Social media for local media

Local news media is now using Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, just like everyone else

Local media outlets such as the Winnipeg Free Press use social media sites like Twitter to report on issues in real time. Cindy Titus

Your grandpa isn’t the only one updating his status and looking up the latest events on Facebook; social networking websites are becoming an important tool for just about everyone now, including local media outlets.

As the word “media” is undergoing yet another facelift – this time to include social networking websites – the sustainability of news in the traditional sense continues to be questioned. However, local news media outlets see social media as a new tool, rather than an alternative media source that could further spread advertising dollars thin.

The prevalence of online communities is a valuable resource to the media, due largely to the now increased accessibility of people who are knowledgeable and passionate about a certain topic.

“Everything is evolving,” said Karen Mitchell, news director at CTV Winnipeg. “Perhaps before we would door knock, but now it’s easier to find people.”

In addition to the traditional door-knocking strategy of physically going into the community to find people affected by an event, reporters are now going online, finding Facebook groups and getting in touch with people via cyberspace.

As useful as this strategy is, it makes proper source attribution and fact-checking more important than ever.

“Nothing on the Internet is necessarily correct,” said Mitchell. “It could be a false site or not true.”

With sentences like, “Send me the Facebook link,” becoming common in English vernacular, it’s becoming clear that the online event invitation is the new way to get people to the same place at the same time.

“Back in the day, it was all posters and word-of-mouth,” said Rob Williams, music critic at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Williams said he mostly uses MySpace to find out about and listen to bands that are coming to town, but added, “A lot of my friends are finding out [about events] through Facebook.”

Social websites aren’t being used by the media only as an input resource but for output as well. Bartley Kives, reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, uses Twitter to send updates on City Council meetings that the public aren’t always able to attend.

“I use Twitter so I can give an as-it-happens account,” said Kives.

Even though Kives uses social networking, he has two major concerns about using it exclusively and not reading the daily newspaper.

First of all, Kives is paid to go to City Council and report. But if people are only getting their news through social media sites like Twitter, this could mean a further decline in readership of the classic newspaper who employs him in the first place, according to Kives.

Secondly, the jellybean problem.

“People can choose the media they want to read, so they’re not educating themselves. If you read the newspaper, you’re gonna flip past stories you wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Kives said. “If you like jellybeans, you can go on the Internet and read nothing but stories about jellybeans.”

Kives’s tweets have received a lot of attention. Duncan McMonagle, journalism instructor at Red River College, recently wrote a blog about Kives’s fresh approach to reporting on City Council.

For the first time ever, social media is making its way into the journalism classroom.

Blogging once-a-week is now a requirement for McMonagle’s first-year journalism students in the creative communications program.

McMonagle assigns blogging because “that’s where the world is going and we need to be there,” he said.

The instructor said he’s already pleased by the results of this experimental assignment.

Published in Volume 64, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 11, 2010)

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