10 Social Media (by Lynne Smit)
10.1 Introduction

We’ve all heard about social media, but what is it and how important is social media for us as science journalists? Is it all about keeping up to date with your friends and family, or can social media offer us anything more?

This chapter will explain what social media is and how to use it to enhance your reporting skills.

Traditional versus social media

There has been some debate about whether social media is journalism, and we will discuss some of those arguments later in this chapter. The important thing to remember is that social media is not journalism, in the same way that paper is not journalism. Just like paper, or the airwaves, social media is a tool which is increasingly being used by journalists to practice their craft.

Social media is changing journalism, and we need to make sure that we are on the crest of the wave, rather than floundering behind it as it passes.

All media is about communication. Traditional media - such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio and even basic online media - enables us to tell our readers about something that is happening or something that they need to know.

Social media does that too, but there is a very important difference. Social media is a conversation. Social media changes you from being a reporter to being a community organiser and analyser.

Traditional media is a two-step process:
  1. Journalists question their sources
  2. Journalists relate the story to their audience (readers, listeners, viewers)

Social media adds new levels to the process. It happens something like this:
  1. Journalists get information using sources that range from experts to other observers, bloggers, bystanders, interested parties, anyone with an opinion
  2. Journalists interpret the information they have gathered, separating opinion from fact, and tailor it for their audience
  3. Journalists and their work become part of a conversation that continues long after the broadcast has aired or the newspaper has become a wrapper for fish and chips

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