Why Journalists Like Me Need A Social Media Leg-Up!

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“How many of you have a twitter account?” a news-desk editor had asked several years ago, at a meeting of senior newsroom editors in Bangalore. Few hands went up. ”If I had time for Twitter, wouldn’t it be too much time on my hands?” came one reply. ”I’ll leave that to the younger lot, I can’t wrap my head around it,” said another. “Since I’m stuck in the newsroom most of the time, and not in the field, what can I tweet about? And will my reporters be allowed to tweet about stories?”, I asked.

Only the entertainment editor’s hand went up – she had an active twitter account. The meeting moved on to the more pressing, time-bound issues of the day, with twitter and social media slipping away as just a faint blip on the radar.

Why curators of news and information must understand SM

Things have changed in the newsrooms of today. But there is still huge room for improvement. Newsroom decision makers, information curators and opinion influencers Tweet, post on FB, share Instagram pictures and  even upload videos to Vine – but there is still no clear focus on what social media really is. (Psst…. I know because I am one of them).

Journalism colleges of today have entire courses about social media and its importance, but it’s those in charge of newsrooms who also need to be on the same page as the young reporters who propose social media elements for their stories. I virtually grew up in the newsroom – straight out of college, but at no point of time was the newsroom able to adapt to social media, not even in its infancy. When social media came on the scene, we were often censured by bosses who thought we spent way too much time on Facebook and Twitter and even Orkut (remember that one?)

No one looked ahead and told us it was going to be of tremendous value in the future, no one trained us on its use, what it was all about, and why it was important. We just heard about it, read about it and tried to be hip and with-it. But looking at how news is consumed and disseminated  today by multi-generational audiences through a million ways, it’s important to change gears and match steps. Even today, few reporters are asked about what their social media plan for a story is. Tsk tsk  If you want to shake hands with a new audience, you must know the language they are speaking. I am on that uphill road… it’s taking me ages and driving me crazy, but it has to be done.

Social media is not social networks alone… get with it

Here again, guilty as charged. I too thought social media was all about social networks. And I am still looking for some kind soul to volunteer to educate newsrooms (and those who hold the reins in those crazy hubs of activity) about what social media really is. I read in one blog that there are six types of social media – SIX. And FB, Twitter YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest etc all come under one category. The creation, sharing and exchange of information today is as simple a process as it is complex. And even though the media likes to think it is on top of all things related to ‘User Generated Content’, it is lagging way behind.

My first step on this 1000 mile journey, was to get trained. As a newly baptised ‘Multimedia Journalist” it took weeks for me to get my head around coding, data journalism, social media packages and how to use a social media platform effectively. People are not just searching for news and information anymore, they are sharing, and how! When things are just a click away for consumers and disseminators of information, isn’t it best to know how things work in the SM world and why it’s important to be up to date?

The tough part is, most journalists from my generation and beyond have no social media training. And though as senior journalists with years of experience on and off the field, re-learning and adapting to new ways of audience and community engagement is vital, most of us have no idea about how to do it.  News has become integral to social networks, but still not the other way around in newsrooms – so if as a journalist I need to get with Instagram, I just have to keep asking silly questions on Google or You Tube till someone answers them.

Look ahead, the future is now… update, update!

There are very few journalists with titles like Social Media Editor, in a newsroom. I think it’s time we took a closer look at what lies ahead and plan for more SM inclusivity. The number of social media network users is growing by the day, and that is the audience that journalists who are not familiar with social media, need to tap. My point to the larger world of social media out there is – please show me how 🙂

The press is no longer the sole gatekeeper of information so we need to capitalise on the full power and potential of social media networks. But given that a handshake between social media experts and journalists is one that does not happen too often, I now fervently hoping that someone comes up with an app for journalists to understand and apply social media practices better.

Dear Social Media World. I’m truly tired of saying I know your language and I can understand it, but I can’t speak it yet!!!

Social Media Week

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