About five years ago, I was invited to speak at a Society of Professional Journalists
meeting in the old Des Moines Social Club. I was there to talk about how social media was forever changing the face of journalism.
The room was divided between two "camps." The first was a group of newspaper publishers, owners, and editors who thought that they should "own" the digital lives of their reporters and every single thought they thought or word they wrote.
The other camp comprised the reporters themselves, some of whom were listening intently but not saying anything. But there were a few brave souls who stood right up and admitted (gasp!
) that they were starting to use social media in their reporting. Sometimes (double gasp!
) they had personal opinions that they didn't try to hide. They also asserted ownership over their own personal thoughts and written content. (The sky is falling!
This created a vigorous debate within the group. There was a true upheaval taking place in the industry. The "old school" position was that reporters were neutral arbiters of the news, had no discernable personal leanings, and isolated themselves from the commoners to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Fast-forward five years. Most journalists still conduct themselves with the utmost journalistic integrity and very carefully stay within the lines. However, many have found ways to be "one of us" and have joined social networks. Though a few disclose their personal political leanings, most stay neutral, at least publicly, but the good journalists I know all use social media to further their craft.
Journalists can still enlist help from their friends and the general public and maintain journalistic integrity. They have always been trusted with the job of rooting through contradictory information and severely divergent viewpoints. Social media just helps reporters do their jobs more efficiently. Furthermore, I'm fairly certain that reporters get story ideas from conversations they witness on their social networks.
Journalists talk about themselves a little now. I can tell when someone is having a frustrating day, is coping with an ailing parent, or just needs a hug. The thing I like the most is that I can really get to know them as a person before talking to them about a story. I can read their previous stories on Facebook and Twitter and know what beat they cover and what they are interested in.
Having this information makes me far more attuned to them both personally and professionally. I really like having this new way to learn about reporters as people, not just paragraph stackers.
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So when you're looking around for someone to tell your story to, don't forget that reporters are people, first and foremost. It's likely that you can find out a lot about them by following them on Twitter.
A version of this story first appeared on the author's blog, Public Relations Princess.