Let’s look at social media as just one cylinder in a four-cylinder car engine. Along with other cylinders — creditable sources, fluid time management and great journalism — the vehicle will run smoothly, get great mileage and sustain your journalism career.
While most internal combustion engines are able to work with only three cylinders, the mechanism is out-of-sync and may result in momentum loss or an eventual stall. The solution to quality reporting performance is to seek balance for all cylinders and to especially monitor your time and energy with social media.
Social media can distort your view of professional relationships
Your social media followers are great in providing news tips and ideas for news articles or segments. Their loyalty can keep your social media buzzing. But who are all these people? Friends or family? A concerned citizen who wants your ear? Or maybe they are people who are paid to maneuver within social media sites to promote their own agendas.
How much do you depend upon your social media to authenticate yourself as a young professional journalist? Relying only on our social media assets to fuel your personal news engine is naive. Remember, an online relationship is not a substitute for an off-line relationship. Social media is a tool, not a foundation for building creditable professional relationships.
Using your shoe leather
Take a look at your professional contact list. Next, ask yourself how many of these contacts you have actually met and individually spent time with. Holding an enormous contact base or a large social media following doesn’t make you a great journalist; it only means you have a lot of phone numbers and “likes.”
Hit the pavement and get out of the newsroom. Meet people for coffee or lunch, or in their office for an interview or introduction.
This type of connectivity is called “shoe leather” reporting. Journalism professor Jay Rosen, who writes the Press Think blog, defines it as a classic form of journalism.
“The journalist is literally on foot, walking from office to office, source to source, conducting interviews, pulling documents, hunting down facts no one else has confirmed yet,” Rosen said. “So much walking is required to break a big story that the soles of the shoes grind down. Want respect, young journalist? Break some big stories. How is it done? Same way it’s always been done: shoe leather reporting.”
Savannah Morning News investigative journalist Larry Peterson, who reported negligence after the 2008 Imperial Sugar Co. explosion at Port Wentworth, Ga., was known to chat with his contacts’ office personnel during his visits. He left his business cards on people’s desks and even took the time to get to know people’s birthdays. Peterson was building assets and sources. And he wasn’t doing it on the phone or on social media.
As a young journalist, you know what a 40-hour (and more) work week looks like, plus the ongoing social media tasks. In smaller newsrooms, or newsrooms with high social-media focus, the ability to post quickly and often is the standard for the lone-wolf journalist. Like a four-cylinder engine, find balance in giving time to social media or you could easily run out of gas. It is important to incorporate it into your time management and try not to see posting social media as an afterthought.
Be known for your work, not just your social ’brand’
When you walk up the steps of a prestigious ballroom someday to receive your Pulitzer or Peabody Award, will you exclusively attribute the success of your work to your outstanding social media tasks? Likely not.
No matter what social media algorithms you may use or what buzzy keyword or SEO is associated with your articles or segments, it is the exceptional work behind the social media post that will be honored. Social media is a tool, not the end-all of journalism; it’s not a shortcut or an easy way to produce “journalism lite.” Keep your standards high as a professional journalist.
Your generation of journalists are setting the 24/7 newsroom rhythms for future newsrooms and are retooling technology as the industry continues its roller coaster ride via the Internet. But as veteran journalists have found, the technology used today will change drastically as the journalists of tomorrow earn their tenure. Who knows? Some unknown technology could actually make social media a thing of the past along with the today’s internal combustion engine.
Sharon Dunten is assistant regional director for SPJ’s Region 3 and principle for Dunten Media Services LLC, where she works as a freelance writer and photographer. She is based in Atlanta. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org