Social media is changing the way journalists work

According to Managing Media Work by Mark Deuze, social media is changing the way that reporters do their work. In chapter 22, “Life is a pitch”, the author makes it evident that journalists must do everything in their power to stay ahead of the competition. Nick Penzenstadler of the Appleton Post Crescent agrees, and he leverages all types of social media–and the web– to uncover stories that no one else is covering. In his session, Get the Dirt: Harnessing Search Functions in the Web to Get the Story, at UW Oshkosh’s NEWSPA conference, Penzenstadler showed students how to get information from sites that they may have never heard of.

Although one of the key features of new media lives, according to the chapter mentioned above is “long hours”, Penznstadler showed the audience how he can answer 20 in depth, personal questions about basically anybody in under 30 minutes– just by using what’s readily available on he Internet. I’m not going to lie, the amount of information that he discovered about Dr. Ann Schultz, Oshkosh West principal, was slightly creepy.

Mashable recently wrote about the trend of journalists using social media during their average work days. The article revealed that the top three reasons why they do this is to find leads, notice trends and find sources. Penzenstadler said that he mainly uses social media to find sources. He said that Facebook is one of his greatest tools when doing this, since most people list their family members right on their profile, and many list their phone numbers.

Another interesting thing that social media does for journalists is that it helps them bypass government regulations when writing an article. Penzenstadler talked about this when he wrote an article about deer hunting and he needed sources who had gotten injured while hunting. He said that the DNR told him about a minor who had shot himself in the leg while hunting, but they would not give him his name or contact information because he was under 18 years old. Penzenstadler showed that he simply used sites like Facebook and Twitter to quickly find the teen’s contact information and address.

There is no doubt that social media is changing the way that things work. Penzenstadler reminded everyone at the session to monitor what they put online, as everything can be accessible with the right tools.

Is a citizen journalist really a journalist?

There is no doubt that the field of journalism is evolving. Some are more reluctant to adapt to the change than others in the field, but the truth is that, soon, adapting will be necessary for survival.

In previous years, the word journalist was clearly defined. It was someone who worked for a news outlet, either a newspaper or broadcast station, and earned a salary for reporting news to the community. These people usually worked long hours and had a knack for developing concise and informative stories that were relevant for society. Their role in the community was vital, as they were responsible for keeping citizens informed.

Unfortunately, there were often stories that were missed because there were only so many reporters to go around. This was most noticed when breaking news would arise. Coverage of critical moments in history were missed when a reporter wasn’t present.

That is drastically different today. With the development of new technology such as advanced digital cameras, smart phones and social media networks, any person has the power to report news as they witness it. This is what is now called a “citizen journalist”, but there has been a lot of controversy lately about whether these people are considered real journalists or not.

An incident in 2010 with a Seattle teacher outlined the issue. Teacher Melissa Westbrook was a blogger about the Seattle School District for over a decade and had gained a strong readership in the community. So, when the school called a press conference, she wanted to be admitted. However, the school denied her access and said that it was open to “traditional media only”. Melissa argued that she was a citizen journalist. After a heavy argument, the school reversed their decision and started to admit bloggers.

This decision, of course, didn’t sit well with the traditional media. Whether the industry is ready for it or not, this is an issue that is becoming more and more relevant. In fact, most of the video/picture coverage that traditional media use now comes from citizen journalists who were at the scene when the incident occurred. Some media outlets today even have a section dedicated to coverage from citizen journalists. Many would argue that the added perspective makes the news better, but some say the opposite.

What do you think? Do you think that citizen journalists enhance or weaken our news coverage?