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Social media: friend or foe to journalists?

SMfriendorfoeThe impact social media has had on the news industry is evident. News often breaks on Twitter, while social media allows journalists, editors and others in the public eye to communicate not only with each other, but with their fans and readers as well. Moreover, it is a way for them to collect news tips and story ideas and to disseminate and promote articles.

But there are also negatives to social media. A thin line separates social media’s contribution to news gathering from its descent into a time suck. Sahil Kapur of Talking Points Memo said that social media can definitely be a distraction. “Sometimes when you’re crashing to file a piece, you have to turn away from it because it can be addictive for a news junkie,” he said in an email interview. And yet, he also emphasized how important it has become to his reporting.

“Twitter is far-and-away the best source for breaking news,” said Steven Nelson of U.S. News & World Report in an email interview, “although Facebook does drive more traffic to articles.” Nelson did point out that the ability to share on the Web comes with its risks: several journalists have either been fired or taken off beats for sharing their thoughts too candidly on social media.

Communications and social media professionals can also mistakenly publish private and/or inappropriate images or messages. Lest we forget, US Airways accidentally published a lewd tweet earlier this month, for which the company has profusely apologized since.

Perhaps because social media entities like Facebook and Twitter started off as non-business-related social networking tools, it has taken us a few years to recognize their immediacy and reach. Nonetheless, they have provided journalism professionals with an efficient way of gathering news and connecting with viewers and readers. And despite the dangers of lost time and saying too much online, the benefits seem to outweigh the pitfalls.

–Bryan Martin

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