Archive for March, 2017


The social balance

Social media platforms are in a delicate balance when it comes to platforms and engaging users. (Photo: Visual Content/Flickr via Creative Commons)

In the world of social media, content is king, and for journalists, social media has allowed for new ways to not just inform audiences, but also to engage them – creating new dimensions in the relationship between consumer and news organization.

Yet, while there are benefits for journalists and news organizations in this relationship with social media, there also are questions as to the right balance – informing users versus attracting them.

For social media platforms, it is the matter of designing the right platform to curate these stories, and the algorithm that distributes them to users. This includes the most notable, Facebook, who has rolled out updates on stories and photos in an attempt to compete with Snapchat, which has been a notable app because of its ability to engage younger audiences.

For news organizations, it is the matter of staying true to the goals at the core of journalism – informing, engaging and stimulating, while trying not to be too content heavy, leading to people unfollowing them on Twitter or unliking them on Facebook.

It all comes down to the question both social networks and news organizations are facing: “How much is too much?”

As the right way to handle this is debated and put forward, and strategies are tweaked, there must be the consideration of the people who will ultimately be at the receiving end of these strategies – the audience.

When writing about the changes for Facebook, Casey Newton, an editor for the technology news web site The Verge, included a section in his story on the social network’s introduction of Stories, and wider implications.

Among them is this:

“Where should you post your daily story now becomes a daily concern for a certain subset of youngish, social media-savvy people,” Newton wrote. “Facebook says stories belong everywhere that people are talking online, but what if the format is a fad? And what if forcing it on users across its entire family of app leads to a general fatigue with the idea? The company says each of its apps has a distinctive audience, and I believe it. But there’s also plenty of overlap. There’s a risk here that Facebook’s mania for stories will be interpreted as overkill by its users, and the feature will ultimately fade into the background. (This happened with live video!)”

In other words, on the whole, its the delicate balance that social platforms like Facebook have to play in order to attract users but also try not to put them off. Because of the importance of the content, be it a photo or video based story on Instagram, going live on Facebook, or creating a Moment on Twitter, social networks are trying to be distinct in how they can get the most audiences possible – for content can support a platform’s future.

A new platform or new feature brings the potential for more users on the social network, and the opportunity for news organizations to increase their audience on that particular platform. That opportunity also raises the question of prioritizing stories, and what platform gets to be the lucky recipient of the story.

But considerations must be made for why the story is there on that social network in the first place. Are you posting a story on Facebook because people really need to know about it, or are you putting up on Snapchat a customized dancing cat video merely designed to expand your reach and the number of eyeballs on the post?

It is important that audiences are informed and engaged by journalists about the world around them – it is at the core of SPJ’s Code of Ethics’ steadfast value – seek truth and report it. It is also important that social media plays a role in informing and engaging audiences, as it is a reflection of the change in platforms where the news is curated and disseminated.

Yet, when all is said and done, both parties need to consider what is best for their audiences, instead of the opportunity to boost audience figures. After all, it isn’t about quantity, but quality, and that an accurate, fair and quality piece of work benefits everyone – instead of something rushed.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

TWITTER CHAT: Reddit For Journalists

Join SPJ Digital March 21, 2016 at 8 PM (Eastern Standard Time) for an hour-long Twitter chat about how journalists can use Reddit to enhance their audience, story arsenal and sources.
Reddit is the most valuable social media network for some journalists and the most frustrating for others. The difference lies in knowing how you make the discussions, sub-reddits and community work with you rather than against you.
Esther Schindler, a longtime tech industry journalist and coauthor of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Twitter Marketing, has translated geek-talk into English since 1992. She loves to explain how technology can, indeed, improve the quality of life. Find her on Twitter at @estherschindler. Bring chocolate.
And bring both your questions about Reddit and your comments on the experience you have with the network.
This chat will also be a great way to introduce your colleagues to the SPJ Digital Community (and SPJ as a whole) so help us get the word out! It’s going to be a lively conversation and the knowledge you gain can help you use Reddit to gain sources — and use Reddit to gain more readers for your stories.
It’s simple and easy to take part: Just use the hashtag #SPJDigiChat on your message to join the conversation.

Ethics and authenticity

At NPR’s headquarters in Washington, two sets of keyboards, both connected to microphones, appear before a musician. He sits down and performs three tracks from his album – a performance that is as intimate as it gets, a performance that is powerful and can showcase talent.

His name is Sampha – a singer, songwriter and producer from south London who has come to DC for a Tiny Desk concert, part of the All Songs Considered series, and as it provided some very good background music as I made research calls today, it also made me think.

Although this is a performance, there is a lesson that can be taken from it for journalists – the ability to be authentic, amid the competition of being the first at everything.

In this age where social media has helped organizations disseminate news, information and other content, it has also been a more competitive environment. Who can get to Twitter the quickest with that exclusive or that first bit of new information? Who can I tell first about that story or that performance?

Its a tricky situation, because sometimes in the rush of getting it out there, some errors are made when it comes to information, or you feel because you wanted to be first you couldn’t do justice to the story you wanted to tell, or because that FOI officer with the government in San Diego didn’t respond to your request that an element of the story was missing. When all is said and done, you feel uneasy and concerned, wondering if you did your best work that day.

Allow me to say this: Breathe – it’s okay.

In this social media age, some emphasis has been made on likes for quantity, not quality. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Society’s Code of Ethics calls on journalists to seek truth and report it, that one should be responsible for the accuracy of the work, and that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

I think however in this social age it has become more than that. It is a reason to be authentic, to go in-depth, to do some uniquely awesome stuff for your audience.

