Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘Crowdsourcing

How my social media producer job helped refine my brand as a journalist

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As I mentioned in a recent post, my blogging about social media and personal branding played a major role in my getting hired as a social media producer at azcentral. My multimedia journalism graduate degree and familiarity with social media tools allowed for a smooth transition into Republic Media’s converged TV, print and online newsroom.

But after less than a year in the position, I had to quit my job a few weeks ago because the company my husband works for has decided to relocate us to the NY metro area. I’m now focusing on preparing for our move but will continue to write this blog, do freelance social media work and give guest lectures until we’re settled. I’m sad to leave Phoenix and my colleagues at azcentral. I have to admit, however, that I’m really excited about the career opportunities this move will offer in New York.

Although I worked at azcentral only briefly, it was enough time to recognize which parts of the job energized me and what I have to offer as part of a news organization. My main responsibilities involved posting stories on Facebook and Twitter, monitoring social media for trends and breaking news and engaging our audience. I definitely enjoyed that role, but after a while, I found my most satisfiying times in the newsroom were when I was using social media to help other journalists with their reporting. So I actively started approaching reporters and finding ways social media could assist them with their stories. Whether I was finding sources on Facebook who had been specifically affected by the massive Wallow Fire or using Storify to crowdsource reaction to a unusual local weather phenomenon, I loved how social media enhanced stories and did my part to show reporters how to take advantage of it. Those experiences eventually defined my contribution to our social media team and refined my brand.

Finding breaking news sources using social media

My day usually began by scanning my TweetDeck streams for local and national news that had broken overnight. (I loved being paid to know what was going on.) Our converged newsroom meant I was a few feet from the breaking news desk, print reporters, online team and television producers. If I saw a tweet from a Twitter user or another news organization that mentioned a developing story, I’d be on my feet to check if they knew about it. This responsibility suited my personality well; it’s my nature to be helpful and to share information with people. I monitored news tweets, hashtags and social media comments for relevant content and passed it on whenever it might be useful.

One highlight for me was when a Breaking News tweet I saw helped turn an international story into a local one for azcentral. I heard an early morning story on NPR about a Russian plane crash and later saw a @BreakingNews tweet announcing the plane was carrying an entire Russian hockey team.

I clicked the link to the NHL press release and found the coach was former Phoenix Coyotes player Brad McCrimmon, so I alerted the breaking news desk and told the home page editor about it. He searched our archives, found dozens of references to the coach and called the reporter who covers the Coyotes. Within 20 minutes, we had the enhanced wire story on our site. We posted our local story on Facebook and Twitter within the next hour.

This example elegantly highlights how social media’s role as part of a converged newsroom dynamic led to comprehensive news coverage of a local, and yet international, tragedy.

Crowdsourcing special projects 

Azcentral’s social media team encouraged reporters to tap into our social media followers (as well as their own) to crowdsource, and I let them know I was there to help. We used live chats to generate questions for interviews with experts, turned to Quora to find answers to niche questions, and when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, I gathered local reaction using Storify. Most often, we helped reporters use Twitter and Facebook to find story ideas and sources.

Our crowdsourced 9/11 anniversary Arizona Republic front page was an unprecedented and unexpected social media achievement. Before the anniversary, azcentral and 12 News posted requests for six-word responses to the question “What does 9/11 mean to you?” on Facebook and Twitter and got over 600 responses. Their collective impact was so profound that the editors decided to wallpaper the front page of the Arizona Republic with the six-word statements against a silhouette of the Twin Towers and New York skyline. For the first time in the paper’s history, the front page was crowdsourced. The response was overwhelmingly positive within the local community and the newspaper industry.

I became a journalist because I wanted to tell people’s stories. Using social media tools to bring out otherwise unheard voices – even if they’re only making six-word statements – truly inspired me, and this part of my role as social media producer confirmed that I want crowdsourcing to be an even bigger part of my next job.

