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The media industry embraces Instagram

Late last week, the Dallas Morning News caught a grayish morning city skyline using Instagram. The photo was accompanied by a comment about possible showers and thunderstorms, and was also uploaded to Facebook. Simply, the newspaper was able to share the weather forecast in an incredibly visual and engaging way. More than 100 Instagram followers liked the photo, deftly illustrating how the popular photo-sharing service is being used by news organizations to connect with their respective audiences.

Connecting is why Lauren Hard, a freelance reporter and part-time grad student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, uses Instagram often. She frequently takes pictures while in the field using her phone and posts them to Instagram, Twitter and sometimes Facebook. “I think Instagram creates interest since it’s a social network that more and more people are using,” she said in an email interview. “Pictures are easy to look at on mobile devices and computers and if you are watching TV or doing something else, you don’t have to go through the trouble of playing a video, which might not be accepted in an office setting.”

According to a recent article from the Poynter Institute, the Chicago Tribune engages with their readership by creating a new Instagram theme every week. Meanwhile, NBC uses Instagram as a showcase for behind-the-scenes photos. In March, New York Times reporter Nick Laham took a portrait picture with his iPhone of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and processed the photo through Instagram. The picture landed on the paper’s front page.

But this isn’t the only instance of Instagram photos finding their way into newspapers. Late last year, the Boston Globe took a special interest in a dangerous neighborhood in Boston, running a five-part series story on the people who live there and their stories, reported. As a part of the feature, the site hosted a collection of photos taken using the Instagram app, utilizing a tool called Snap to display the photos on a wall of the site.

When Hurricane Sandy hit last year, Time magazine was one publication that used Instagram as a quick way to collect images by giving five photographers from the region access to the magazine’s Instagram feed. According to Forbes, the collection of pictures was responsible for 13 percent of the site’s traffic during a week when the publication had one of its biggest traffic days ever, generating 12,000 new Instagram followers in two days. One photograph was even used for one of the three covers Time ran.

The Associated Press sent journalists on the campaign trail last year with the request that they use their personal Instagram feeds for professional purposes to capture behind-the-scene moments. Meanwhile, some news organizations shared Instagram photos capturing scenes from recent tragedies such as the Boston Marathon explosions.

While some have worried that the use of Instagram may negatively impact the photography industry, the Poynter Institute recently suggested its more about engagement for journalists. “Instagram is so immediate and intimate that it creates this close connection with the user,” Cory Haik, executive producer for digital news at the Washington Post, told Poynter.

Little has been said, however, about the ethics of using Instagram. Hard noted she doesn’t like to utilize the filters that make Instagram so fun for many people. “I don’t like to use filters that would alter the appearance of wherever I am. Sometimes for personal pictures I use more filters, but if I’m covering a story, I don’t want to alter the perception of the person or objects that are in the picture,” she said.

Regardless, Instagram is just another social media tool that allows journalists to connect with their audience, while also giving reporters a way to produce fast photos with a professional finish. Like its social media predecessors, its uses will no doubt continue to be analyzed and documented as it grows more mainstream.

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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