Take these Tiny Desk concerts, for example – these concerts take time and precision. A performance cannot be rushed. A performance is a story, after all – you don’t want it to abruptly finish when clearly the storyteller has more to write or the performer has more to perform of the song.

You could also make the same argument for that interview on Fresh Air or that report you hear on All Things Considered or Morning Edition – stories and interviews that probe and provide context cannot be rushed, and shouldn’t end when there’s more to be seen.

There is room for these in-depth stories, and an appetite for them, whether its a long narrative in the New York Times, on NPR’s web site or in podcast form. Indeed, some of this in-depth stories recently helped NPR to achieve record audience figures.

Yet, in the world of in-depth stories, also exists is the world of deadlines – deadlines which must be met. Even if its a quick story you’re going to do, there still is an opportunity to be authentic. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are some unanswered questions that come from it?
  • Is there an under-reported part of this story that can be incorporated? If it can’t be done immediately, can it be for a future story?
  • Is this angle just to help with space or time – or can it really help my audience understand the story better?

In this age of journalism, I favor stories that take time to tell – something that can go beyond what is reported daily. If that approach is taken, I know my audience will get something that is not just helping them understand the world around them, but I’m also offering something authentic.

So when you’re thinking about your story, take a step back. Think about the subject and the type of story you want to tell. Give yourself an excuse to go beyond the norm, and to experiment.

Then take the time to do it, channeling not just your role to seek truth and report it per the Ethics Code, but this – it is not only better to be right than be first, but to do something well instead of doing it at all.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Women are the future

“The future of media looks like this.”

That is how a tweet from Josiah Ryan, a senior producer for CNN in New York, began when discussing the recent front page cover story on the network from The Hollywood Reporter.

Featuring the network’s chief executive, Jeff Zucker, and other journalists and personalities, including Jake Tapper, Anthony Bourdain, Casey Neistat and W. Kamau Bell, the story focused on the future of the network in the digital age.

The tweet however, became subject of rampant criticism from others in the industry as well as other Twitter users, notably for the absence of women on the front page, and the message the tweet sent in the replies.

The criticism also came as the tweet was shared.

This week, International Women’s Day is observed – a day to recognize the achievements and contributions women have made around the world, including in journalism. This also coincides with the celebration of Women’s History Month.

There has been a recent increase of women studying journalism, and indeed there are prominent women in digital journalism, including Katie Hawkins-Gaar at the Poynter Institute, Tory Starr and Raney Aronson-Rath at WGBH in Boston, Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post, Tamara Keith and Sarah McCammon at NPR, Asma Khalid at WBUR in Boston, Meredith Artley at CNN (and the past president of the Online News Association) and Laura Davis at the University of Southern California, as well as the women whose tweets are quoted in this piece and others who work to keep this industry strong.

This also is the first year that the executive leadership at SPJ has been led by three women – President Lynn Walsh, President-Elect Rebecca Baker and Secretary-Treasurer Alex Tarquinio. Additionally, 14 of the 23 seats on SPJ’s Board of Directors are held by women, while of SPJ’s 9 committees, 4 of them have women listed as chairs or co-chairs. Also, in SPJ’s 5 active communities, 4 of them have women serving as chair or co-chair.

Indeed, SPJ members like Walsh, Baker, Tarquinio, Robyn Davis Sekula, Rachel McClelland, Kathryn Foxhall, Sarah Bauer Jackson, Elle Toussi, Dana Neuts and Dori Zinn, in addition to other SPJ members nationwide and those who work behind the scenes at its headquarters in Indianapolis, play significant roles in the development of the future of media.

All of these women have something in common. Every day, at their outlets, be it a broadcast outlet, a web site or a newspaper, they inform, educate and engage. They help the public make sense of events, and help the world cope better.

The future of media is something that will continued to be discussed, questioned, debated and dissected. Yet, there is something necessary to the future of this industry – women. Their ideas are quintessential to the development of the future. Their contributions allow journalism to be stronger, and they inspire me to help make journalism better.

The debates may continue, but one thing is for certain – women are the future of media, and we must never take them, their ideas or their contributions for granted – ever.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Perspective: It’s important

Students at USC’s Annenberg School have reinforced the importance of perspective and ideas in the digital age. (Photo: Bobak Ha’Eri/Wikimedia Commons)

Last month, Laura Davis of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism curated a series written by her students about how products affect trust with news organizations.

Journalism, in all its forms, finds itself in a quandary as the digital age. Yet, it goes beyond the consumption of it – but how trust can be maintained and ethics can be preserved. We are in the midst of a significant conversation that will ultimately build how we go about work in this industry – and no angle or factor is spared.

This conversation also evolves those who are looking to pursue work in this industry. Everyone who seeks to come into this industry does so for the same reasons – to inform, educate and stimulate the public. The ways that the news is disseminated will evolve, but the goal, as the former public editor of The New York Times (now Washington Post media columnist) Margaret Sullivan put it, remains the same – a reason to be optimistic:

“What matters is the journalism, not the medium. It’s happening before our eyes, and while there’s clearly reason to worry, there’s reason to hope, too.”

If Davis, her colleagues at Annenberg and her students have done anything through this albeit brief project, it is the need for perspective. The ideas of those who will be the future of this industry are just as important as the ideas of those currently in it – for when all is said and done, these ideas can strengthen and bolster journalism, confirm its quintessential importance for our democracy, and give the reason for why our profession’s work is a necessity.

So thank you, Annenberg students, for sharing this insight. May you continue to do so, and may your teachers and professors encourage you to do so.

Along the way, may you encourage other journalism students to do just the same – for we’ll need your perspective, now, and in the years ahead.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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