Using Social MediaEarth Journalism Network | 09 June 2016
The rise of social media has introduced an entirely new forum of communications between news sources and individuals. Social media encompasses web-based networks and tools that allows users to create and share content.
Major social media websites include Facebook (an online social network), Twitter (a microblogging service),Wikipedia (an encyclopedia written by its users), Flickr (a photo sharing site), Tumblr (a blogging platform), reddit (a content aggregating and networking site) and YouTube (a video sharing site).
These sites are redefining the way the media operates and breaking down the traditional roles of news producers and consumers.
Social media tools can function both as information broadcasters and receivers (connecting directly with the Internet or to mobile phones) and so people can use them for research, and to distribute and comment on information.
As a result, some of these new platforms are even challenging the role of the mainstream media by reporting information more quickly, more accurately and to more people than traditional media outlets. Blogs in particular are also acting like media watchdogs, by criticizing inaccurate or biased journalism.
USING SOCIAL MEDIA
Journalists can use these technologies as sources of stories, to find interviewees, to promote their own journalism, or to network with other journalists. The benefits will vary from journalist to journalist and the best way to find out how they work is to sign up and start using them.
Social media also presents an opportunity for scientists and other experts to communicate directly with large audiences.
One of the most useful tools is Twitter, which many top environment journalists and relevant organizations use on a daily basis.
Twitter users can share short messages of 140 characters or fewer (known as ‘tweets’) that can be published to and read from the Internet with either an online computer or a mobile phone. Users can subscribe (or follow) each other’s streams of messages to keep track of information from around the world.
This allows journalists to not only listen into what people all over the world are saying about a particular subject, but also report directly from events such as press conferences, scientific meetings and disaster scenes.
In situations such as these a big advantage of Twitter is that it can be used to report live on an event as it unfolds (known as live-tweeting).
Journalists can also use Twitter to quickly assess the views of a large and diverse set of people about something (known as crowd sourcing). This can be done with a quick message to your network or by using Twitter’s search function, which provides a very up to date picture of what people are saying about a given subject.
Some journalists use Twitter to publicly seek input into stories they are writing, and to push their finished work out to new audiences.
Another social media tool that has proven valuable to journalists is Ushahidi. It allows people to use email and text messages to share time- and location-specific information that can be mapped using Google Maps software.
Ushahidi shot to fame during communal violence in Kenya in 2007 and has since been used following earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. In such situations, journalists can use Ushahidi to get an up-to-date picture of what is happening and where in the midst of rapidly changing events.
Other useful social media tools include online networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, which have millions of users worldwide and have groups that focus particularly on journalism and the environment.
The hashtag (#) is an important tool on multiple social media platforms. Attaching a ‘#’ in front of a term indexes it and compiles all other instances of the #term. This is an important tool to track major trends and developments. For example searching #climatechange will bring up all other mentions of #climatechange made by other users.
Despite all of the benefits of social media, there are also some reasons to be cautious about it. It can be difficult, for instance, to verify whether information on social networks is true, and whether people are who they say they are. Additionally, social media greatly increases the speed at which information is transmitted, at times at the cost of the accuracy of the information.
Also, information that is published online may be public but that does not mean that its author intended journalists to read and report it.
Note: The social media sites referenced in this article are primarily in the English-speaking world. There are many other social media sites localized in various regions in the world that offer the same services. Follow these sites to try to follow more local trends.