Training reporters and editors

I really enjoyed training colleagues to use social media for reporting. Despite the ubiquity of social media references in the news and within the newsroom, many very talented journalists had no interest in creating or actively using social media accounts. They’d been able to write compelling stories without them for years and saw no need to change their habits. Some had Twitter accounts but didn’t know how to maximize them, while others had been effectively using them to solicit ideas and sources and were eager to learn new tricks.

Each week I wrote a social media newsletter to share tips and give examples of five good tweets from the week. I also did one-on-one training of how to set up Twitter, Facebook’s subscribe feature, LinkedIn and TweetDeck. The feedback I got from reporters, whether it was a quick email saying the Five Good Tweets helped them become more comfortable with tweeting or a request for crowdsourcing advice, showed me the range of confidence and social media expertise throughout the staff. I genuinely enjoyed working with all skill levels and tailoring the training to their needs.

Providing help is a central part of who I am and my brand as a journalist, whether it’s to get information out, tell stories or teach. For now, I’ll be have to put that energy into helping my family move, but soon enough I’ll be using it to help myself get a job.

Crowdsourcing: Lending your voice to the vocal village

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(This is the fifth of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

The next task on the summer to-do list for journalism students involves journalism’s take on the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Task #5: Become a part of a crowdsourcing project.

Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, first used the term “crowdsourcing” in a 1996 Wired article. He defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

For the sake of this exercise, I needed clarification on the difference between crowdsourcing and citizen journalism.  Online Journalism Review’s post A Journalist’s Guide to Crowdsourcing provided this distinction:

Unlike more traditional notions of “citizen journalism,” crowdsourcing does not ask readers to become anything more than what they’ve always been: eyewitnesses to their daily lives. They need not learn advanced reporting skills, journalism ethics or how to be a better writer. It doesn’t ask readers to commit hours of their lives in work for a publisher with little or no financial compensation. Nor does it allow any one reader’s work to stand on its own, without the context of many additional points of view.

According to this definition, I’ve participated in a few crowdsourced efforts this summer:

  • After experiencing the earthquake in San Diego in June, I went to Did You Feel It?, the U.S. Geological Survey’s effort “to tap the abundant information available about earthquakes from the people who actually experience them.”
  • I responded to a tweet sent by WJChat co-founder Robert Hernandez asking for replies to the question “Why am I a journalist?

  • Following a Facebook post by TIME magazine, I contributed to the “I Want To Be in TIME” group to give TIME permission to use my profile picture for a cover story on Facebook. (No, I haven’t located my photo):

How can you find out about crowdsourced projects and have your voice heard?

  1. Follow local media on Twitter and Facebook. On any given day, reporters are using Twitter and Facebook to connect with their audiences to solicit story ideas, eyewitness accounts and other input for stories.
  2. Create a column in TweetDeck for crowdsourcing. Use “crowdsourcing”, “crowdsourced” and the hashtag #crowdsourcing and look for hashtags that identify specific projects. Be aware that you’ll see efforts for everything from peer-produced software development to branding and design competitions, so you’ll want to focus your attention on public projects that invite information gathering, eyewitness accounts (written or photographic) and investigative journalism.
  3. Check blogs involved in crowdsourcing to find out about projects. Last spring, Crowdsourcing engaged in a worldwide crowdsourced book club experiment called “One Book, One Twitter” (#1b1t). Ushahidi focused its international humanitarian crowdsourced efforts in Haiti, while many local news organizations’ community and niche blogs featured appeals to their audiences for contributions to projects. For example, The New York Times’ Lens blog initiated “A Moment in Time“, an interactive photo gallery created from crowdsourced images taken around the world at the same time.
  4. Keep an eye out for crowdsourced investigative projects. Several sites have emerged in the U.K. and Canada, including the recent launch of Help Me Investigate. Watch for similar U.S.-based journalism projects aiming to harness the public’s curiosity.
  5. Speak up. Don’t be shy; the power of the crowdsourced village comes from each contributing voice. If you witness a newsworthy event, contribute to news organizations’ crowdsourced coverage by documenting it in writing or with video, audio or photos.

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Next up: Task #6: Improve at least 5 Wikipedia entries. (My son has been asking to improve the “New South Wales” article; maybe I’ll need to crowdsource this task to my family…)