that I don’t know.”

While the idea of more journalists using Facebook might be good news to many PR professionals, some like Wecker don’t think the platform is suited to the job. Christina Dempsey, account coordinator at Sara Brady Public Relations, believes there is risk of blurring professional lines when pitching reporters through Facebook. “The informal, conversational tone that Facebook embodies allows for PR professionals to approach a journalist with a story much easier than a pitch, news release or other traditional method,” she said in an email interview. “But the casual tone of social media outlets causes the already grey line of ‘on the record’ and ‘off the record’ to be further blurred. Conversation on Facebook leans more towards happy hour and gossip than professional.”

Dempsey isn’t alone in her views among the PR community. Courtney Cooper, a PR specialist for Columbus, Ohio-based Webbed Marketing, expressed a similar sentiment, noting she wouldn’t be comfortable communicating with a journalist for a client via Facebook. “LinkedIn, yes. Twitter, yes. It’s something about Facebook that, for me, seems more personal and less professional.”

For some, however, the concept makes perfect sense. Melisa Tropeano LaTour, owner and president of New York’s MTL Communications, said she already connects with journalists through Facebook and believes the more it is utilized by the media, the easier it makes life. “We are connecting with journalists through our profiles now – whether we friend them or just message them. It is a networking site. The same way we do small talk at an event and then discuss what stories the journalists are working on – we would do it on Facebook,” she said in an email interview. “PR firms are always looking for ways to interact with more journalists and this provides us another tool to get the word out on our clients.”

Daniel Collins, senior director of media relations for Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, said he is friends with as many media people as possible on Facebook. Through the use of the social media platforms, he has even had media reach out to him. For example, his post about a doctor from the hospital being part of a study resulted in a local television producer putting the doctor on a show. “In other words, this normally would have gone – send a press release, make a phone call, but here I was able to make a connection using my social media pages,” he said.

But while Facebook may be urging journalists to utilize the platform more, Collins, who currently freelances and is a former full-time journalist, said that he sees journalists already embracing Facebook. As for pitching and connecting with them, Collins said in his experience they’ve been amenable and believes that the practice is becoming more acceptable due the system’s transparency. The stream of information coming from platforms like Facebook and Twitter are so open to the public, he said it adds credibility to the material. Meanwhile, if media professionals want to continue to work, he said they will have to adopt social media at one point or another. “We’ll eventually lose the ones who can’t handle it and those that can will integrate it.”

As for Wecker, if he were to receive the right pitch through Facebook, he wouldn’t reject it. “I have connected with sources and readers through Facebook, and I would never ignore a request or communication just because I had issues with the medium,” he said. “Facebook is great for many, many things, but I have just found anecdotally that I have a lot more success accomplishing what I need to get done on Twitter and LinkedIn.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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